Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

or the death of manners.

Some time ago I re-read Emma by Jane Austen and was again impressed by how formal their society used to be comparing to the modern one we inhabit. It was formal in the way people dressed and behaved and even husbands and wives spoke about their spouses as Mr or Mrs X, instead of calling them by their first names.

In fact, Frank Churchill was indignant that Mrs Elton, the novel's epitome of vulgarity dared to address Miss Fairfax as simply Jane, when he himself, being engaged to her always said "Miss".

Not only are these times gone, the MSM keep mocking our past, traditions and ancestors in portraying them as reserved prudes who spent their lives adhering to some rigid ritual, without ever experiencing real feelings. Yet, strange enough, period dramas about this supposedly oppressive Western Christian society are a very popular genre indeed.

It is as if people, especially women, can't get enough of viewing the images of the accursed Western patriarchy (I just wish that instead of comparing pears and oranges, i.e., the way the pre-modern, pre-welfare Western society with limited resources operated compared to ours, they'd compare it with similar non-Western societies of the time, but by some strange reason, they never do). I believe that they produce a new Jane Austen adaptation every 10 years, milking the market for all it's worth.

What is it that attracts the viewers so much? Why is it that so many women, dressed day in day out in jeans, t-shirts and sneakers buy the magazines about the life of royalty and discuss their dresses and hats? Is it because they miss beauty in their life? Someone (I believe it was Laura Woods) pointed out that the popularity of Downton Abbey is probably due to the fact that it showed a structured life and so many contemporary families totally miss any structure and order in their daily lives?

Those supposedly artificial rituals people used to follow, served some very practical purpose. They taught people purpose and self-discipline, something which is too often totally lacked nowadays. You were supposed to do certain things on certain times and to wear certain clothes on certain occasions. You were supposed to make an effort to look well and put together, whatever happened and keep your distance from others, which prevented many a quarel.

Our society is too familiar and too casual. It's supposed to be "more authentic" but I believe it is not authenticity but laziness and slovenliness which are behind the modern death of manners. It takes an effort to maintain a healthy weight. It takes time and effort to dress well. It's a lot of work to maintain a well-run household. It takes trouble to teach your children to be decent people. It's much easier to just let go.

The civilisation which becomes too casual risks ending up in the mud huts.


  1. Housewife from FinlandApril 8, 2015 at 5:42 AM

    I think that work life would also benefit if people would keep some distance. Making "friends" with your collegues makes also quarrels and cliques. I love to watch german series where people actually "Siezen" each other -people do that very rarely in Finland nowadays. And in british shows, even in modern ones, people call their bosses sir or ma'am, not "Jane" or "Mark" as we do in Finland. I think it would be beneficial to have some formality in the way we speak.

    I have resently been reading some russian novels and it seems to me that they are more traditional than more western countries. People speak formally if they haven't decided to "leave titles" and men seem to be willing to have somewhat protective attitude towards women. (good men, that is.) And women are women, though I assume we all know the notorious russian femininity.

    I think people lack discipline. They don't seem to realize how important it is to maintain your rutines, go to bed in time and get up in time. Because that is what keeps you going when somethins unexpected happens.

  2. Housewife from FinlandApril 8, 2015 at 5:50 AM

    What also surprises me is how pretty and vain women can wear "something awful" in certain occasions. Why in earth they have clothes they have to excuse? "This old jacket, this is just awful, I look like homeless, but it will do here in dogpark", that's something one hears almost daily. So dogpark acquaintances are not worth decent clothes? Or your family? Some people can wear the oldest of rags at home and if someone else than family member sees them they are so ashamed.

    I am not that pretty and I know nothing about style but I make sure I only have clothes that I do not have to excuse or to be ashamed of.

  3. Housewife, interesting. Do you mean the contemporary Russian novels? Here in Holland I suppose we are more formal than overseas, but much less formal than people used to be.

    For instance, children are still taught to address grown-ups as Sir or Madame but the schoolteacher often will introduce herself by her first name only, at least those working with small children.

    The problem with familiarity at work is that if the boss is too familiar, he later will have trouble to put everybody in his place, so to say. It especially is the problem for small companies.

    As for clothes, I read somewhere that really classy people won't do what you are describing, for instance, using an old jacket for walking the dog. They will wear something nice and casual. It's the same as wearing an old gala dress for cleaning your house, not comme il faut:)

  4. I absolutely adore Agatha Christie's Poirot. Started watching it again and fell in love with the period (the idealised 1930s), the clothes, the manners. And I need such an ideal domestic as shown there, too!:)

  5. Housewife from FinlandApril 8, 2015 at 7:07 AM

    Yes, I meant contemporary russian novels. Of course people were rather formal at Tolstoi's times but that's propably no surprise. :) It is actually amazing that communism didn't manage to ruin gender gap and formal manners in Russia.

    I love Poirot, too. Perfect escapism for me.

  6. I have never seen any contemporary Russian novel sold here in Holland except something by Akunin, but it was not about modern Russia:)

    Poirot is really the feast for the eye. I'm a great Agatha Christie fan and I have a whole collection of her books at home, all bought second hand. Did you know that unlike in the TV series, Hastings was actually married and lived with his wife in Argentine where he had a ranch? She is called Cinderella in the books. They stayed childless though and she died several years after their marriage, while in the series, he stays a bachelor.

  7. Housewife from FinlandApril 8, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    They propably translate more books from russian to finnish than to dutch/english. Since we are neighbors and all. There are some detective stories and then some scifi/fantasy. Of course traditional gender gap is not the main thing in those books but it just IS there, if you know what I mean. You can read between the lines that their whole attitude differs from ours in Finland.

    I actually have the very book where Hastings finds Cinderella. "Murder on the Links" in english I guess. But they didn't stay childless, since in "the Curtain" there is Hasting's daughter Judith.

    Anyway I must say that casting in that tv-series is so very perfect. I just love inspector Japp.

  8. Dear Ladies,

    I am a little bit of off-topic (again), but I found something nice at Lady Lydia's (homeliving) blogroll. Even tough she is quite pro-make-up-and-perfect-complexion, she does mention God.

    and another, from the French point of view:

  9. Housewife,
    yes, I read "Murder on the Links" after I watched the episode and was surprised how they changed the story. Never read "the Curtain" so had no idea Hastings had a daughter:) Just remember than in one of her other novels he mentions his wife's death, but never that they had any children together. .

    thanks for the links! I'll check them. I'm not against make-up at all, though I seldom bother with it, because I read a DM article about how unhealthy it is:)

  10. BTW, Dutch men have an attitude, too!:)

  11. It is different in America. Everyone is you, there is no U. Do I mind - not really. People here rarely care about titles, and that's okay. I just don't like always hearing "you guys". I would say that people are on the whole very respectful and polite. Our relatives that come over cannot believe how polite people are. When church is over, everyone stays for coffee and introduces themselves. People don't butt in line and hardly do I hear people honking their horns. Titles can also separate people. By the way, my Oma always had the dutch magazine, "Ter Dege". That magazine was read by everyone.

  12. I know I miss beauty in my life. Maybe that's why I love that period of film so much. After a heavy diet of these films, people began to compliment me on the way I talked. I hadn't even noticed it. I know it was the Jane Austen (type) movies that rubbed off on me. I think I watched everything available on Netflix and Amazon. I must go back and do it all over!

  13. Marietta, there are still families where they teach children to say U to their parents:) I'd say that keeping a distance isn't always a bad thing, even in marriage, as being to open and personal can sometimes lead to conflicts later on. Terdege has become quite liberal on certain things lately, I'm afraid!

  14. Sharon, the amazing thing is that even in the 1980s people still tended to dress and behave more decently than they are doing now. Our society is a Weimar Republic on steroids. My only hope is that it won't end in the same manner.

  15. I used to dress for dinner when I was first married. I did my housework and shopping and cooking before my husband got home. After I prepared dinner and set the table, I changed into something nicer. Also I think it helps if the house has a section set aside for an actual dining room, away from the kitchen. It makes dinner more of an event.

  16. Lydia, I dress for dinner, too! I think it's one of those nice traditions which shouldn't be let die out...

  17. Housewife from FinlandApril 9, 2015 at 5:09 AM

    We eat dinner so early that I don't dress, but it is very lovely tradition. And we dress little bit better if it is Easter or Christmas, even if we are just with family.

    About Jane Austen: am I the only one who finds the ending of "Sense and Sensibility" very unsatisfying? I think Elinor should have married colonel Brandon. They where decent people and would have deserved each other. I think it was very unwise from colonel Brandon to fall in love with Marianne. Edward was too weak for Elinor and Marianne -well, she should have been send to nunnary and spanked twice a day. :)

  18. They couldn't send her to the nunnery since they weren't Catholic:) Edward was weak, but Elinor had the will of steel. I doubt the colonel would be happy with her. He obviously fell for ditz-heads.

  19. The one who really gets me, though, is Edmund from the Mansfield Park:)

  20. Housewife from FinlandApril 9, 2015 at 7:30 AM

    I think Jane Austen is sometimes wee bit too realistic whit her characters. Men falling love with nothing but pretty face and women being nothing but pretty face...

    My favourite is Mr. Knightley from "Emma". Emma is rather annoying, though. Now if we could match Mr. Knightley with Elinor...

  21. I came to the conclusion that I like John Knightley, too. He is undeservedly overlooked every time the book is discussed, probably because he is married. He reminds me of my husband somewhat, though I'm afraid I'm by no means as sweet as Isabella:)

  22. I really do like a lot the quote at

    'You know formalities are good things sometimes. They are like fences to keep intruders out and hedges to keep in the sacred and beautiful things of life.'

    Grace Livinston Hill