Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Etiquette and Gilded Age Daughters

The deck chair is a fearful incentive to sentimentality. What with it and the promenade for health's sake, and the dances and concerts and other amusements got up to enliven the voyage, it is nothing short of miraculous that any young man gets to land without being labeled "appropriated by Miss Columbia till further notice."



"Domestic unity in wedlock is not a necessity of the American marriage. But the majority are very happy and very satisfactory. The husband has his occupations, friends, and amusements; the wife hers. They often move in entirely different "sets" and meet at a table or an entertainment with pleasant sense of surprise. But it is understood that the husband must not intrude into a "higher" social circle then that of his own choosing, even if his wife be a shining light therein.


These matters are beautifully managed in the States. No wonder that an English husband finds it difficult to act up to the etiquette of such a position!


There is a word of which American people are very fond. It is "attractive." It is an English word, but they do not use it in English fashion. It is a synonym for the seaside girl, and the engaged girl. They're always "attractive" when they fall short of being "just lovely." It lets them down gracefully to a safe vantage point of exploitation.


The "attractive" girl is perpetually being engaged or breaking off engagements. If she is afraid of scandal she goes off to Europe and tries her "prentice hand" on the liner en route. The deck chair is a fearful incentive to sentimentality. What with it and the promenade for health's sake, and the dances and concerts and other amusements got up to enliven the voyage, it is nothing short of miraculous that any young man gets to land without being labeled "appropriated by Miss Columbia till further notice."
                                                                      

May Van Alen was most certainly  an "Attractive Girl" 
At one point, May Van Alen was said to soon be engaged to the Duke of Manchester and the newspapers ate the story up, complete with all the necessary "family gossip" and pedigrees.
May Van Alen Weds in London
May Van Alen was a daughter of the Gilded Age.  She continually dumped suitors and fiances, one of who committed suicide over her breaking their engagement. She was also the granddaughter of the Astors and the eldest daughter of James J. Van Alen of New York and Newport Rhode Island. In fact, the New York Times described her this way; "Miss Van Alen, as already stated, is the eldest daughter of James Van Alen. She is a very odd, original girl, extremely clever, and with a reputation for slight eccentricity." It goes on to say how the lives of all three Van Alen "children has not been of the happiest, not withstanding their money and their lineage."

The article went on to remind readers of the Van Alen's mother's death shortly after giving birth to her youngest child, Sarah, and how James Van Alen took his brood overseas for an education. In the same article, it states about May Van Alen, "She is not pretty, but is chic and dresses in a very conspicuous and Parisian manner. She has an excited manner in talk and a fondness for saying startling things." Not a very flattering portrait of a young society girl in America's Gilded Age.
May Van Alen finally did choose a husband. She married Griswold Thompson in a private ceremony in St. George’s, Hanover Square in London, on September 24, 1913. The ceremony was conducted with the greatest level of secrecy and included a modest ten persons as guests. Never mind the fact that the wedding was actually scheduled for that coming Sunday. 
Odd? Yes. But May Van Alen left many people in her wake, even invited guests it seems. The strict etiquette of the day (and even the much lamented relaxed etiquette of today), would more than frown on inviting  guests to a wedding, then marrying in secrecy just days before the date one's guests have planned to attend. 
Was the newspaper article their invited guests' only notice? Or were they sent cards, or notes, of explanation?  –From the blog "Etiquette with Maura Graber," November 2012

But
it is quite right for an American girl to flirt, or even engage herself as often as she pleases. It only proves her attractiveness. Her father and mother have let her do exactly as she wished in childhood, and she carries on the habit when she is "out." It is no wonder therefore that marriage has to be considered a pastime, not an obligation.


I expect to be told that my views are wildly exaggerated and that I "must not judge of American marriages by what I've heard, read, or seen in America." But my readers must please remember that I am looking at them through English binoculars. Possibly I do not focus them a right. Possibly we do not look at things in the same way even as we do not speak the same language, or follow the same rules of life.


But of this I am sure— as long as the wedding is nearly an exposition of vanity and extravagance—as long as it is made an excuse for getting headlines in the papers, and treated as a mere theatrical spectacle, so long will it be a travesty of the name and it's sacred and social obligations!


Do not suppose I consider America as the sole offender in this respect. We are getting just as bad on our side. We, too, send the unimportant photograph, the list of wedding presents, the names (especially titles) of the wedding guests to any paper that will publish them. As yet our press is a little more decorous, but they are following close on the heels of their transatlantic brotherhood. America first showed us the value of advertising. It remains for us to prove it in the interests of the marriage– as well as the commercial– market."
 
–"Rita" for the New York Times, 1910

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J .Graber, is the Editor and Site Moderator for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia