The Regency Era was, in my mind, unsurpassed by any other era for elegance and sophistication, manners and morals, and–of course–amazing literature.Tonight, however, I strayed from my love of Jane Austen and wandered back across the Atlantic to the era of Southern culture during the 1800s. Now, we all know that there was a lot of ugliness in the south. Slavery was a massive blight on our country’s otherwise very interesting history.
Let’s put that aside and focus on the culture of the elite during this time period in the South.
You can probably guess that I was watching Gone With the Wind. When was the last time you watched that movie? The elegant dresses. The proper manners. The unspoken rules. The gorgeous houses. The elegant balls. You cannot watch it without thinking about Jane Austen’s novels.
Even still, there is a sense of innocence about America in the movie. On the eve of destruction, the South still clings to their way of life. They do not see that they will fail in their campaign to be a new nation. And when Rhett brings Scarlett her new bonnet from Paris, she’s so out of touch with European fashion that she puts it on backwards.
Today, I often look around and I’m very unhappy with the way that our modern society is progressing. There is an increasing lack of manners, proper behavior, and common courtesy among many communities. And let’s not discuss the current trends in clothing among our young people. (shudder)
But it’s the adults, too. Just today, a grown woman posted terrible things on social media about a young woman who adopted a mustang as part of the Extreme Mustang Makeover. On day three of the 120 day challenge, the horse broke its leg and had to be put down. Rather than console the young woman who was, as one would expect, devastated, the grown woman (and business owner!) criticized the trainer and mockingly called her a child. I’m not sure how this would have been handled in the 1800s — a dual, perhaps?–but a bee-swarm of fellow horse trainers jumped all over this terrible person in defense of the young woman.
The point is that I was shocked to read this original posting. Not just that it was rude and uncalled for, but that it was meant to HURT someone who was already hurting. Even Scarlett couldn’t bypass this one with a “Fiddle dee dee.”
While I think slavery was disgusting, I do think that good old southern manners should be the one export of the South to other areas of our country.
I often lament that I wish I could have been born during the early 1800s in England…mostly because I love their clothing and the balls. But I do appreciate the way people behaved. Even the ruthless rogues who tempt sassy damsels in the Regency novels know how to behave. And, Elizabeth Bennett was a perfect counter-balance of propriety to her ridiculous sister, Kitty.
As for Gone With the Wind, well…Scarlett might not have understood demureness and respectability, but she certainly demonstrated a strong heroine that, despite her short-comings, makes readers love her nonetheless.