If you are a fan of Jane Austen, you know Sir Elliott utters the line in her novel, Persuasion. As a modern person of no real consequence, I thankfully am not subjected to the mechanization of high society. In the 19th century, proper form seemed to be of paramount importance. Thus, when I create certain scenes in my book, Through the Mist: Reunion, I must hit the books and determine if something would have actually happened. I do exercise a writer’s license to tweak some things for the sake of the story. In other aspects, though, I want things to be accurate.
Without giving away too much about the sequel, I would like to talk a bit about introductions. In today’s time, let’s say your next door neighbor has more money than you. Would it be shocking to walk up to that person, who some would say has “superior rank,” and introduce yourself? In most cases, no. You would only be prohibited by shyness and would definitely act in a respectful manner. However, this sort of behavior would be unheard of in the 19th century. One must wait to be introduced to persons whose rank is above one’s own.
Think of the scene in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Collins approaches Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball. Eliza and Jane are stunned because the men have not been “properly introduced.” Viewing the scene with a modern eye, I am shocked that people behaved that way. Now, I am not saying that we should interrupt a conversation and shout, “Hey, how the hell are ya?” when we see someone. Let’s do be civil. Still, the concept of being so rigid is foreign to me. It would not have been to someone in previous centuries.
As I read the first draft of my novel, I discovered this flaw. I am in the process of completely rewriting a scene in the book. It was all wrong. Would you have noticed? Maybe. Maybe not. It actually works better if I rewrite it. The strict adherence to such proper behavior illustrates a particular individual’s character. I believe it adds depth to the scene.
My research prompted me to consider something. While we may not engage in the same practices, “rank is rank” still exists. Think about your daily life. Are there people at work with whom you do not “speak unless spoken to?” If you encountered the CEO of your company in an elevator, would you engage in idle chit-chat? Or would you stare at the floor?
Like or not, “rank” will always be “rank.” To paraphrase Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged