Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wounded Feelings, by Alice Walker

Oh Dear. What do you think has happened here? The young woman in white is obviously upset. She has flung on her red mantle and is ready to leave. Her friend in blue is trying to console her, perhaps hoping to persuade her to stay at the ball.
The girl in white might have been kicked in the shin by an over-enthusiastic polka partner. In that case, the painting's title would perhaps have referred to wounds of another sort.

She may have had to turn down a proposal of marriage. Some nineteenth century gentlemen, confident of the answer and wanting to deliver their proposals in an unforgettably beautiful moment, were often tempted to make the offer during a ball. Other gentlemen, whose motto might be "nothing ventured, nothing gained," might take advantage of the easy conversation and lax chaperonage to make a proposal at a ball. There are certainly enough examples in nineteenth century novels to warn one away from this behavior. Since a refusal would be stressful all around, I suggest that gentlemen or ladies who wish to propose at one of our modern balls wait until they have an established relationship with their intended and at least 2 or 3 hints from that intended that the answer would be yes.

I think, however, that the young lady has fallen afoul of the tricky rules of etiquette. Perhaps she accidentally accepted two gentlemen for the same dance. Perhaps she forgot to remove her gloves before eating a cookie, and was overcome with embarrassment. Maybe she hasn't had a partner for the last 4 dances and doesn't know how to break her unlucky streak. Etiquette is a great tool, but it can also be a weapon that leaves wounded feelings in its wake. It is a fascinating exercise to try to recreate nineteenth century etiquette in the twenty-first century ballroom, but it is so much better to use the rules of etiquette with wisdom and kindness.

No comments:

Post a Comment