Victorian Etiquette

Victorian etiquette was something I had to learn about if I was going to write a series set in a neo-Victorian culture, and I suppose it’s a good thing that Jacqui (my main character) isn’t from the mainstream of society. Perhaps any shortcomings I’ve given her will be forgiven due to that. ;)

As a high-class woman, Jacqui is responsible for running a household with several dozen servants, keeping up her social schedule, hosting parties, and more. Here’s a typical day for a late Victorian-era wealthy woman:

  • your lady's maid will be in to open your curtains around 6:30 am
  • your footman brings you tea and hot water for washing at 7 am
  • your lady’s maid brings you provisional breakfast tray (tea, toast, and jam/butter), newspaper and mail at 8 am, then will run you a bath, do your hair and help you dress for breakfast
  • quarter past nine is morning prayers with the staff
  • full breakfast is served at half past nine, laid out in dishes at the side board (for a buffet sit down breakfast) — the master sits at one end, the mistress at the other, guests and family in the middle. The mistress pours the tea for everyone
  • meet at 10 to discuss menus for luncheon and any other arrangements for the day with the housekeeper, chef, and butler — at this time, you inform the butler if you will be “at home” if visitors call (or at all that day)
  • luncheon is at 1 pm, in outdoor clothing or morning wear
  • afternoon tea is at 5 pm in the drawing room or the tea room — bread/butter, tea bread, cakes and biscuits
  • dinner is at 8 pm, a formal and lengthy affair with full evening attire. A gong rings at 7 pm as a signal to dress for dinner (but your lady’s maid will help you dress whenever you like)

Mail was delivered three times a day. All mail or outside communications went through the butler, who also was the person to contact should you wish to visit the kitchens or other areas where your servants are at work. Victorian etiquette demanded that you never acknowledge the servants' presence, thank them for their work, or comment in any way on what they’re doing unless giving a direct order (Jacqui hates this, and always thanks them).

Social calls were a vital matter in Victorian society. You had to obtain calling cards, schedule a day to be “at home” so people might visit you, then on a day that you knew the person you wanted to see was scheduled to be “at home”, you would visit, leaving your card with the butler. If the person really was “at home” (which could mean they weren’t in bed sick; “at home” merely meant they were accepting company and had no bearing on whether they were actually there or not) then you would be shown in. Otherwise, you left a card, and the person would send a note inviting you to visit, or leave a card at your home in return.

The rules for how and when you visited, left a card, how long you stayed, whether you took off your coat, and when you returned a visit were strictly adhered to, and many rule-books were published during that time to assist people in this area.

Of course, since Jacqui is also secretly working as a private detective, she’s extra busy!

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