Friday, 8 June 2012

How to Be a Lady





I'm reading a book that my friend gave me (Thanks so much, Rebecca!).  The Shepard of the Hills, by Harold Bell Wright.  It was published in 1907, and mine appears to be a first edition, although the inscription written in beautiful antique penmanship is dated 1910.

The story so far appears to be part Edwardian morality tale and part ghost story.   It is written in a mostly-limited omniscient point of view (meaning the reader is floating around the story, but usually can't see into the characters' heads.), which took me a bit of time to get used to.  So far I quite like the book, and I was struck by this passage about how to be a lady.  The heroine, Sammy, an Ozark mountain girl, has just asked an old man from the city, Daniel Howitt, to teach her how to be a "sure 'nough lady", since she's going to marry a man who has just moved to the city.

*****


"Now a real lady, Sammy, is a lady in three ways: First, in her heart; I mean just to herself, in the things that no one but she could ever know. A 'sure enough' lady does not pretend to be; she is."
Again the girl broke in eagerly, "That's just like Aunt Mollie, ain't it? Couldn't no one ever have a finer lady heart than her."
"Indeed, you are right," agreed the teacher heartily. "And that is the thing that lies at the bottom of it all, Sammy. The lady heart comes first."
"I won't never forget that," she returned. "I couldn't forget Aunt Mollie, nohow. Tell me more, Dad."
"Next, the 'sure enough' lady must have a lady mind. She must know how to think and talk about the things that really matter. All the fine dresses and jewels in the world can't make a real lady, if she does not think, or if she thinks only of things that are of no value. Do you see?"
Again the girl nodded, and, with a knowing smile, answered quickly, "I know a man like that. And I see now that that is what makes him so different from other folks. It's the things he thinks about all to himself that does it. But I've got a heap to learn, I sure have. I could read alright, if I had something to read, and I reckon I could learn to talk like you if I tried hard enough. What else is there?"
Then, continued the shepherd, "A lady will keep her body as strong and as beautiful as she can, for this is one way that she expresses her heart and mind. Do you see what I mean?"
Sammy answered slowly, "I reckon I do. You mean I mustn't get stooped over and thin chested, and go slouching around, like so many of the girls and women around here do, and I mustn't let my clothes go without buttons, 'cause I am in a hurry, and I must always comb my hair, and keep my hands as white as I can. Is that it?"
"That's the idea," said the shepherd.
Sammy gazed ruefully at a large rent in her skirt, and at a shoe half laced. Then she put up a hand to her tumbled hair. "I--I didn't think it made any difference, when only home folks was around," she said.
"That's just it, my child," said the old man gently. "I think a 'sure enough' lady would look after these things whether there was anyone to see her or not; just for herself, you know. And this is where you can begin. I will send for some books right away, and when they come we will begin to train your mind."
"But the heart, how'll I get a lady heart, Dad?"
"How does the violet get its perfume, Sammy? Where does the rose get its color? How does the bird learn to sing its song?"
For a moment she was puzzled. Then her face lighted; "I see!" she exclaimed. "I'm just to catch it from folks like Aunt Mollie, and--and someone else I know. I'm just to be, not to make believe or let on like I was, but to be a real lady inside. And then I'm to learn how to talk and look, like I know myself to be." She drew a long breath as she rose to go. "It'll be mighty hard, Dad, in some ways; but it'll sure be worth it all when I get out 'mong the folks. I'm mighty thankful to you, I sure am. And I hope you won't never be sorry you promised to help me.


*****

It makes me wonder, am I that kind of lady?  Do I have a generous heart or a refined mind?  Whether I do or don't, it is worth continuing to pursue.  I am blessed to know many women with a "lady heart" that I can learn from and emulate.

6 comments:

  1. That is a really sweet post! I remember trying to be a lady when I was a little girl. I would look at books of art, drink cups of tea... The love of tea stuck! I'm not sure if I'm terribly lady-like, though. I'd like to be!

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    1. Patty, I did the same! And at my 16th birthday party, we learned how to waltz.

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  2. That is sweet (though, as you say, definitely a different style of writing than today!). I liked the point about always looking like a lady, because too often it is easy to ignore little details (about ourselves or our houses) because we think nobody else is around to notice.

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  3. What little I know of you and that's only through reading your blog really, is that you do have a lady heart and mind. I've seen how you take care of yourself and your home - you're a "sure enough" lady to me!!

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  4. That's so beautiful!! We are all on a journey in life, and it is what we make it! I think that you are right about pursuit. It's not about being, rather becoming. Being beautiful, being a "sure 'nough" lady, comes from within! Thank you for sharing that!!

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