As may be obvious by now, Downton Abbey has sent this NHG peering into the corners of the Edwardian era. They sure had some complicated etiquette; the Regency era is positively freewheeling by comparison.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at Manners and Rules of Good Society. If you want to make your head spin, turn to Chapter III, Leaving Cards.
“THE etiquette of card-leaving is a privilege which society places in the hands of ladies to govern and determine their acquaintanceships and intimacies, to regulate and decide whom they will, and whom they will not visit, whom they will admit into their friendship, and whom they will keep on the most distant footing, whose acquaintance they wish further to cultivate and whose to discontinue.”
If you want to time travel, this chapter is a wonderful door to the past. On our early 21st century side of the door is Facebook and Twitter and texting. On the early 20th century side are little pieces of cardboard printed in copperplate script.
Or try Chapter XLIII, Engaged.
It greatly depends upon the views held by parents as to the freedom of action accorded to a daughter during her engagement. Some entertain the strictest ideas on this head, and strenuously put them in force.
By ‘strict ideas’ is meant that an engaged couple, except in the presence of a chaperon, are never, under any circumstances, permitted to enjoy a tête-à-tête sit together, walk together, ride together, or meet during any part of the day.
Wisdom and common-sense dictate a middle course of action for the consideration of parents, neither granting too much nor withholding too much.
. . .
To dance with each other at a ball, or dance more than three or four times in succession, and when not dancing to sit out in tea-rooms and conservatories, renders an engaged couple conspicuous, and this is precisely what many mothers are most anxious that their daughters should avoid being, and would rather that they were overprudent than that they should run the gauntlet of general criticism.
I leave you to speculate why, exactly, a daughter’s being conspicuous was so abhorrent to a mother 100 years ago, and what form the general criticism would take.
Manners and Rules of Good Society, or Solecisms to be Avoided, by A Member of the Aristocracy (1911 ed.)