Sunday, May 31, 2015

Etiquette of Victorian British Housewives

"Hot cakes or rolls are delicacies never seen on an English breakfast table. After the interview with the cook the lady of the house is full mistress of her own time."

The Ideal of Comfort Is Good Service, Even If the Table Be Less Plentiful

In an article on the English middle classes, Harper's Bazar, gives some very entertaining details about the manners and daily customs of an English household of the "upper" middle class, among them the following:

An American woman wonders when she learns how many servants are needed to run such a household. The cook must have her one or more kitchen maids, there must be a couple of footmen and a parlor maid, two or three chambermaids and a lady's maid, and in large houses this would seem but a small stall. Visiting hours are so arranged that the Englishwoman has her morning practically to herself. She is well fortified for the day. She had her cup of tea before getting up. Then at 9 came breakfast with her husband and children—an informal meal, with no servants in the room. At this she drank another cup of tea, ate her rasher of bacon and toast and finished with marmalade. The menu is bacon and marmalade winter and summer, spring and autumn. Hot cakes or rolls are delicacies never seen on an English breakfast table. After the interview with the cook the lady of the house is full mistress of her own time. 

She can count upon no one, except perhaps an intimate friend, calling before 3 or 4 in the afternoon, so that it is rarely she is interrupted for formal social duties. Luncheon is a very important function, from which children are banished to the nursery. It might be called more correctly a dinner—hot joint and vegetables, a pudding, cheese and fruit. Shopping hours are much the same as with us. Between 12 and 5 the shops are most crowded. The most popular time of all, however, is from 3 to 5. And then, if luncheon must be had away from home, it is in the genuine English restaurant —in the Holborn or the Criterion or the St. James—it is eaten. Not for the British middle class women are the pleasant little French and Italian haunts. At 5 o'clock tea is served. It is brought up to the drawing room on a tray, and is the most informal and delightful of all English meals. Thin slices of bread and butter and cake—homemade, if possible—are eaten with it, and on a day "at home," it answers as an excellent substitute for conversation.  

After tea it is time to dress for 7, 7:30 or 8 o'clock dinner. Dinner, the master of the house now being at home, is a very formal affair, far more so than it is with us. The manner in which it is served is of more account than the dishes of which it consists. Our standby, soup, you need never expect to get very good, if you get it at all. Upon the inevitable joint andthe no less inevitable tart you can as surely count. With dinner the day ends. The hours that remain are devoted to amusement, whether that means sitting around the fire in the embarrassed silence, broken by spasmodic "aobs" that in England is called talking, or going to the theater, where stalls and balcony are usually filled by the wealthy "upper" middle class. —Philadelphia Record, 1891 

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