Monday, November 27, 2017

The Victorian Era's "Miss Manners"

Our newest offering at Monroe St. Press is The Ladies' Guide to Perfect Manners by Eliza Leslie (1787-1858), one of the first recognized domestic experts in antebellum America. 

Originally published in 1853 as "Miss Leslie's Behaviour Book", the Ladies' Guide covers almost every subject of interest to the middle/upper class woman of the era -- entertaining family and friends, travel tips, shopping, correspondence, how to address and introduce others, imparting good manners to children, and much more. 

Born in Philadelphia, Eliza Leslie spent six years of her childhood in England. After her father's death, her mother managed a boardinghouse. These experiences likely influenced her tips on how travelers and boarders should behave courteously toward other guests and staff. 

Miss Leslie attended a cooking school operated by Elizabeth Goodfellow, a well-known confectionery/bakery owner in Philadelphia. This experience inspired her to collect and publish her favorite recipes (then referred to as "reciepts") in her book  Seventy-Five Reciepts for Pastries, Cakes and Sweetmeats (1828). The success of this book led to her publishing others, including her best known work, Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches (1837), which stayed in print through the 1890s. 

In the 1840s she began branching out into popular literature. She published an annual collection of fiction titled The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present, which included short stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others. She also contributed to Godey's Lady's Book, the Saturday Evening Post, and other popular periodicals. The effects of her fame as a writer are addressed in one chapter of The Ladies' Guide, which discusses how to communicate courteously with authors. 

While much of the book's advice addresses now-obsolete or rarely used forms of transportation and technology (such as maintaining coal or wood stoves or traveling by steamship) and inevitably reflects the ideas, culture and prejudices of her era, there is much that is still useful and practical. It also can be used as a reference work by Victorian and Steampunk aficionados and historical reenactors. 

The Ladies' Guide to Perfect Manners is now available at the Monroe St. Press website. Cost is $10.