Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Young Lady's Behavior Towards Gentlemen

Thursday, June 21, 2012
Fragonard, The Stolen Kiss
Loretta reports:
In a young lady's behaviour towards gentlemen, great delicacy is certainly required: yet, I believe, women oftener err from too great a consciousness of the supposed views of men, than from inattention to those views, or want of caution against them.  . . . Men of loose morals or impertinent behaviour must always be avoided: or, if at any time you are obliged to be in their company, you must keep them at a distance by cold civility. But, with regard to those gentlemen whom your parents think it proper for you to converse with, and who give no offence by their own manners, to them I wish you to behave with the same frankness and simplicity as if they were of your own sex. If you have natural modesty, you will never transgress its bounds, whilst you converse with a man, as one rational creature with another, without any view to the possibility of a lover or admirer, where nothing of that kind is professed; where it is, I hope you will ever be equally a stranger to coquetry and prudery; and that you will be able to distinguish the effects of real esteem and love from idle gallantry and unmeaning fine speeches: the slighter notice you take of these last, the better; and that, rather with good-humoured contempt than with affected gravity: but, the first must be treated with seriousness and well-bred sincerity; not giving the least encouragement, which you do not mean, nor assuming airs of contempt, where it is not deserved. But this belongs to a subject, which I have touched upon in a former letter.* I have already told you that you will be unsafe in every step which leads to a serious attachment, unless you consult your parents, from the first moment you apprehend any thing of that sort to be intended: let them be your first confidants, and let every part of your conduct, in such a case, be particularly directed by them.
Hester Chapone, Letters on the Improvement of the Mind: Addressed to a Lady (first published in 1775.  Google Books edition is 1806)

*Read it here.
More about the Fragonard painting here.


Melanie Murray said...

"Men of loose morals or impertinent behaviour must always be avoided" Advice to be followed even today! What a great post.

Joy said...

so well written. i miss ye olden days.

Anonymous said...

Tough life for a woman! Even if they made a misjudgement, it would be all their fault. Like even today :/ But it is rather fascinating to read this stuff. This strongly reminded me of the 1960s guide for married women.

Julia said...

Interesting. I think there are a lot of books and movies which love to tell us that in "the old times" people were too repressed and up-tight to ever talk about subjects like these, and if the did, it was all "sex is dirty OMG!". But in the frame-work of that time most of what's in that letter is good advice, and still wouldn't be bad advice for a 13 year old girl today: keep away from the vulgar bullies (hallmarks: try to show off by talking about sex like they were a porn star and love vandalizing things), take it serious if your parents warn you of someone, and don't take flattery and flirting too serious - and for the love of [deity of your choice], don't let it influence your decisions!

And I very much suspect that then and today, this advice had the same problem that advice usually has: The ones who listen to it are the ones who need it least to begin with.

As for "talk to your parents as soon as you think someone seriously likes you" and "don't ever think of a boy/man as a possible boy-friend/lover" - rrrrrright. Very bloody likely. ;)

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