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Presenting the Character of a Victorian Gentleman

If one is involved in a public "living history", where one is wearing proper Victorian attire, one really ought to have the manners to go with the clothing. I think this is as true if you are doing a "third person" presentation as when you are doing a "first person". Proper Victorian attire should always be accompanied with proper Victorian behavior, even if you aren't pretending to be someone else. The effect may be subtle, and perhaps even subliminal, but it all helps.

Here are a few suggestions for a 21st Century man to present an illusion of a Victorian gentleman:

  • The first thing, of course, is to stand or sit up straight, square your shoulders and keep your head up. Don't slouch. Do not, however, stand at rigid attention. You should always try to seem comfortable and natural. If you are uncomfortable, you will make others uncomfortable, which is the antithesis of good manners.
  • Don't scratch, pick your nose, fiddle with your hair or clothes, spit or make avoidable bodily noises (and if they aren't avoidable, say "excuse me").
  • Don't point, but gesture with your whole hand.
  • Never drink from a bottle when a glass or cup may be had.
  • When a brow, nose or mouth needs wiping, use a pocket handkerchief and not your hand or sleeve. Sneeze or cough into your handkerchief.
  • Walk with a clean, natural stride. Never run except to help a lady in distress or escape a grizzly bear or equivalent menace.
  • Speak in a measured, clear manner. Don't mumble, shout or otherwise mangle your speech. Don't use profanity or verbal crutches ("uh", "you know", "like"), and try to avoid modern catch phrases ("Hello!", "Cool" , "Don't go there" etc.) even when discussing modern things.
  • Pepper your speech with words like "purloin", "circumspect", "benevolence" and "pusillanimous". The Victorian vocabulary was so much richer than ours, and a little bit of erudition goes a long way--though be sure you actually know the meanings of the words you use.
  • Use a certain amount of formality in your speech ("Miss", "Madame", "Sir" etc.), though you should find ways of incorporating this into your conversation that doesn't sound unfriendly or stuffy. Use your judgment on this one.
  • When shaking hands with a gentleman, give a firm handshake. If a lady offers her hand, take it and squeeze it gently and then let it go. Do this with a slight bow and removal of the hat. Do not kiss her hand unless you are an oily foreigner.
  • It's all right to smile, laugh, tell appropriate jokes, and even gesture animatedly. Never try to put on a "polite laugh" that is not your own. It will just sound forced and creepy. However, try not to laugh so loudly or gesture so violently that it might frighten the horses.
  • Never try to be someone you are not. Just try to be you on your best behavior.
  • While you may be relaxed around other men, if ladies are present, be on your best behavior. While you may have your hands in your pockets, lean on things etc. when in male company; in the company of ladies, stand up straight and keep your hands where she can see them.
  • If a lady approaches and addresses you, remove your hat. Unless you are being blinded by the sun, do not be in a hurry to put it back on. If you are sitting when she addresses you, stand. Note that you don't have to do this with every passing female. You only have to acknowledge her if she acknowledges you.
  • Look a lady in the face when speaking with her, regardless of how strongly other distractions or attractions may try to pull your gaze away.
  • When you pass a lady, tip your hat and say "Good day". Don't say "Hello". Until the invention of the telephone brought it into normal speech,"Hello" was not so much a greeting as another way of saying "Hey you!" or "Ahoy!". Note that greeting strangers was an Americanism. If you are English, you do not greet people on the street to whom you have not been introduced.
  • Pick up anything a lady drops, and hold doors open for ladies. It's polite to hold doors for men too. While ladies bear the brunt of your Victorian manners, don't be rude to your fellow man.
  • If a lady approaches and you have removed your coat, put it back on. It doesn't matter if it is 112 degrees in the shade, that coat is the only thing that stands between her and the musky assault of your manly effluvia. If you don't have a coat to put on, alas, you are no gentleman.

That's probably enough of a check list for one sitting.

Your obedient servant,

Walter Nelson


with regard to your point of conduct concerning running: Might it be suggested that a gentleman runs only in pursuit of his enemies.

Most Kind Sir!
On behalf of Good and Wholesome Ladies everywhere, allow me the honour of saluting your noble enterprise. Your ennumeration of the social graces attending to the position of the Gentleman in our Society is a most timely and welcome reminder to those young persons so influenced by the course and brutish mannerisms spreading of late in our midst and that most certainly derive from the society of Thieves, Cads, and Roustabouts.

Yours ever in Immoderate Admiration,
Lady Genevieve Dewbody