Social Success: The Regency Ladies’ Guide To Managing The Social Expectations Of Gentlemen

The title of this piece, while hoping to be vaguely amusing, is not in any way intended to disparage men. Men and women are equally possessed of the ability to embody many amiable qualities and laudable virtues. Indeed, if all of us were as amiable and virtuous as we perhaps ought to be, then no word regarding the ‘management’ of another would ever need to pass our lips. But, it is apparent that we seem, as a species, to be sadly disposed towards error and fault. Therefore, we must by necessity equip ourselves with a plan to enforce our own scrupulous conduct, and for a back-up plan to respond to the oversights of others.

Embarking such a topic, for all humanity and for all possible social situations in its entirety, would result in a rather hefty tome. It would be beyond the scope of the humble advice put together here. Thus the scope of management guidance has been reduced, and it is from this reduction that the title has arisen. Our guidance aims to help the young lady as she embarks upon the exciting voyage of entering Society. It is intended to help her conduct herself with scrupulous propriety, as she makes the acquaintance of nice gentlemen.

If the hypothetical young lady in question (by which, I suppose, is meant any readers of this piece) should wish for more extensive advice, they could do worse than to consult The Mirror Of Graces, which was composed by A Lady Of Distinction. This impressive work has principally shaped and informed the advice proffered below.

To begin, we must acknowledge that this period of ours is a time of exhibition.[1] Far more restraint and modesty is required of the general population. We could perhaps argue that, by holding ourselves back, we are putting others first. And one must always give due consideration for those around them. A young lady should also regulate her demeanour, so that it is appropriate for the company in which she is mixing.[2] Behaviour among close friends and equals will inevitably be different to that among strangers or those of elevated rank. A young lady should pay attention to these things, so that she is not thought to be inappropriate or disrespectful.

However, she must also be aware that, regardless of all other considerations, she should always hold gentlemen at a greater distance than ladies.[3] Decency and refinement make this an absolute requirement of her.[4] An elegant lady will inevitably, in her demeanour and manners, keep herself ever so slightly removed from any gentleman. This is not to cause offence, or to suggest that no lady and gentleman can ever enjoy a close friendship. It is merely a natural consequence of a modest and cultivated character, to which all should aspire.

Yet as has already been lamented, we are living in a time of decline, and the consequences of this are becoming clear. It is not unknown for a gentleman, in greeting a lady, to rush forwards and take her hand.[5] And to then, just as quickly, rush away again.[6] This is wholly unacceptable. A lady should expect to receive far more civility and polite attention. A gentleman, when speaking to a lady, should take the time to converse with her properly. And he should not have the presumption to shake her hand! In the first instance, a lady does not shake her hand, but takes the hand of another with a warm pressure.[7] And in the second instance, this familiarity is reserved for only a very small number.[8] The vulgarity displayed by our imaginary gentleman above is really quite shocking. Should any young lady meet with behaviour such as this, she should withdraw her hand with a look of severity, censure and displeasure.[9] Hopefully, he will learn his lesson and mend his ways.

Beyond shaking hands, a kiss of greeting and farewell is reserved for an even smaller number.[10] The so-called good natured kiss is a ridiculous folly and the ruination of happiness.[11] A lady should never agree to bestow a good natured kiss on anyone. Ever.

This is perhaps the main advice that can be given with regards to the handling the expectations of others in social situations, and indeed ourselves. Restraint is the order of the day. And maybe for tomorrow as well.


[1] A Lady Of Distinction, The Mirror Of Graces, (Kessinger Legacy Reprints), [Previously Published: Edinburgh, Adam Black and London: Longman and Co., 1830], p. 115.

[2] Ibid., p. 129.

[3] Ibid., p. 129.

[4] Ibid., p. 129.

[5] Ibid., p. 131.

[6] Ibid., p. 131.

[7] Ibid., p. 132.

[8] Ibid., p. 132.

[9] Ibid., p. 132.

[10] Ibid., p. 132.

[11] Ibid., p. 133.

Select Bibliography

A Lady Of Distinction, The Mirror Of Graces, (Kessinger Legacy Reprints), [Previously Published: Edinburgh, Adam Black and London: Longman and Co., 1830].


This entry was tagged Etiquette, Regency, Social Success. Bookmark the permalink.

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