Monday, May 16, 2016

Old-fashioned manners

Formality seems to mean "old style" these days. I never realized how old-fashioned formal events were until addressing wedding invitations, and realizing etiquette apparently requires hearkening back to the "Mr. and Mrs. Man's Name" style. Even if the gentleman in question is the spouse of the longtime friend, and it's really the lady who is the primary invitee (of course the gentleman is also a lovely person, but still, he's not the one getting shoved into a particular dress or anything).

It just feels weird.

Most people unconsciously pick up on this, and in courts and other depictions of fancy events, the characters tend to speak and act in styles that feel more 'old-fashioned' than the rest of the time. It sets the tone (formal situation) and gives an air of gravity to the scene. In stories that are set in archair tone anyway, rituals or ritualistic speeches, some of which may have lost meaning to the characters, help provide this same function.

It's also a way of letting a reader know when a character is old-fashioned in thoughts themselves. If they speak in older styles, they're out of place, or stuck in the past. It's a useful tool for characterization, and can be used both positively--someone who still believes in kindness, who believes in heroes, who stands up for what is right. like Captain America--or negatively--someone who is hidebound and unwilling to change, who holds on to old stereotypes and prejudices despite the moving world, like Lucius Malfoy. (As always, context is everything!)

What are some other purposes for old-fashioned manners and settings in fiction? What characters can you think of, both good and bad, whose old-fashioned mannerisms really define them?


  1. Yeah....I just ignored that whole stupid "the female only exists as an extension the male" thing. We just wrote couple's names in alphabetical order if we were equally close to both or with the friend first otherwise. (With the exception of Bob's maternal grandparents because his Poppa was extremely old-fashioned that way. Plus he was a three-star vice admiral, so he was used to being the important one in the room and would have been insulted otherwise. Thankfully, his Nana didn't really care about such things.)

    1. See, that's sensible. I like your way of doing it. For the older relatives it makes sense to do it the old-fashioned way, but for people in our age group...