Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Believable Fiction

I had a question concerning the correct way to address a note and consulted my always handy (well on the top shelf in the back corner) Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette: a Guide to Gracious Living. As I flipped to the correspondence section, I came across this part, which was listed under Chapter 56, "Divorce and Separation". (And this is a direct quote.)

It is the wife who still replies to formal invitations, whether or not it is she who has left home. She refuses any to which the couple has been jointly invited. She has her own quiet social life, as does her husband, but she should conduct herself always as a married woman should, carefully giving the impression that the marriage is intact and that for some reason that is none of the public's business. The couple does not attend social functions together at the moment. Or she may invent a believable fiction. Polite people never press for such information, anyway. If a woman has children she usually continues to wear her wedding ring, though she may either put away her engagement ring or have its setting redesigned.

I had to think about this for a while. So according to Miss Vanderbilt, the wife should just go on pretending that everything is OK, her husband has just taken an extended business trip. Or, perhaps his company has transferred him to another city and she has stayed behind with the children, as to not disrupt their lives. This is the "believable fiction"? Miss Vanderbilt never says anything about the husband. Perhaps he should conduct himself as if the marriage never existed.

And, I love the part about the jewelry. Maybe that's where the public takes their clue. I can hear it now. "I see that Jane is no longer wearing her engagement ring, just her wedding band." "Well, that would certainly explain Rob's extensive travel schedule and Jane's new diamond broach."

I read on and find a passage I think most attorneys representing husbands in divorce would find troubling, but we must remember that according to Miss Vanderbilt, etiquette trumps all:

If either judicial separation or separation-by-agreement occurs, no public announcement need be made through advertisements in the press, such as "My wife having left me, I am no longer responsible for, etc." This is never legally necessary. While he is still her husband, a man is financially responsible for his wife's debts for "necessaries," those incurred by her during the marriage, no matter how much he may protest to the contrary.

While I can handle the correct note, when to send flowers, and how to dress correctly as a guest at a wedding (something most people have long since forgotten - see Chapter 2). I can safely skip over Chapters 39, 40, and 41, ("Special Problems of Service", "Employer-Servant Relations", and "Dress and Duties of the Household Staff"). Chapter 42 fits me to a tee - "Gracious Living without Servants". It is too late for me to read Chapter 50, "Children, the Formation of Character." And, if I ever have an invitation from the Holy See I now know to consult Chapter 74, "An Audience with the Pope."

Did you know that: A well-groomed women is carefully girdled, if necessary, from the time she gets up in the morning until she undresses for the night. (Chapter 23) And if you have questions about the proper girdle, have no fear, our proper Miss Vanderbilt has the answer for you:

The most comfortable girdle is the two-way stretch, which allows free body movement and which is made at least partly of latex. Its loose weave permits evaporation of perspiration. Any girdle that pulls you in unnaturally, into some semblance of the currently fashionable figure, is likely to make you so uncomfortable and irritable that any striking effect your new clothes can make is nullified by your tense expression.

(I would never want the striking effect of my currently fashionable clothes nullified by my tense expression. Perhaps this was why Aunt Kat was always so cheerful - she wore a comfortable girdle.)

(I'll leave her comments on Brassieres for another day.)

All in all it's a handy book to have around. Without it, I would truly be "not up to snuff" (as my Aunty would say.) And you thought she just covered weddings and correspondence. Well, my dear, you would be incorrect. This is the thorough Miss Vanderbilt, who has a comment about every aspect of our lives. After briefly going through the book, I'd say I'm batting about 500. I am proud to say that my riding attire is correct. However, I need to work on my posture and funeral etiquette and remember it is not proper to wear costume jewelry (or anklets) with your black dress while in mourning.

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