In need of some advice?

12 February 2016

Gender and Sexuality | History

I think it’s fair to say we probably all need a little advice from time-to-time and in this modern world there seems to be no shortage of professionals, books, websites and television shows to turn to when we need a little guidance. But this is by no means a modern phenomenon; guides offering advice have been circulating for centuries. Whilst working on the revamp of Defining Gender I was pleased to find an array of advice literature from the 18th and 19th centuries on a multitude of topics with answers to all of life’s toughest questions … such as, ladies this is one for you, why keeping your appearance neat is so vitally important:

Neatness almost invariably accompanies order; indeed, the one is nearly inseparable from the other. When we see a neat person we expect to find one who is orderly in all her habits, and we are rarely mistaken. Neatness in dress should be regarded as much as neatness in every thing that is done.

Image from The Lady's Gazette of Fashion, 1834-1835 © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

To see this document in the collection click on the image.

The extract above is from the book ‘Advice to Young Ladies on their Duties and Conduct in Life’ written by T. S. Arthur in 1855. T. S. Arthur relishes in telling his young female audience how to live their lives in a proper and meaningful way. If you need advice on how to dress, live a healthy life and how to avoid the evil of idle gossip this is the text for you! T. S. Arthur also advices on conduct towards men which I found rather funny … surely there is nothing wrong with a little silliness and bashfulness? 

There are two extremes which we constantly see among young women on first going into company and coming into the society of men. The one is a simpering bashfulness, that looks and is very silly while the other is exhibited in a bold, free air, that is even more offensive to good sense and propriety.

Advice literature was common and very popular throughout the nineteenth century and it wasn’t solely aimed at women nor written by men. The Gentleman's Manual of Modern Etiquette is one of many examples of the type of booklet filled with wisdom for the male audience. Published in 1864 the manual educates men on how and when to make a personal or business visit, and how to navigate the complicated world of how to behave in the drawing room and at the dinner table. One rather strange piece of advice is how to depart from a party:

Image from The Gentleman's Manual of Modern Etiquette © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Further reproduction                                                                          prohibited without permission.

To see this document in the collection click on the image.

Perhaps don’t try that at the next party you attend if you want to be invited back ... Putting aside the humorous nature of the snippets above the advice literature provides a way for us to not only analyse social ideals of the time, but to also evaluate ideas surrounding the family, leisure, education and stereotypical gender roles and how they changed over time.

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About the Author

Sarah Hodgson

Sarah Hodgson

I am an Editor at Adam Matthew, an academic digital publisher of primary source collections in the arts and humanities. I have had the pleasure of working on a variety of projects including Mass Observation Online and African American Communities.