From the TBR Shelf #15: Emily Post by Laura Claridge Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners (2008) by Laura Claridge

I'm not really sure why I requested this audiobook from the library a few months ago, but request it I did, and listen to it I most certainly did, and I'm here to say that it was worth it- every minute of it.

Emily Post: to me, that name conjures up a hazy impression of something-something-table-manners and something-or-other politeness. And something about advice. Other than that, I knew nothing about the woman whose name has become synonymous with those nouns I just mentioned. But then the book jogged my memory- I remembered having heard that she and I share a birthday. What I hadn't known, though, was that we also share a birthplace: Baltimore. I know- freaky.

Anyway, Claridge offers us a thorough, if somewhat rosy, picture of Emily Post and the way she lived her life. Born in Baltimore, but spending most of her life in New York, Post picked up a life-long interest in architecture from her father, architect Bruce Price, and a steely determination mixed with grace and elegance from her mother, Josephine Lee. Having grown up in a wealthy family during the "Gilded Age," Post was expected to marry, have children, and give and attend parties; that was about it. And yet, after she and her cheatin' husband divorced in 1905, Post felt free enough to construct a life of her own choosing, and so she turned to writing. Her moderately successful novels then led to a project on etiquette, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But there's so much more to Post than etiquette. She witnessed the close of the 19th century and the dawning of the 20th; she lived through two world wars, Jazz Age prosperity, economic depression, and a post-war baby boom. Post's continuous reissuing of Etiquette over several decades was her way of charting the social and cultural shifts sweeping the country. With each edition, Post reflected the growing casualness of American culture- for instance, its gradual shedding of such things as the "chaperone" and the "calling card." Further, Post eventually skewed her advice away from upper-class readers and toward those middle- and lower-middle-class readers who sent her heaps of letters requesting advice on everything from dinner parties to polite conversation. With the rise of radio and then television, Post spread her message of common-sense manners, politeness, and generosity to millions.

It was good to finally know about the flesh-and-blood person behind the name, a name that refers more to the institution she constructed than the woman who poured her knowledge and experience into books meant to help others.

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