Improvement Era: Manual of Young Manners 2

Here’s the first few chapters of the absurd Manual of Young Manners.  Before the Correlation-era obsession with regarding every action as a sign of some spiritual essence, there was character, sense, breeding, grace, and, certainly, mannerliness to be manifest in one’s adherence to elaborate, and endlessly revised rules.  In short, a way to show economic and cultural class.

The key, of course, is that those who “have it” get to set the rules, identify those with and those lacking, and ensure that their children, trained in the home through a sort of charm school appreticeship in upper-middle class gestures, not only know the rules, but also can enact them.  In that asymmetry — only a few can enact, while a great many know the rules, especially when explicit publication is given to their elaboration —  a class divide, to borrow from Bourdieu, becomes a ‘spiritual’ or ‘cultural’ one.

In this installment we see how explicit dictation of certain rules — gum chewing, hair attention, and so on — gave the Youth, in particular those from upper-middle class families, a ready-made rebellion; and a way to identify with “our generation” in opposition to the older phonies.   Even those kids never taught in the niceties of social intercourse with one’s betters could hereafter identify when a dude was acting “mannerly” rather than simply decent.  That is to say, by distributing the rules through manuals like this one, the Establishment made it possible for actions once regarded as more-or-less natural to become a sign of one’s adherence to explicit rules set out in a book.  Now “being a phony” becomes as much a reality as “being mannerly”.

That a Manual was necessary to teach these sorts of correct comportment, addressing of elders, and hand-management is a sign that an explosive youth movement was about to drop on the Church.