Before Miss Manners there was Washington

I just finished reading, almost in one breath, The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

Interesting to the book, after the formidable writing of course!, are photos (found at the beginning of each chapter) taken by Walker Evans (mostly known for his photos of the Great Depression).

Between 1938 and 1941 Evans rode the New York subway system with a 35mm camera hidden in his pocket and captured intimate head shots of endless passengers from all over the world as they sat lost in thought during their commute.

Miss Manners, alias Judith Martin, born in 1938, a leading etiquette authority, spent her career teaching about social graces, not just as external attributes, but as a way to create relationships of longevity, be it personal or professional, through courteous and proper behavior.

However, way before Miss Manners, a young future American President (whose term would run 1789-1797) was learning about manners at the table and during conversations with others, while attending school.

At the end of the novel you will find the 110 rules of civility (Title of the Novel) which George Washington (at age 14) copied into his schoolbook and proceeded to adopt as fundamental ways of conduct throughout his life. This list was taken from the practices already adopted and taught in 16th century France.

These rules are woven into and throughout the novel in the behaviors of four people who meet and whose lives intertwine and deeply affect each other even if for only a few short years.

This is post Depression, pre-war New York, with its speakeasies, jazz, smoking and carousing, dreams and expectations and fantastic language. A city that can make you or break you and where each individual’s moral compass is tested. And as you accompany Kathy on her journey through the lower and upper echelons of this great town you won’t want to go home.

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