What Would Jane Do?

What Would Jane Do?

Jane AustenWithout doubt, one of my favorite things about Jane Austen and that time period in general is the very specific rules in society on how to behave.

Invited to a party? One must simply respond right away.
Invited to afternoon tea? One must simply reciprocate immediately.
Invited to a ball? One must simply spend several weeks fretting over what to wear!

So, that leads me to a question in regard to a situation that I often face when inviting other authors to guest blog or attend events that I’m hosting: What would Jane do if they never reciprocated?

Gasp! I can almost imagine the scandal that would take place. Not just a personal affront, but also a professional one!

I was raised in a household that held onto a fairly strict sense of propriety. “Please” and “thank you” were not optional. After every holiday meal or whenever guests were over, one raised eyebrow from my mother would send me scurrying to clear the dishes and begin cleaning the kitchen. Garbage was taken out on Wednesdays, and Saturday mornings (after an hour of cartoons) were always spent cleaning my bedroom.

There was no sense of entitlement there.

As I grew up, I learned the social norms that when a person invites you to a party or dinner, you need to reciprocate. Of course, not everyone does that. My parents sponsored a couple to become members of their country club and the unspoken rule that the new members thank the sponsors with a dinner at the club did not happen for over 12 years! Talk about a social slight!

Being a firm believer in social propriety, I often find myself extending a hand to others…both in my personal life as well as professional. Unfortunately, unlike in Jane Austen’s day, the hand that extends itself today often gets bit!

Years ago, an aspiring author who I was friendly with sent me a vicious email on Christmas Eve accusing me of stealing her idea about retelling Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol from an Amish perspective. Her words “You don’t even have any real author friends like I do!” still make me chuckle—although I wasn’t laughing then. The ironic thing is that she never told me that idea so how could I have stolen it?

Even worse, however, is how I host a lot of social media events. I am always happy to invite other authors to the party, introducing them to my Facebook friends and family. Unfortunately, I’m noticing that the invitation does not get returned. Put in Austenite perspective: If I was Jane Austen and hosted a ball for many people to attend, supplying the food, drink, music, and social company, I would feel very unhappy if not even one or two reciprocal invitations emerged. It almost reminds me of the saying “Always a bridesmaid, never the bride.” Of course, in this case, it’s “always the hostess, never the guest.”

Oh yes, I know…we treat others as we expect to be treated even if they don’t treat us the same way. But I do wonder how long it would take in the early 1800s for high society to continue if no one ever reciprocated?

Indeed, what would Jane do if she walked in my shoes?

I wonder…

Photo Credit: (By Cassandra Austen (1773-1845) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

10 Responses to What Would Jane Do?

  1. It sounds as if we were raised in a similar fashion. One of the things I have always disliked about our modern world is how more and more of the social niceties are slipping away. RSVPs are rarely answered–either in the positive or negative. Thank you notes have almost become a thing of the past. The use of social media for this type of event is a more slippery slope. If the event is local, I always respond. However, I did not think it necessary to decline an invite when I do not live anywhere near the event. I will be more thoughtful going forward and respond to everything I receive. I know for me one of the reasons I like writing about the Regency era is the manners and customs of the time.

  2. I tell my husband all the time when he is being a j—k Karma will get him in the end and most of time is does.

  3. I believe that the increase in religion in the country is related to the decrease in etiquette. People are feeling the need for a “set of rules to live by” and are looking in the wrong place! I love Miss Manners and her books and columns.

  4. Social waters can be rough to navigate in our current culture, that’s for sure. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and sometimes even scale back my expectations for brides who don’t send a thank you note, people who don’t reciprocate an invitation, etc. That way if they do it, it’s a pleasant surprise and if they don’t, I don’t wind up resenting them.
    On the flip side, I belong to a poetry/play-reading group that gathers monthly for a dinner of soup and salad…and then we read. Many members of the group have expansive homes that can accommodate comfortably seating 20 people for dinner and then moving to another large room for the reading. My little bungalow is bursting at the seams with 8 in the kitchen or 12 in the living room. I am simply not in a position to host. The person organizing the group understands this and does not ever ask me to hold it at my house, but I have had others ask me when I’ll be doing it, and it’s mortifying to admit that I’m not in a position to do the socially acceptable thing and take a turn as host. This situation has helped me be more understanding when others fall short of the manners mark.

  5. The art of being neighborly is a lost art, I fear. Having sais that, I do get invited to things on FB that I have no idea how I was included. “smile” And I have to confess that I have often ignored those invites. Does that count as being rude? Being an introvert, I am not one for these “parties” where you stay on FB for hours and talk about your book. Not me. I am not against anyone doing them, but it is not something I enjoy. I do think, though, that if you invite people that you know to some kind of event, they least they can do is respond. 🙂

  6. Sarah, these comments are ones that we need to teach the next generation, regardless of their social status. There are
    invitations going out on the internet that are not personal. I was really confused about an invitation to a wedding that was
    on Facebook. It announced the date but not who was invited. Was it a family affair or what? Manners are changing and as a person it would be nice to have a dignity and respect for a lot of things.

  7. I do a lot of historical mucking to find out what really does happen to deviants because there’s so much plot in it. And unreciprocated invitations really don’t begin to cover it.

  8. I am afraid that social graces are no longer taught… like so many other things… in school or society. Unfortunately, we have evolved into a self-centered, selfish ‘it’s all about me’ society that does not think beyond the moment. I try to respond to an RSVP and hope I have not offended anyone due to neglect or ignorance of what was expected. My parents taught me good principles… wait, that has already been said by someone… oops. It seems that Jane was trying to tell us a lot in her stories and novels. Even then, I think there were problems and she was shining a light into the darkness and ignorance. OH MY GOODNESS… thank you for reminding us to do as Jane does.

  9. Sarah, Thank you for a thoughtful post. Coincidentally, I watched Lost In Austen for the first time last night. I have no idea how I missed seeing it before, but it was such a fun take on “What would Jane or Elizabeth do?”

  10. I understand. It is very frustrating when you invite people to dinner and they do not invite you over in return. After a while I just stopped inviting people over for dinner. I think, if people did not reciprocate, high society would have come crashing down like a house of cards.

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