Monday, July 12, 2010

The Wisdom of Emily Post

I've been reading Emily Post's Etiquette. (This book is available as an ebook and an audiobook through Project Gutenberg.) Now, I'm not reading this for fun. It's research for a book I want to write set in the 1920's and the original edition of Etiquette was released in 1922.

Recently, an interview with author Alice Duncan was posted to this blog. As some of her books take place in the 1920's I decided they might count as research or at least as encouragement for my own story so I read Lost Among the Angels and Angel's Flight. The heroine of these books is Mercy (Mercedes Louise to her Mother) Alcutt. Mercy is a properly brought up, wealthy young woman from Boston who has chosen to move to Los Angelos and take a job (gasp) as a secretary with Private Investigator Ernie Templeton. (And if you happen to read this, Alice, I hope you are not finished writing about Mercy and Ernie. I absolutely loved the first two books.)

I was glad to see that Mercy seemed to have studied Emily Post or a similar source. I saw many details, such as the way she introduced people, that matched up with Mrs. Post's advice. I'm sure Etiquette will be an important resource for me,  but it is a bit of a dry, dusty read. It was more fun to watch Mercy try to reconcile her proper Boston manners with relaxed Los Angelos standards.

And really, isn't this one of the wonderful things about fiction - that it makes learning so enjoyable and effortless. Get lost in a story and come out with a bit more knowledge or understanding. It doesn't mean we don't need the more scholarly works. Sometimes you just have to plow through the dull and the boring to find out what you want to know. But when you can mix the two, I've found the result to be invariably good.

I'm about to start Alice Duncan's latest release Hungry Spirits. It's also set in the 1920's but the main character, Daisy Gumm Majesty, is a pretend spiritualist and a far cry from a proper, wealthy young lady. But still...I wonder what I might learn from Daisy? Maybe I'll need a seance scene in my new work. You know what they say - learning is never a waste.


Terry Odell said...

Research is critical. I recall learning basic "good manners" in school. I don't think they teach that anymore. Too bad. Structure can help ease otherwise uncomfortable situations.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I agree that research is essential. I dislike novels that are uninformed. I don't believe writers should info drop, but it's so important to know the behavior and manners of a certain era. I spent a great deal of time reading historical material on the Regency period before I started writing TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS. I wanted to get things right.
As for Alice Duncan, her novels set in the 1920's, the SPIRITS series, are first-rate.

Kara Lynn Russell said...

I'm really looking forward to getting Tea Leaves and Tarot Cards. I thought it would be in this month's Five Star shipment, but now I see it is scheduled for next month.

My first novel (safely buried in the back of my closet) was a Regency. I've always liked that genre. Period accuracy is a challenge, isn't it?

Kara Lynn Russell said...

I agree that basic manners should still be taught. Not what fork to use or how to address royalty, but the basics which pretty much comes down to being considerate of others.

Alice said...

Thank you, Kara! This is so cool. I'm pleased to be on the same blog as Emily Post! So glad you enjoyed the first two Mercy books. Her third adventure, FALLEN ANGELS, will be out in . . . um . . . I think May of 2011.

Terry Stonecrop said...

My mother-in-law presented me with a copy of Emily Post's, Etiquette, when I was first married. An old family tradition. I was so thrilled! :(

Maybe it's a New England thing.

Fun post on Post!

Kara Lynn Russell said...

Alice, I'm glad to know that the series is continuing but I wish I didn't have to wait so long. Oh well, patience is a virtue. I'll try to cultivate some.

Terry, I can imagine you weren't thrilled. My husband's family always gives a copy of the Lutheran Book of Worship for confirmations. Appropriate but not exactly exciting.