How To Treat A Literary Lady

Making the rounds in literary circles this week is the 19th-century relic Miss Leslie’s Behavior Book, which features passages on how to treat female writers with civility:

If you chance to find an authoress occupied with her needle, express no astonishment, and refrain from exclaiming, “What! can you sew?” or, “I never supposed a literary lady could even hem a handkerchief!” This is dish_womanreadingfalse, and if expressed in words, an insulting idea. A large number of literary females are excellent needle-women, and good housewives; and there is no reason why they should not be.

If, when admitted into her study, you should find her writing-table in what appears to you like great confusion, recollect that there is really no wit in a remark too common on such occasions,–“Why, you look quite literry,”–a poor play on the words literary and litter. In all probability, she knows precisely where to lay her hand upon every paper on the table: having in reality placed them exactly to suit her convenience.

If you find your literary friend in déshabille, and she apologizes for it –(she had best not apologize)– tell her not that “authoresses are privileged persons, and are never expected to pay any attention to dress.”  Now, literary slatterns are not more frequent than slatterns who are not literary. It is true that women of enlarged minds, and really good taste, do not think it necessary to follow closely all the changes and follies of fashion, and to wear things that are inconvenient, uncomfortable, and unbecoming, merely because milliners, dress-makers, &c. have pronounced them “the last new style.”

(Image: Reading, by Teodor Axentowicz, 1899, via Wikimedia Commons. Hat tip: Sadie Stein)