Friday, 16 April 2010

How Not To Be Rag-Mannered

Nothing puts me to sleep like a good relaxing read of a Georgette Heyer novel. Georgette Heyer is the mother of the Regency Romance genre, and in her lifetime no-one in the world knew more about Regency language than she did. Her work should not be lumped in with the racks and racks of bodice-rippers and other such trash that dominate bookshops today. No. She is a worthy acolyte of Jane Austen. It's as if she put down Persuasion, decided that it was a pity Jane died so young, and did her best to continue what Jane had started. With highwaymen added, of course.

Heyer's heroines strive heroically always to appear lady-like in public. And in private, too. No matter how boring this suitor, or how rude that villain, or how deeply annoying that family hanger-on, the Heyer heroine wrestles her emotions into submission to her reason. Romanticism may be sweeping Europe, but Heyer's well-born ladies are coolly classical, even if their hearts race under their cloaks and capes and tippets and whatnot. They make it their aim to always present a pleasant, polite face (except to pert servants and encroaching suitors who are just begging for a "set-down"), to find favour in the eyes of their elders, and to set the shy at their ease. If they are overpowered by the troubles that beset them, they complain of headache and retire to their rooms, where they vent their feelings in privacy upon a pillow. If they are subsequently late to dinner, they apologize brightly for being so "rag-mannered".

If we can learn something from Heyer's heroines, it's not to complain in public. If a Regency heroine as much as heard about The Jerry Springer Show, she would faint dead away and, when brought to, apologize weakly for being so rag-mannered.

The motto of Britain B.D. (before Diana) was "Mustn't grumble!" This might strike some as funny, when one considers the governments, the newspapers and the labour movements of the kingdom. But those things, like my conversations with my lawyer, are the stuff of business. In the domestic sphere, the sphere of shopping, cleaning, cooking, homework, examining the weather, chatting to the neighbours, the motto "Mustn't grumble!" must have been the sword and shield of social life. Grumblers are very dull, unless they are Frankie Boyle, and then one watches him on TV or far from the front row at the theatre, with children nowhere in earshot.

When the teenaged I used to complain, as only teenagers can, my mother used to sniff and say, "She knew not what it was to suffer in silence" in the theatrical tone that denoted quotation. I thought that most unfair, for I had a Female Complaint that made me feel as though a fox were chewing out my innards, and, similiar to the Spartan boy with his real fox, I obeyed the social norm that forbade me to talk about it: Too Much Information. But no doubt in general my mother was right, and I was a moaning bore, especially on the theme of "Boys don't like me."

There were so many thoughts that sprang to my mind that afternoon of reading the forum of [Catholic dating website] that I can best deal with them in a list:

1. Don't be bitter.
2. Don't be bitter.
3. Don't be bitter.

I know this is easier said than done, so I will give you another, more positive list:

1. Be grateful for what you have.
2. Ponder your gratitude for what you have.
3. Express your gratitude for what you have.

The revelation that Gratitude Saves came to me from Melody Beattie, who wrote Co-dependent No More and other books in the same vein. When I finally got the hang of practising gratitude, it turned my inner life around. Outer life eventually followed inner life.

In general, people do not like people who brag, but people do like sunny, friendly people who are so confident in their own dignity, that they are willing to listen to the stories and hopes of others and to keep their private sorrows private.

I once dated a man born with severe hearing impairment; he was slowly going blind, too. And he never, not once, complained about it in my hearing. He complained about Deaf Culture, which he avoided like the plague, but he never once complained about all the extra work he had had to do to become successful in the hearing world. His favourite boast was "The Lord took my hearing, but He left me with great hair."

The men I like most I like for their enjoyment of life. "Marvellous" says one. "Mahhh-vel-lous!" And then there's the one who always says "Splendid!" as in "Oh, it's simply splen-did!" Both men are well-loved by their friends for their unabashed love of ideas and things: "Marvellous!" "Splendid!" They don't talk about their problems or the things they don't like; they talk about ideas and the things they do like.

I do not have a baby, which sometimes makes me a bit sad, but a quick reflection that I do have a very nice husband, two nephews, a niece-on-the-way and a promise (from the very nice husband) that I can have a puppy when I go back to Britain, never ceases to cheer me up. And, I have to admit, I sort of gave up on having a baby when I was 36 and had no husband in sight. I did my mourning then. Falling in love at 37 with Mr. McRight was a complete surprise, a total gift. So I can't really complain. And even if I could, I would try not to do it in public.


Jessica said...

I like this post a lot. You might even say I'm grateful that you wrote it. :) As a first year teacher, I'm finding myself feeling frustrated and stressed quite a bit...but I'll keep in mind that if asked about my job, I should talk about joy of teaching the precious little darlings, and not how they never turn in homework on time.

Seraphic said...

Thank you! And exactly! The only people who need to know about the tardiness with homework are the little darlings' parents and your mentor, whoever that is.

The more you talk about the joy, the less frustrated you will feel with the sorrows, and that will show in your day-to-day interactions.

Cordi said...


Which of Georgetter Hayer's works do you like the most? I'm often looking for something light to read, and am wondering which are the best to start with. Thanks!

Seraphic said...

"These Old Shades" is marvellous, as its its sequel "Devil's Cub". Another great favourite is "Cotilion". "Arabella" has a light-hearted social justice theme. Last night I fell asleep after finishing "Lady of Quality". "Sprig Muslin" is also great fun. As is "Frederica". And that's just off the top of my head!

Anonymous said...

Friday's Child is also terrific. But (as I wrote once on my blog) I don't think Georgette Heyer is really another Jane Austen. Her humour and her moral sense are quite different. (More slapstick than Jane; less inclined to glamourize the evils of the Regency's social world.) I think Heyer has more in common with P.G. Wodehouse.

About babies: begging your pardon, Auntie S., give it time, and buy pretty lingerie.


Seraphic said...

Oh yes, Clio FC is delightful (although I have some grave 21st century misgivings about Lord Sherry's bullying)!

I agree with you in the main about Heyer. Unlike Austen, she is not writing about her own world, and she has much to do with descriptions of clothing, etc, that Austen would find redundant. And yes, she is more slapstick, though not as slapstick as Wodehouse (except in "Cotilion", with Freddy as Bertie without Jeeves).

I don't think you could say Austen GLAMOURIZES the evils though; instead she ignores them or even thinks they are a Good Thing. But, do you know, there is still a touch of sadness in Austen that is entirely missing in Heyer. I've felt uneasy about how Elizabeth would get on with Darcy in the long run, for example, thanks to Austen's hint that Darcy had not yet learned to laugh at himself. Would he ever?

Anonymous said...

I "mis-spoke"; I meant that Heyer glamorizes and Austen doesn't. Humph. Don't quite know how I did that.

If Jane were a painter, she'd be a cross between Constable and Ingres. If Heyer were a painter she'd be Fragonard - the creator of an ideal world of fun and laughter, albeit one with its own kind of underlying melancholy.


Anonymous said...

great post! i've been following your blog for the past few months, and i love your practical, no-nonsense way of saying it the way it is. those girls who sit around and breed bitterness with their "i hate being single" mantras (not that no one is perfect, we all have a bad day for sure, myself included) are unpleasant to hang out even to me! i hate discussing relationship problems for hours on end. how boring and self absorbed! let's just go have a beer and talk to everyone in sight instead! or go help someone. or do something adventurous. if bitter girls like that irritate me, i can only imagine how UNattrative that makes them to guys! always slap a smile on your face even if you don't feel like it! you're so right ... being a whiner is counterproductive and being grateful is the key to putting things in perspective. sure, you may not have a man ... but you're not starving in haiti either ... go be God's hands or his smile and be a new person ... and YES to georgette heyer ... hilarious, but i just got two of her books from the library today ... you are my soulmate, seraphic!

Alisha said...

I like, I like! I can definitely do well to remember this day to day! :)

theobromophile said...

:) I like this one, too!

For those of us who aren't the "paste a smile onto your face" types, I've found that it's best to focus on an area of your life over which you have some measure of control (going to the gym to get in shape, sending cards to people whom you miss, etc.) and working to improve that. If you start to do something positive for yourself (inner, outer, psychological, emotional, religious....), you feel more positive about yourself.