“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”– Emily Post
written by Jessica Gardner
The term “etiquette” first originated in the early 18th century with Lord Chesterfield (1694–1773) who wrote Principles of Politeness, and of Knowing the World, an adaptation of letters written to instruct his son on the ways of the world. However, long before he coined the term, concepts of chivalry and decency, at least amongst the highest classes, had been unwritten code in civilizations all around the world.
Born in 1872 in Baltimore, Maryland, Emily Post, one of the unseen characters in the play Mrs. Mannerly, became the face of the American etiquette and civility movement after publishing her first edition of Etiquette in 1922. Her publication soon topped the nonfiction bestseller list and its pages of her book were filled with advice about anything–and everything–from table manners to even the proper funeral mourning technique. The phrase “according to Emily Post” soon became the last word on social conduct. For a girl born into an era that firmly believed well-bred women should not work, Mrs. Post soon found herself a celebrity of national stature and importance, as well as a successful American business woman. For the next 38 years until her death in 1960, she published several books, maintained a syndicated newspaper column, hosted a regular radio program, dabbled in fashion design, and even built the apartment complex where she resided the rest of her life.
However, while Mrs. Post put on a brave face for the public, she suffered from private humiliation stemming from her husband’s adultery and their ensuing divorce. Even after her marriage dissolved, she never faltered from what she saw as her proper role as a dignified wife. She never had another romantic relationship and continuously upholded the institution of marriage in all of her writings. Towards the end of her life, some of the etiquette codes she held so dear began to distance her from the rest of society. With the rise of feminism and a growing counterculture in the 1950s, Mrs. Post’s etiquette advice began to show its age.
Using etiquette as a guise of normalcy while her personal life fell apart makes Emily Post all the more human. In this way, she is very similar to the two starring characters in Mrs. Mannerly. Both Helen Kirk (a.k.a Mrs. Mannerly) and Jeffrey look to Mrs. Post for stability as they struggle to find a sense of belonging in Steubenville.
Just how influential is Emily Post to the story of Mrs. Mannerly? You’ll have to see the play to find out…
Covington, Sarah. “Etiquette.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Ed. Maryanne Cline Horowitz. Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005. 730-732. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 21 Sep. 2012.
The Emily Post Institute. http://www.emilypost.com.
Shapiro, Laura. “Emily Post’s Secret.” Slate. The Washington Post, 22 Oct. 2008. Web. 28 Sept. 2012.