Regency couple
Living life, The Self

Say what?! I beg your pardon.

I read historical romance novels, whether they are considered classics like ‘Pride and Prejudice’, or contemporary offerings of historical romance from authors like Stephanie Laurens, Sabrina Jefferies, Anne Gracie or Sarah MacLean.

What caught my initial attention to historical romance was the dialogue … the old-fashioned conversations where civility rules, with negligible swearing and yet convey the same message, if not better.  Alright, civility is relative and generational, it changes with the times… but I do love the language of old. The scathing rebuke, the haughty disdain, the cutting criticism and the subtle flirting…love them.

  • How did we lose the art of subtlety?
  • Why do we think we need to be simple, direct and spell it all out?
  • When did we believe we have the right to speak our minds no matter what?
  • Why do we believe being silent about certain topics is cowardice?
  • How has it come to be that being mindful of the feelings of others is weakness?

Victorian gathering

Anyhow, I came across this article on the art of conversations based on an 1866 book by Arthur Martine on etiquette and politeness. It reminds me of the things that are rarely attended to in conversation in our ‘modern’ age.

This is what Martine had to say about ‘conversation’:

As the object of conversation is pleasure and improvement, those subjects only which are of universal interest can be made legitimate topics of pleasantry or discussion. And it is the gift of expressing thoughts and fancies in a quick, brilliant, and graceful manner on such topics,—of striking out new ideas, eliciting the views and opinions of others, of attaching the interest of all to the subject discussed, giving it, however trifling in itself, weight and importance in the estimation of the hearers, that constitutes the great talent for conversation.


The great charm of conversation consists less in the display of one’s own wit and intelligence, than in the power to draw forth the resources of others;…

Conversations are social interactions.  A conversation is meant to bring people together, to find commonalities thus creating a community of sorts if only for that moment; it is not a space to distinguish oneself, to establish any hierarchy though I know it happens. We do not need to press our views or insist on having our say.

So here are some ‘rules’ for a ‘true’ conversationalist, as suggested by Martine:

  1. Don’t correct your conversation partner or go on righteousness crusades.  It is a conversation, not a soapbox.  Be open to other possibilities.
  2. Be selective in who you choose to have conversations with. Don’t waste your time. Conversation works when your conversation partner shares the same values as you.
  3. Be mindful of your audience and don’t parade your knowledge before those less learned.
  4. Omission isn’t lying, it’s politeness.
  5. Let your opinion change. As we seek to understand rather than to be right, we in all likelihood will change our opinion.  It is a conversation after all, not an argument or debate.
  6. Don’t be pretentious and do away with affectation. Your conversation partner wants a real person, not a faker.
  7. Practice genuine humility and avoid arrogance. Every one wants to be listened to and appreciated for the conversation.

The uniting factor of these, in my view, is respect for the other in a conversation. It is just as much about them, as it is about you… in fact more so.

Modern gathering

What do you think of these ‘rules’? Do they think they apply in the 21st century? Should they?

Arthur Martine’s Handbook of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness can be downloaded here for free. It contains information worth a read, and a laugh? Enjoy!

– FlorenceT


© 2015 Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.


14 thoughts on “Say what?! I beg your pardon.”

  1. Politeness and chivalry are nice, but my impressions from historical fiction is that a lot of their speech and politeness was polite games that they played with each other to hide their contempt or true feelings. It seems to me that those true feelings were not allowed either, very invalidated. I’ll take our modern straight-forwardness instead of everyday political games in conversation, it reduces insecurity and confusion. Not that I wouldn’t like people to be better mannered, but I hate the mind games.


  2. To answer your questions I think the current generation is aware of the codes of etiquette but somehow they are dubbed ‘old fashioned’ to swear and use expletives and throw tantrums seem to be the ‘in thing’ to grab people’s attention…we do see a lot of well mannered youth every now and then, but I think it all starts in the home. Media has a huge role to play here as well.


  3. Sigh! I’m in love with the chivalry and the sense of decorum of the protagonists in historical romances..Thank you for this post Florence!


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