Classic: Etiquette Handbook

Etiquette handbooks might seem out of fashion; they probably are, as having atrocious manners seems to become the norm. But this book is a treasure for several reasons. It was written in the 60s by a writer looking back to the 20s. All this makes double the fun, and that is not even all to have a good laugh while reading it. Just don't ever contemplate to follow the advice you're given.



Writers (and that isn't limited to second class mass producers like Dame Barbara Cartland) can at times produce something so far removed from what they normally write that the result can best be titled as a literary fraud. Obviously, there are extremely funny frauds that keep you giggling over pages. One of my favorite deviant books is Dame Barbara Cartland’s Etiquette Handbook published by Random House. 


When I saw that Random House had seen fit to republish that incredible piece of nonsense originally written in the 60s, I had a laughing fit. There are few people I can imagine with less knowledge about what they are writing about than Dame Barbara Cartland on good behavior. It follows that the book is a riot.


Keeping my mirth in check I can credit Dame Barbara with a middle class attitude. Her way to eventually get there was a steep uphill struggle and she just scratched the bottom end of the ladder. She definitely wasn't upper class, and her scandals where accordingly neither amusing, eccentric, or forgivable. Why she should have felt a call to write about etiquette is heaven’s secret and her own but it definitely wasn't a sane decision. 


The original was published in 1962 and its content was outdated by the beginning of the Second World War. The advice contained in the book makes it even worse. It was written for a Never-Never-Land of an elite to which Dame Barbara Cartland never belonged and never understood. Despite her towering aspirations, she never belonged to the aristocracy or to any polite circles. If anybody should be interested in the real aristocratic thing, please refer to the writings of Nancy Mitford. She was the true article and her novels reveal much more about etiquette than Dame Barbara Cartland absorbed in a life time. 


Just to make the point: Would you cook your husband’s breakfast before he leaves only fully dressed and with full make-up? From a practical point of view, that is highly unlikely. From the upper class point of view, you have to ask: What for does one have servants? The whole book smacks of an overdose of I wish I had been a part of it.


Writing books about etiquette is a stupid thing to do in itself. Society has become so multinational and multicultural that you can’t be sure anymore of what would be correct under the circumstances. The times when British behavior was leading the world were over before the Great War even if Brits still don't know that. For those who don’t know when the Great War was, that happened almost 50 years before Dame Barbara inflicted her little book on the world for the first time.


I do hope the publishers will start a new comprehensive series of similarly hilarious books. I mean  the mere idea of combining Dame Barbara Cartland and etiquette still sets me off. And the field is white open: Cheryl Cole could write on How to Sing or Barack Obama on How to Deal With Money. Further books that could appear in the same series could be: George W. Bush on Winning Wars, Jean-Claude van Damme on Acting, and Tony Blair on Truth. The series could be indefinitely continued in that vein, maybe the diretor of the NSA on how to keep secrets?


Further reading