Lucinda Holdforth Why Manners Matter Essay

"Good morning". "Thank you". Not just pleasantries, when they imply some kind of attention and sensitiveness towards others. Yet these words feel so unusual today. While some insults, exchanged in the street by neighbors or colleagues, go unnoticed. Have we become accustomed to our worst side? The new books by Lucinda Holdforth and by Roberto Ruspoli make an attempt to give an answer, underlining, strangely enough, a new model of transgression.


Both authors dissolve the boundaries of  wealth, privileging a "courtesy of the heart" - as Goethe wrote in The Elective Affinities - which has a moral foundation, transversal to time and social collocation.


Why Manners Matter by Lucinda Holdforth  (published in Italy by Orme) is therefore not a handbook on etiquette, and not even a journey among the various expressions of costume. Drawing on the theories by Rousseau, the Bloomsbury group, Baldassare Castiglione (the author of The Book of the Courtier), and also on past and contemporary hilarious anecdotes, she reflects on the meaning of a polite behavior and how it may affect our daily lives.


Who would say, actually, that good manners enable freedom and progress, besides keeping communities together? And perhaps they make us feel a little happier, as claimed by a research carried out by the Hofstra University of Hempstead, according to which learning to say "thank you" will make you feel better.


Roberto Ruspoli in L'educazione vi prego sull'amore (published by Kowalski) focuses instead on good manners in love. Structured  like a handbook and divided into small chapters by theme, the book suggests the most dignified behavior one may adopt when human relations' short circuits occur. From the first encounter to the break-up. From flirting to getting married. From friendships to having children. An ironic, caustic and poetic sentimental patchwork. Pervaded by a feeling of freedom, without neglecting that "courtesy of the heart", and those gestures which, as the author underlines "are effortless, but will make us, and the others, feel more refined".

 

di Barbara Amadasi

Published: 11/30/2010 - 15:27

Last On Vogue

In the middle of their conversation, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. With a practised tap-tap, he places one between his lips, smiles at her. A flaming match is protected by the cave of his hands. When he leans over to light the cigarette, the back of his neck is exposed.

Helplessness envelops her. She’s noticed his defensiveness and the flash of anger when others deride him for this habit. She’s spoken to him before, softly; but in truth she feels she has no right to discuss his quitting.

“What if,” she imagines, “I did have the right?”

This wisp of thought leads her through a beguiling inner landscape. Having such a right presupposes a certain relationship beyond what they now share; a greater intimacy, something more from him than he now gives her, something more that she would then be permitted to give him.

In her mind, they are lovers. She conjures that delicious time after lovemaking, the moments when they are still blended, their bodies sated and entwined. She places her cheek against his chest, her ear against the tap-tapping of his heart. She imagines he raises a hand, caresses her head, the tender place at the back of her neck. Her hair fans out across their two bodies like a proud banner.

“I worry about what’s in here,” kissing his chest.

She imagines he misunderstands her—that he thinks she refers to their new intimacy and the emotional road ahead.

Because it’s her fantasy, she imagines he feels a great love for her; a love where there is no ambivalence, nothing tentative. In this vein, her imagined lover clasps her to him, nuzzles her ear, her neck, her shoulder, and replies, “There’s nothing to worry about.”

She smiles. Or perhaps she laughs, amused he would think she lacked confidence.

“I’m not speaking of that,” she sniffs. “I’m speaking of biology. I’m referring to the state of your lungs. I worry there might be something hidden there that will rise up and come between us.”

It’s her fantasy, of course, and she’s free to imagine anything at all, and so she imagines this:

She imagines her words affect him deeply. They reach him when no other words ever have, because it’s exactly what he fears most too: now that she’s his, she might be lost to him after all—and all because of a practice he took up violently when he couldn’t have her.

Here the imagining stops. Everything that hasn’t happened and all that has been left unsaid swirls up and surrounds her. The dark wings of smoke.

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