Thursday, November 19, 2015

Etiquette and Literary Women

A fan of the literary woman? ~ Say nothing concerning her writings, unless you chance to be alone with her. Take care not to speak of her first work as being her best; for if it is really so, she must have been retrograding from that time; a falling off that she will not like to hear of. 


Conduct Toward Literary Women

On being introduced to a female writer, it is rude to say that "you have long had a great curiosity to see her." Curiosity is not the right word. It is polite to imply that, "knowing her well by reputation, you are glad to have an opportunity of making her personal acquaintance." 


Say nothing concerning her writings, unless you chance to be alone with her. Take care not to speak of her first work as being her best; for if it is really so, she must have been retrograding from that time; a falling off that she will not like to hear of. Perhaps the truth may be, that you yourself have read only her first work; and if you tell her this, she will not be much flattered in supposing that you, in reality, cared so little for her first book, as to feel no desire to try a second. But she will be really gratified to learn that you are acquainted with most of her writings; and, in the course of conversation, it will be very pleasant for her to hear you quote something from them.

If she is a writer of fiction, and you presume to take the liberty of criticising her works, (as you may at her own request, or if you are her intimate friend,) refrain from urging that certain incidents are improbable, and certain characters unnatural. Of this it is impossible for you to judge, unless you could have lived the very same life that she has; known exactly the same people; and inhabited with her the same places. Remember always that "Truth is stranger than fiction." 

Be not too curious in questioning her as to the identity of her personages and the reality of her incidents. You have no right to expect that she will expose to you, or to any one else, her process of arranging the story, bringing out the characters, or concocting the dialogue. 
The French say—"Le vrai n'est pas toujours le plus vraisemblable,"—which, literally translated, means that "Truth is not always the most truth-like." Also, be it understood that a woman of quick perception and good memory can see and recollect a thousand things which would never be noticed or remembered by an obtuse or shallow, common-place capacity. And the intellect of a good writer of fiction is always brightened by the practice of taking in and laying up ideas with a view toward turning them to professional use.

Trust in her, and believe that she has painted from life. A sensible fictionist always does. At the same time, be not too curious in questioning her as to the identity of her personages and the reality of her incidents. You have no right to expect that she will expose to you, or to any one else, her process of arranging the story, bringing out the characters, or concocting the dialogue. The machinery of her work, and the hidden springs which set it in motion, she naturally wishes to keep to herself; and she cannot be expected to lay them bare for the gratification of impertinent curiosity, letting them become subjects of idle gossip. 


Be satisfied to take her works as you find them. If you like them, read and commend them; but do not ask her to conduct you behind the scenes, and show you the mysteries of her art—for writing is really an art, and one that cannot be acquired, to any advantage, without a certain amount of talent, taste, and cultivation, to say nothing of genius. What right have you to expect that your literary friend will trust you with "the secrets of her prison-house," and put it into your power to betray her confidence by acquainting the world that a certain popular novelist has informed you with her own lips ("but it must on no account be mentioned, as the disclosure would give mortal offence, and create for her hosts of enemies,") that by her character of Fanny Gadfly she really means Lucy Giddings; that Mr. Hardcastle signifies Mr. Stone; that Old Wigmore was modelled on no less a person than Isaac Baldwin; that Mrs. Bastings was taken from Mrs. Sunning; and Mrs. Babes from Mrs. Childers—etc, etc... Also, do not expect her to tell you on what facts her incidents were founded, and whether there was any truth in them, or if they were mere invention.    
There are persons so rude as to question a literary woman (even on a slight acquaintance) as to the remuneration she receives for her writings—in plain terms, "How much did you get for that?



Be not inquisitive as to the length of time consumed in writing this book or that—or how soon the work now on hand will be finished. It can scarcely be any concern of yours, and the writer may have reasons for keeping back the information. Rest assured that whenever a public announcement of a new book is expedient, it will certainly be made in print.

There are persons so rude as to question a literary woman (even on a slight acquaintance) as to the remuneration she receives for her writings—in plain terms, "How much did you get for that? and how much are you to have for this? And how much do you make in the course of a year? And how much a page do you get? And how many pages can you write in a day?"

To any impertinent questions from a stranger-lady concerning the profits of your pen, reply concisely, that these things are secrets between yourself and your publishers. If you kindly condescend to answer without evasion, these polite enquiries, you will probably hear such exclamations as, "Why, really—you must be coining money. I think I'll write books myself! There can't be a better trade," etc...

Ignorant people always suppose that popular writers are wonderfully well-paid—and must be making rapid fortunes—because they neither starve in garrets, nor wear rags—at least in America.             

Never tell an authoress that "you are afraid of her"—or entreat her "not to put you into a book." Be assured there is no danger.
Never ask one writer what is her real opinion of a cotemporary author. She may be unwilling to entrust it to you, as she can have no guarantee that you will not whisper it round till it gets into print. If she voluntarily expresses her own opinion of another writer, and it is unfavourable, be honourable enough not to repeat it; but guard it sedulously from betrayal, and avoid mentioning it to any oneWhen in company with literary women, make no allusions to "learned ladies," or "blue stockings," or express surprise that they should have any knowledge of housewifery, or needle-work, or dress; or that they are able to talk on "common things." It is rude and foolish, and shows that you really know nothing about them, either as a class or as individuals.

Never tell an authoress that "you are afraid of her"—or entreat her "not to put you into a book." Be assured there is no danger.

An authoress has seldom leisure to entertain morning visiters; so much of her time being professionally occupied either in writing, or in reading what will prepare her for writing. She should apprize all her friends of the hours in which she is usually engaged; and then none who are really her friends and well-wishers, will encroach upon her convenience for any purpose of their own; unless under extraordinary circumstances. 


To tell her that you were "just passing by," or "just in the neighbourhood," and "just thought you would stop in," is a very selfish, or at least a very inconsiderate excuse. Is she to suppose that you do not consider her conversation worthy of a visit made on purpose?

Recollect that to a woman who gets her living by her pen, "time is money," as it is to an artist. Therefore, encroaching on her time is lessening her income. And yet how often is this done (either heedlessly or selfishly) by persons professing to be her friends, and who are habitually in the practice of interrupting her in her writing hours, which should always be in the morning, if possible. They think it sufficient to say, like Paul Pry, "I hope I don't intrude"—knowing all the time that they do, and pretending to believe her when civility obliges her to tell them they do not. 


Even if the visit is not a long one, it is still an interruption. In one minute it may break a chain of ideas which cannot be reunited, dispel thoughts that can never be recalled, disturb the construction of a sentence, and obliterate a recollection that will not return. And to all this the literary lady must submit, because her so-called friend "chanced to be out that morning shopping"—or "happened to be visiting in that part of the town"—and therefore has called on her by way of "killing two birds with one stone." Very likely, the visiter will say to the unfortunate visited, "I know it is inconvenient to you to see your friends in the morning, but I never feel like going out in the afternoon. As soon as dinner is over I must have my nap; and by the time that is finished, it is too late for any thing else."

In consequence of these ill-timed visits, the printer may have to send in vain for "copy" that is not yet ready; and an article written expressly for a magazine may arrive too late for the next month, and be therefore deferred a month later, which may subject her not only to inconvenience, but to actual pecuniary loss—loss of money. Or, at least, the interruption may compel her to the painful effort of trying to finish it even by sitting up late at night, and straining her weary eyes by lamp-light. 


Yet this she must endure because it suits an idle and thoughtless friend to make her a long and inopportune visit. The children of the pen and the pencil might say to these intruders, like the frogs in the pond when the boys were pelting them with stones—"This may be sport to you, but it is death to us." –From The Ladies Guide to True Politeness and Perfect Manners, by Miss Leslie, 1864



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