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Can You Avoid Social Ruin By Throwing The Perfect Victorian Dinner Party?

You woke up in 1877 and now you have to prove that you're a proper lady. Welcome to Victorian England!

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  1. Your first Victorian dinner party, how exciting! You husband is amped to impress all his cool work friends, but you've got a job to do. How do you let your guests know that you'd like to see them?

    Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Call them up on your new-fangled telephone
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Have a servant travel to each guest's house to make an announcement
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Mail a note
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Have a servant deliver a note
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    In her 1872 book The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness: A Complete Handbook for the Use of the Lady in Polite Society, Florence Hartley suggests the following: "Miss Sā€”'s compliments to Miss Gā€”, and requests the pleasure of her company for Wednesday March 9th at 8 o'clock." Also, Florence would like us to note that the mail system sucks and you shouldn't trust it. Servant it is!

  2. You are an incredibly popular Victorian Lady and 10 of your guests say they would love to join you for dinner. (Who knew you even had that many friends here?) What's the ideal dinner table shape for a party of that size?

    Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Rectangle
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Circle
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Oval
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Parallelogram
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The parallelogram is far too rigid for the kind of smooth-talking evening you're hosting! A circular table would have too large a circumference to accommodate all your fun dinner conversation. But an oval is perfect for keeping conversation circulating. (I can't believe you would even consider a rectangular table!)

  3. Your husband has selected Mr. Taylor as one of his guests. They are best friends who grew up together and work in the finance world. Where should you seat them for the big day?

    Fox Photos / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Next to each other
    Correct
    Incorrect
    At least one person apart from each other
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Sitting across from each other, so they may chat while they eat
    Correct
    Incorrect
    At opposite ends of the table
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    You should never place guests who have too much in common, or work in the same field, next to each other. They might enjoy each other's company too much, sequestering themselves off in a corner or boring the entire table with work stories. That would be sweet for them, but boring for everyone else, and your job is to please literally everyone at that dinner table.

  4. Now that we've got this chair business out of the way, how many courses should you plan to feed your guests?

    Edward Gooch / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    3
    Correct
    Incorrect
    4
    Correct
    Incorrect
    5
    Correct
    Incorrect
    6
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Hope those hippos are hungry, because they get five whole courses, all of which they would be rude to turn down. You've got your first course of soup, fish, and hors d'oeuvres; an entree course, where you'll serve some kind of meat dish; a second course, where you'll serve more meat, but with some vegetables this time; a third course of, yes, more meat, with mad puddings and pastries thrown in; then, finally, a dessert and ices course to end the evening. Please tell me you've written this down; I couldn't bear to repeat it.

  5. The invitations are out, the servants have been hired. It's the day of and you need to get ready. What outfit do you wear?

    Correct
    Incorrect
    Via Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Dark with fine detailing and beadwork
    Via Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Via Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Bright and ruffled with detailed sleeves
    Via Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Via Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Dark and humble with fine craftsmanship
    Via Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Via Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Bright with a whimsical pattern
    Via Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Hostesses should dress finely but plainly for their big night. It was considered "vulgar in the extreme" for a hostess to outshine her guests by wearing jewelry or bright colors. Tonight you're Somber Sally and you'll like it, missy!

  6. You post up at the door and wait for guests to arrive. Note: You will be staying there until most of your guests have assembled, so get comfy. When the first party arrives, whom do you greet first?

    London Stereoscopic Company / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The youngest woman
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The oldest woman
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The youngest man
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The oldest man
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Always greet the oldest woman first, then proceed to the younger women. Men are to be greeted last ā€” a proper lady always acts as if men are an inconvenient necessity she barely notices at all times.

  7. Anyway, you greet your guests and lead them to...

    Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The drawing room
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The parlor
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The dining room
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The dressing room
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    What is the difference between the drawing room and the parlor, you ask? No idea, but it's imperative that you lead your guests to the drawing room. The parlor would only do if you weren't rich enough to have a drawing room, in which case, why are you even hosting in the shamble of stick and mud you call a home?

  8. Your husband's boss, an elderly gentleman of 40 whole years old, makes his way into the drawing room. Which seat do you offer him?

    Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Your nicest chair
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The chair closest to the fireplace
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The armchair
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The sofa
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Each one of your guests has a designated seat you should offer them, at least according to the 1840 publication Etiquette for Ladies: With Hints on the Preservation, Improvement, and Display of Female Beauty. In the winter, chairs were to be arranged around the fireplace, with the lowest in social rank sitting the furthest away from the hearth.

  9. Damn, the table looks beautiful. Can you throw a party or what. By the way, how many glasses should be set at the table for each guest?

    Roger Fenton / Stringer
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    1
    Correct
    Incorrect
    2
    Correct
    Incorrect
    3
    Correct
    Incorrect
    4
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    A Victorian table setting should include four forks, two knives, one spoon, three plates, and four glasses. Robert Tomes' The Bazar Book of Decorum states that the order should be "tumbler first, then the Madeira, then the claret, and finally the Champagne glass." Party hard, you Victorian nutters.

  10. Well, now that we've got those boring basics out of the way, what will you talk about with your guests?

    Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The latest article you just read in the Lady's Journal
    Correct
    Incorrect
    The latest news on white slavery
    Correct
    Incorrect
    How good the muttonchops taste
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Literature or art
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Don't speak too much, though! Ideally your husband will start the conversation off and someone will ask for your opinion. Keep it brief. You don't want people to think you're boasting, do you?

  11. When serving your first course, what should accompany that beautiful piece of fish you're serving? (You remembered the fish, didn't you?)

    Pictorial Parade / Staff
    Correct
    Incorrect
    A slice of egg
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Pickle brine
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Jam or jelly
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Lemon cream
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Either a slice of fish or a whole fish (depending on how fancy you are and how big your fish is) should be served with a slice of egg and drawn butter. Yum.

  12. A good host isn't critical of her guests, but you should still know the rules. Which of these would be considered impolite for your dinner guests to do?

    Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Take the last piece of dessert
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Take up an offer for seconds
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Eating cheese with a fork
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Slip out early
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    As hostess, you must offer seconds to your guest. However, this dinner is also an Olympic-level event in time management, which you have mastered, so you know exactly when the next course is coming out. There is certainly not time for seconds, and all present should know that.

  13. Oh no! You're in the middle of an absolutely invigorating conversation with an artist friend, but you notice one of the servers isn't carrying his napkin on the correct arm. What do you do?

    London Stereoscopic Company / Stringer

    Plotting to ruin everything!

    Correct
    Incorrect
    Ask to be excused and correct them when out of sight
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Demonstrate the correct way at the table
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Say nothing
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Faint
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    You should never, ever speak to the servants. Honestly, you shouldn't even note their existence, but you're new. Old Flo says this is a must. "Even if you see that matters are going wrong, do not let your annoyance appear, but gracefully ignore the painful facts." Yikes.

  14. After your pastry's been served, it's time for dessert. Ideally it should be...

    Roger Fenton / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Served in another room
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Promptly set down by servers, after the pastry dishes have been cleared
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Served after a salad and cheese plate has been offered to guests
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Served after coffee has been offered to guests
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Florence assures us that the most elegant solution to dessert is to have it spread out in another room, decorated with flowers. Guests will be delighted by "the absence of the meat flavor in the atmosphere" and the change of pace. Well, she has a point.

  15. The meal is over! You've had coffee and dessert, and everything went as well as can be expected. Before you bid your guests adieu, what should you do?

    Hulton Archive / Stringer
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Lead your guests into the parlor and chat for at least an hour
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Direct guests to your dressing rooms so that they may rearrange themselves
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Pack any leftover bread, fruits, and nuts for guests to take home
    Correct
    Incorrect
    Entertain your guests with a song you learned on the piano
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    A good hostess should entertain her guests for at least an hour after dinner. The only exception would be if your company was all male. In that case, you could then excuse yourself while your husband stays out to drink brandy and crack jokes about lusty French women.

 
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