29 August 2011

On Addressing a Duke's Eldest Son's Younger Son

Mind Your Manners
Claire Wallace
Toronto: Harlequin, 1953

A businesswoman, a journalist, a pioneering radio broadcaster and something of a daredevil, Claire Wallace was a remarkable woman with a remarkable story. How curious then that this, her only book, should have etiquette as its subject. The press release tucked into my copy provides something of an explanation:
In her continuous search for stories on Canadiana, Author [sic] Wallace came against a problem. There were no up-to-the-minute reference books on Canadian manners. Etiquette seemed out-dated and stuffy. That's how the idea for this new book was born.

I venture to say that etiquette, by its very nature, always seems out-dated and stuffy. And the claim – implication, really – that this or any reference book is up-to-the-minute borders on false advertising. That said, Mind Your Manners remains a useful little book in that it provides a clear picture of acceptable and exemplary behaviour in the Canada of the early 'fifties. I write here of the days of double weddings, visiting hairdressers and afternoon dress gloves; a time when a polite divorcee (as Miss Wallace was) would make no mention of her failed marriage "except legally and in conversation to personal friends."

Mind Your Manners was indeed "the first Dictionary [sic] of Canadian etiquette" – here the copy doesn't lie – though I think those in the know would have deferred to DeBrett's. Would Lady Eaton have consulted a 50¢ paperback sold only at newsstands?

Really, Mind Your Manners is as much about dreams as it is about place cards. In this more egalitarian post-war world, one might be invited to dine with a duke, mightn't one? Best to know the proper form of address – and let's not forget the Duke's daughter, his eldest son's daughter, his eldest son's eldest son, his eldest son's younger son, his eldest son's wife, his younger son and his younger son's wife. Miss Wallace covers all these possible encounters, along with eventualities like this one:

Mind Your Manners sold out its initial printing, returning to press just two months after release – a rare reprint in Harlequin's first decade. In 1960, the guide was reborn as the awkwardly titled Canadian Etiquette Dictionary. "COMPLETELY NEW" trumpets the cover, while the interior quietly informs that the guide was originally published as Mind Your Manners. Both statements mislead. No, the book is not "COMPLETELY NEW", but it is updated and does feature a previously unpublished section on travel etiquette. Miss Wallace revised the book a third time for a 1967 edition, titled simply Canadian Etiquette, issued by Winnipeg's Greywood Publishing. The guide appeared again in 1970, with an "up-to-date" travel section, even though its author was two years dead.

Back to 1953.

I admit to being thrown by the dedication in Mind Your Manners: "To Our Parents...".


Turn the page and we find the Foreword: "A book like this could never be written by two women alone..."


The other woman is Joy Brown*, who is credited as editor on the cover and title page. It's true that Brown was a writer – Night of Terror (1950), one of Harlequin's earliest titles, is hers – but did she actually pen any of these entries... or is it that Miss Wallace was just being overly polite?

Object and access: With cheap glue and cheap paper, typical of early Harlequin's, the book isn't exactly designed to reference use. This may explain why so few copies are listed for sale online. Uncommon, though not dear, it usually lists for $8 or so. Mind Your Manners is held by the Toronto Public Library, the Royal Ontario Museum and a handful of our academic libraries. I bought my copy – inscribed – last week in a London, Ontario thrift store for 33 cents.

* The wife of Jock Carroll, Joy Brown was better known as Joy Carroll, author of Soul's End (1974), Satan's Bell (1976) and a handful of other "popular priced paper backed books".

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  1. I'm pretty sure my father had this book.

  2. Which explains his impeccable manners.

  3. Yes! I, on the other hand, still have difficulty remembering things such as whether or not I should rise for a man or not. Woe is me.

  4. Harry - or, if you'll permit me just this once, Harriet: "A woman guest does not stand when introduced to a man or another woman of the same age or younger. She always stands, however, to greet a woman some years her senior and she stands to greet her host or a member of the clergy."

    It strikes me that a clever, catty insult would be for a woman to rise when meeting a woman her own age.

    "Oh, I beg your pardon, I had the impression you were some years my senior."

  5. Where can I buy this book?

  6. Anon, I think your best bet right now would be to grab one of the three copies currently on offer through abebooks.com. I note that the cheapest - US$8 - is signed. Seems a bargain.

  7. Re Claire and Joy's dedication to Our Parents,
    in the former's case they were William Wallace and Ida May (nee Stevens)of the Toronto Star family. He died in 1943, family plot Toronto Mt. Pleasant, his widow in spring 1964. Claire was born 1900 (not 1906 as sometimes stated) brothers were William jr (MC Vimy) and Clifford S. Claire remarried James E Stutt in 1942 thereby erasing the divorce from Joe Belfry in the 1920s. She was never a Mrs. Wallace, only a Miss Wallace, just keeping the wellknow surname for professional purposes.
    Claire did get around, San Francisco conference Coronation etc and knowing what to call whom was a valuable update then. And we still had homegrown Sirs and Ladies here from the preWW2 era. Our GGs were titled up to Massey...

    1. My thanks for this information. Again, a remarkable woman... and from such a remarkable family. Per your correction, I've changed the "Mrs Wallace" to "Miss Wallace".

    2. Dear "Anonymous"-- I am the Project Manager for a database project on Canadian Women Writers (see http://ceww.wordpress.com/), and we are writing up an entry for Claire Wallace. Could you possibly provide me with any documentation regarding the date of her marriage to James Stutt? We have found nothing online or on ancestry.ca. We would be very grateful. Karyn Huenemann

  8. Doris Bucke McCubbin m Anderson and, in her obit, Sandra Martin of the Globe, sure had a go at long-dead Claire with ludicrous comparisons to Wintour. Still shows up online occasionally on "feminist" websites who don't count anyone who got in Doris's bad books as worthy of respect. Wallaces came down from Orangeville where Claire's father and uncle had started a newspaper still in their teens c1901, Wm works there, later Bill is there then goes off to WW1, Cliff shows up on Star Hemingway pay ledger 1923. Bill dies in Dec. 1947 at his desk with great Star coverage of the funeral. For most of 45 years there was a Wallace on Star payroll