Love and Laughter in the old west…
Sage advice from Margaret’s new book A Suitor for Jenny
Charm and composure must prevail at all times. If a gunfight erupts, exit the scene with grace and serenity.
If you don’t know whether or not to kiss a handsome man, give him the benefit of the doubt.
Never engage in boisterous laughter. If you must show mirth, a polite smile or titter will suffice.
Never criticize your beau. If it wasn’t for his faults he’d probably be courting someone else.
An inappropriate suitor should be quickly and thoroughly banished before he wins the heart of his intended.
A woman more knowledgeable than a man is obliged to hold her tongue and feign ignorance in all matters except, of course, childbirth.
Never show affection in public. Love may be blind but the townspeople are not.
Once your vows are exchanged devote yourself to domestication—his.
Eschew secrets, for they are normally discovered at the worst possible time. If confronted, weep and deny everything.
Ah, advice. Where would be without it? I don’t know when the first self-help books were written but I have a collection from the 1800s jam packed with handy hints, some good, some bad, some bizarre, but all of which provided inspiration for my story.
As you might imagine, some of these early books have to do with domestic matters. One book on my shelf is Beeton’s Book of Household Management written in 1861. This hefty 1100 page tome gives how-to information for just about everything a good housewife needed to know, from pickling tongue to rearing children and protecting one’s assets following a divorce.
An amazing number of books had to do with minding your Ps and Qs. It would seem that learning good manners was a national past time. Don’t: A Manual of Mistakes of Improprieties More or Less Prevalent in Conduct and Speech published in 1880 was one of a series of books on etiquette.
In case you are wondering what some of those improprieties might have been, here’s advice from the book which is probably just as relevant today as it was in the 1800s: “Don’t play the accordion, the violin or the piano or any musical instrument to excess. Your neighbors have nerves, and need at times a little relief from inflictions of the kind. If you could manage not to play an instrument at all, unless you are an accomplished performer, so much the better.”
Certainly no woman in the early 19th century would have been caught dead without a copy of Etiquette for Ladies: With Hints on the Preservation, Improvement, and Display of Female Beauty. The book includes a not-to-be-missed recipe for a paste of boiled eggs, rose water and alum to be applied “to skin too loosely attached to the muscles.”
Perhaps most surprising of all were the number of self-help etiquette books written by and for men. Can you imagine today’s males reading an etiquette book? Practical Hints from a Father to his Daughter, The Complete Bachelor and The American Gentleman were all written at the beginning of the 19th century. I don’t know if the following book was written for men or women but you probably won’t see The Guide to Social Intercourse in your local Barnes & Noble any time soon.
What you will find is my new book, A Suitor For Jenny, due in bookstores at the end of this month. My heroine Jenny Higgins firmly believes that women who fall in love at first sight often wish they’d taken a second look. For this reason she diligently follows the rules set forth in The Compleat and Authoritative Manual for Attracting and Procuring a Husband.
After their parents died, Jenny felt responsible for seeing that her two younger sisters were well-taken care of. Tipped off by an article naming Rocky Creek as having the highest number of eligible bachelors per capita, Jenny rolls into this Texas town with a clear objective: find suitable husbands for her sisters and then start fresh somewhere far, far away.
Included in Jenny’s manual is the handy, dandy PHAT (Prospective Husband Aptitude Test), which she diligently administers to all eligible men. Needless to say, the hero Marshal Rhett Armstrong fails the test, which only proves to Jenny that the advice in the manual is sound. Jenny is absolutely certain that The Compleat and Authoritative Manual for Attracting and Procuring a Husband is the key to finding perfect beaus, and it will take one handsome marshal and two rebellious sisters to convince her otherwise.
How about you! Any favorite how-to books on your shelves? What was the best advice you were ever given? The worse?