Titanic Flotsam & Jetsam
Fete Fatale Prepares to Sail (and Dine) on the Titanic

June 2020
« Apr    
Dinner Etiquette, circa 1912
Filed under: General
Posted by: Fete Fatale @ 10:12 pm

According to The London Ritz Book of Etiquette, “there have never been as many rules regarding manners and etiquette as existed during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.” Of course, all these expectations were easier to meet for people who were drilled in them, typically from a very young age (which probably isn’t the case for anyone participating in this event). Making an effort to maintain a more formal tone will add to sensation of stepping back in time to 1912.

A few basic guidelines that pertain to our event:

Whenever a lady rises, or enters or leaves the room, all of the gentlemen automatically stand up.

Unless guests are on terms of intimate acquaintance, they address each other as Mr., Miss, or Mrs. [In public, husbands and wives will typically also address each other as Mr. or Mrs.]

Before dinner, guests gather in a reception room. The host (having determined pairings beforehand) introduces each gentleman to the lady he will “take down” to dinner (this will not be the gentleman’s wife or female relation, unless the party is particularly small or unusually laden with his family). The gentleman bows to the lady, but never takes her hand. Ordinarily the gentleman would converse with the lady while drinks are served, but in this setting (and since they will be seated next to each other for many courses), we encourage guests to mingle and converse with those who will be seated at other tables.  

On the Titanic, passengers were called to dinner by a bugler playing the tune “The Roast Beef of Old England.” Many stately homes rang a gong for the same purpose. The host then leads the way to the dining room with the most important lady on his arm. The hostess enters last, escorted by the most distinguished gentleman. Each gentleman offers his right arm to his lady, escorts her to her place at the table (to the right of his), holds her chair for her, and then sits down himself. During the meal, the gentleman’s first responsibility was to engage her in conversation, but he might speak to the lady on his left if his dinner partner was occupied in conversation elsewhere. These were the formal standards, but the most memorable and successful dinner parties generally included conversations involving most or all at the table.

Ideally, there would be an exact balance of men and women. However, should there be a surplus of women (as can happen during travel), the host will introduce the gentleman to the two women he is accompanying to the table; when called to dinner, he will offer his right arm to the older or the more important of the two, and his left arm to the other and escort them to their places.

Courses on the Titanic were presented in the style known as “Service à la russe“. Each dish is presented on a salver by a steward to each guest. [”A filled plate is never placed before a guest, as thsi would indirectly dictate how much food the guest is to eat.[ In a meal of many courses, this permits each diner to eat as little of each course as he or she prefers.

If you are interested in ALL the gory details of excruciatingly-correct dinner party etiquette from slightly later, see this chapter from the 1922 Emily Post. A sample:


  Ladies always wear gloves to formal dinners and take them off at table. Entirely off. It is hideous to leave them on the arm, merely turning back the hands. Both gloves and fan are supposed to be laid across the lap, and one is supposed to lay the napkin folded once in half across the lap too, on top of the gloves and fan, and all three are supposed to stay in place on a slippery satin skirt on a little lap, that more often than not slants downward.
  It is all very well for etiquette to say “They stay there,” but every woman knows they don’t! And this is quite a nice question: If you obey etiquette and lay the napkin on top of the fan and gloves loosely across your satin-covered knees, it will depend merely upon the heaviness and position of the fan’s handle whether the avalanche starts right, left or forward, onto the floor. There is just one way to keep these four articles (including the lap as one) from disintegrating, which is to put the napkin cornerwise across your knees and tuck the two side corners under like a lap robe, with the gloves and the fan tied in place as it were. This ought not to be put in a book of etiquette, which should say you must do nothing of the kind, but it is either do that or have the gentleman next you groping under the table at the end of the meal; and it is impossible to imagine that etiquette should wish to conserve the picture of “gentlemen on all fours” as the concluding ceremonial at dinners.


  The turning of the table is accomplished by the hostess, who merely turns from the gentleman (on her left probably) with whom she has been talking through the soup and the fish course, to the one on her right. As she turns, the lady to whom the “right” gentleman has been talking, turns to the gentleman further on, and in a moment everyone at table is talking to a new neighbor. Sometimes a single couple who have become very much engrossed, refuse to change partners and the whole table is blocked; leaving one lady and one gentleman on either side of the block, staring alone at their plates. At this point the hostess has to come to the rescue by attracting the blocking lady’s attention and saying, “Sally, you cannot talk to Professor Bugge any longer! Mr. Smith has been trying his best to attract your attention.”
  “Sally” being in this way brought awake, is obliged to pay attention to Mr. Smith, and Professor Bugge, little as he may feel inclined, must turn his attention to the other side. To persist in carrying on their own conversation at the expense of others, would be inexcusably rude, not only to their hostess but to every one present.
  At a dinner not long ago, Mr. Kindhart sitting next to Mrs. Wellborn and left to himself because of the assiduity of the lady’s farther partner, slid his own name-card across and in front of her, to bring her attention to the fact that it was “his turn.”

  One inexorable rule of etiquette is that you must talk to your next door neighbor at a dinner table. You must, that is all there is about it!
  Even if you are placed next to some one with whom you have had a bitter quarrel, consideration for your hostess, who would be distressed if she knew you had been put in a disagreeable place, and further consideration for the rest of the table which is otherwise “blocked,” exacts that you give no outward sign of your repugnance and that you make a pretence at least for a little while, of talking together.
  At dinner once, Mrs. Toplofty, finding herself next to a man she quite openly despised, said to him with apparent placidity, “I shall not talk to you—because I don’t care to. But for the sake of my hostess I shall say my multiplication tables. Twice one are two, twice two are four ——” and she continued on through the tables, making him alternate them with her. As soon as she politely could she turned again to her other companion.

Leave a Reply