A New Regency Custom

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January 28, 2013 by lucieromarin

Anyone who studied Pride and Prejudice at school will have been told that the great significance of a ball was that it offered men and women a rare opportunity for a little private conversation that would not be immediately construed either as scandalous or as a sign of impending marriage. At the same time, this liberty (if we can call it that!) became a source of interest in its own right; note the significance of a man dancing with the same woman twice.

My experience is probably not universal, but I’ve realised that, in my culture at least, we have our own equivalent of the dance – our own equivalent of that thing which is respectable (ie you don’t immediately judge the woman to be a skank because of it) but simultaneously watched by outsiders with interest and the hope or fear of further developments, and that thing is…the lift home!

Why does a girl say so wistfully, “She’s getting in his car,” when she sees a rival enjoying the privilege she hoped for? It’s because she knows what that privacy means to her rival, even if it means nothing at all to the guy who’s just helping her out. Why do some priests worry that giving a woman an unchaperoned lift home will look to outsiders like an affair rather than an act of Christian charity? It’s because the car signifies privacy, rather than charity, and they don’t want to be seen as seeking that privacy.

Anyway, the point of sharing this thought was not so much to analyse the meaning of the lift home, but to remark on the fact that we’ve developed our own Regency-style custom – a less rigid custom, I’ll admit, but real for all that. And I wonder what other unspoken codes we’ve developed that I’ve never really noticed, because I just take them for granted?

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