Without 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?
Photo Credit: (By Cassandra Austen (1773-1845) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)