Friday, September 3, 2010

Advice for the Casual Walker

School’s started or will start soon, and every young lad and lady here is being given advice for the year. Come prepared to class. Leave your cell phone in your locker. Show respect to your teachers and other students. In nineteenth century London, young ladies received advice on how to behave from their parents, relatives, older siblings, governesses or teachers, and ministers, to name a few.

They also received doses of advice from the popular magazines of the day. Consider this tidbit from the January 1814 Lady’s Magazine:

“In walking the streets of London alone, young females cannot possibly be too cautious in their demeanor; for they should constantly remember that this city contains, at all times, great numbers of idle dissipated men, who, from a variety of causes, are constantly on the look-out to annoy females who are alone. . . .Every day do I behold, as I walk along the streets, the impudent, well-dressed ruffian (it is a harsh name; but such unmanly conduct merits it) following and forcing his conversation upon some timid female, who is evidently shrinking from it, as she would from some venomous reptile. Oh! How I have longed for the strong arm and the bold determination of an honest man to interfere and protect the threatened innocence.”

Well, either that, or a good strong parasol to whap him with.
“When alone, females should studiously avoid everything that may tend to attract these hateful annoyances; and, if they find themselves spoken to, they should either by a firm reply or a positive silence endeavor to rid themselves of them.”

Hm, the silent treatment might not be the best choice for these “idle, dissipated men.” But her next point is advice often offered today: if someone is bothering you, find help.
“If they find these fruitless, I would advise them to go into any respectable shop and state their situation to the tradesman; and I am sure there are few in London who would not immediately send someone to see them safely home, if the distance were not too great.”

Her last piece of advice I found somewhat endearing, at least the part about giggling over the shoulder. But it got me thinking. Many books set in the nineteenth century insist that young ladies of character had to be constantly chaperoned by an adult – a parent, servant, governess, good family friend, or paid companion. It was a little less strict in a country or small villages, where you knew everyone. But this bit would seem to say otherwise:
“Very young persons may sometimes, quite unintentionally, give encouragement to these nuisances. The young maiden, conscious of the entire rectitude of her own heart, is yet probably of a very lively disposition, and possibly may have with her another female about her own age, and as innocently volatile as herself;--one or two of these unmanly intruders happen to be attracted to their appearance, and directly follow them and endeavor to get into conversation; the girls increase their pace; but, in doing so, continually peep over their shoulders, with a full laugh upon their faces, which, if you were to ask them, they would tell you was only occasioned by the ridiculousness of the fellows following them. This, however, is too frequently construed by these puppies into a sort of invitation to continue the pursuit; which they often do to the very homes of the females; thus probably making themselves acquainted with who and what they are, and so enabling themselves, if they think it worthwhile, to lie in wait for them, and annoy them again.”

Wait, that begins to sound like a stalker. Could I have one of those chaperones, please? Or maybe the bold determination of an honest man? Or a really big parasol? What’s your weapon of choice when a guy wants to strike up a conversation and you’d prefer not to?

8 comments:

Marissa Doyle said...

You forgot the fan--those things can pack a wallop. :)

Gillian Layne said...

I'm thinking a really gorgeous escort. Or a very big, well trained dog. :)

Regina Scott said...

Yes, a fan would be easier to carry than a parasol, for sure! But I like Gillian's idea better--sign me up for the really gorgeous escort. :-)

Anonymous said...

How about a nice big Irish Wolfhound?

Marissa Doyle said...

Yes! I'm not a dog person, but I adore Irish wolfhounds! :)

Gail Kellogg Hope said...

the withering look is almost always effective... though it took me almost 25 years to develop it.

I prefer cats, but a large dog would be a wonderful companion for a young lady of good character!

Mystery Robin said...

I need to forward this to my sister who lives in downtown Seattle and encounters these situations daily! I've always been a stony silence kind of girl, or a "duck into the nearest starbucks" girl. But a wolfhound sounds like a great idea!

Regina Scott said...

Mystery Robin, I had a good friend who lived in downtown Seattle. She had mastered the "look straight ahead, eyes narrowed, and walk fast" approach. While people easily reached out hands to beg from me, they never messed with her. And she was a tiny little thing! I'm just too much a soft-hearted country girl, I guess. I needed a big dog at my side.