Emily Post

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-10-13
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
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"What would Emily Post do?" Even today, Americans cite the author of the perennial bestsellerEtiquetteas a touchstone for proper behavior. But who was the woman behind the myth, the authority on good manners who has outlasted all comers? Award-winning author Laura Claridge presents the first authoritative biography of the unforgettable woman who changed the mindset of millions of Americans, an engaging book that sweeps from the Gilded Age to the 1960s. Born shortly after the Civil War, Emily Post was a daughter of high society, the only child of an ambitious Baltimore architect, Bruce Price, and his wellborn wife. Within a few years of his daughter's birth, Price moved his family to New York City, where they mingled with the Roosevelts and the Astors as well as with the new crowd in townJ. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt clan. Blossoming into one of Manhattan's most sought-after debutantes, Emily went on to marry Edwin Post, planning to re-create in her own home the happiness she'd observed between her parents. Instead, she would find herself in the middle of a scandalous divorce, its humiliating details splashed across the front pages of New York newspapers for months. Traumatic though it was, the end of her marriage forced Emily Post to become her own person. She would spend the next fifteen years writing novels and attending high-powered literary events alongside the likes of Mark Twain and Edith Wharton, but in middle age she decided she would try something different. When it debuted in 1922 with a tiny first print run,Etiquetterepresented a fifty-year-old woman at her wisestand a country at its wildest. Claridge addresses the secret ofEtiquette'stremendous success and gives us a panoramic view of the culture from whichEtiquettetook its shape, as its author meticulously updated her book twice a decade to keep it consistent with America's constantly changing social landscape. A tireless advocate for middle-class and immigrant Americans, Emily Post became the emblem of a new kind of manners in which etiquette and ethics were forever entwined. Now, nearly fifty years after her death, we still feel her enormous influence on how we think Best Society should behave. Praise forEmily Post "Given the ubiquitousness of her repeatedly revised magnum opus,Etiquette, first published in 1922, we think of Emily Post as an institution rather than a human being. But she was a woman of substance and sensitivity. The first to fully portray this pioneer, Claridge is becoming the sort of biographer readers will follow anywhere, and one hopes she'll continue in the vein that yieldedNorman Rockwell(2001) and now this absorbing study of a keenly perceptive ethicist second only to Eleanor Roosevelt in the immensity of her influence. A child of privilege born in the wake of the Civil War, smart and beautiful Emily Price married a rascal. The pain and humiliation of her divorce from Edwin Post fostered her devotion to writing (she was a successful novelist) and seeded the compassion and advocacy for women that shaped her highly moral approach to etiquette. Claridge chronicles Post's remarkable ability to discern the needs of a Claridge chronicles Post's remarkable ability to discern the needs of a burgeoning American public transformed by immigration, industrialization, war, and women's and civil rights, and hungry for guidance in social and familial situations. A best-selling writer and hugely popular radio personality, Post equated etiquette with character and ensured a 'democratization of manners.' Claridge greatly deepens our appreciation for Post's achievements and brings forward the impressive woman behind the do's and don'ts."--

Author Biography

Laura Claridge is the author of several books, including Norman Rockwell: A Life and Tamara de Lempicka: A Life of Deco and Decadence. Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant and won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award. Claridge received her Ph.D. in British Romanticism and literary theory and was a tenured professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis until 1997. She has written features and reviews for The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and The Christian Science Monitor and has appeared frequently in the national media, including Today, CNN, NPR, and the BBC. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.



It happened like this—in many respects an old tale, with nothing original to recommend it. A society man was caught cheating on his wife, and now, his blackmailers agreed, he would have to pay.

Emily Price Post, the adulterer’s wife, was furious. Shocking even herself, for the briefest of moments the usually even-tempered young matron yearned for revenge. Against her spouse, his lover, the blackmailers, and society: anyone who had contributed to this pain. Still in love with her husband, the thirty-two-year-old woman had long ago given up hope that he felt the same about her. She had made peace with her private anguish. What she had not anticipated was public humiliation.

During the hottest days that summer of 1905, the aftermath of Edwin Post’s betrayal played out daily on the front pages of New York City’s newspapers. Such flamboyant publicity bolstered Edwin’s damaged self-image even as it shriveled his wife’s. Now Emily wore, to those few who knew her well, an aura of sadness only emphasized by her husband’s exuberance.

Edwin’s friends had warned him to be discreet, but he had ignored them, sure, as usual, that he knew best. By late April 1905 the cocky thirty-five-year-old stockbroker had become careless about how he conducted his affairs with chorus girls and fledgling actresses. So in the middle of June, when one of them whined, mistaking his attentions for relationship collateral, he made a fatal misstep. He reacted callously, warning her to vacate the Connecticut cottage he kept for such intrigues: she bored him.

Within days of toasting his new freedom from the starlet he had suddenly found cloying, Edwin received a call from a representative of Colonel William D’Alton Mann, publisher of the articulate gossip sheet Town Topics. Mann, already embarked on this summer’s vacation abroad, had left his business in the hands of Charles H. Ahle, his second-in-command. The officious Ahle suggested that he and Edwin Post meet—soon. On June 25 Ahle visited Post, who was unceremoniously instructed to ante up the cash or be exposed to scandal: Town Topics was about to go public with some juicy news of certain interest to Edwin. Luckily, Colonel Mann had left instructions to suppress this gossip if Post subscribed to a vanity book to be printed sometime in the distant future. Five hundred dollars would neatly cover the costs for Post’s copy. He should be grateful, Ahle added unctuously; some other men—more important than Post—had been taxed a far greater amount for the same “project.”

Thus it was that Edwin Post joined the Gilded Age prey, a group of select men (and several women) stalked by the redoubtable publisher. Colonel Mann abhorred what he considered the duplicity of society. He took immense satisfaction in supplementing his own income at the expense of a careless millionaire’s misalliance. The jovial Civil War hero, a suave, condescending, robust Santa Claus, mixed in his complicated person two sometimes contrary impulses. He was a true believer—no sloppy grammar or careless vernacular would be published under his masthead. But he was also a cynical extortionist, impatient with public figures so inane that they discarded their private lives for a night of pleasure.

This hypocritical reformer had become an object of dread among the city’s most prominent citizens: J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, William K. Vanderbilt, and William C. Whitney. His method was simple: hire aggrieved servants, disgruntled friends, or a furious spouse to spy on suspects. Then bully those miscreants into paying for a “subscription” to a mostly phantom, wildly expensive illustrated book about leaders of society. Various prices were assessed for each victim, with an eye to what the sinner could afford. What could be easier than such a scam, in the shadow of the V

Excerpted from Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners by Laura Claridge
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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