Fulsome, over-affectionate treatment of the doyenne who dominated the etiquette market for decades.
Claridge (Norman Rockwell, 2001, etc.) begins with a comparison between Emily Post (1872–1960) and anthropologist Ruth Benedict—and that’s just a taste of the puffery to come. The author proceeds to the most humiliating experience of Post’s life: her philandering husband’s infidelity in 1905 and the splashy newspaper coverage of it. Then the narrative moves back to Emily’s family history. Her father, Bruce Price, was a noted architect, and the little girl grew up in a world of servants and high society. At her 1889 debut, “she glowed” as the belle of the ball, according to Claridge, and that was the night she fell in love with Edwin Post. Their marriage, however, quickly disintegrated; the author describes Edwin as an alpha male in almost a prehistoric sense. Emily turned to writing and to entertaining; she was, writes Claridge, “especially pretty these days, trim with a rosy complexion, a tireless hostess.” This sort of treacly prose oversweetens far too many paragraphs. The author’s research seems thorough, but her documentation is uneven; several quotations from Edith Wharton have no endnote to identify them. Post published a few lightweight novels and gradually established herself as a minor New York literary figure. (She attended Mark Twain’s 70th birthday bash.) She seems to have hatched the idea for Etiquette in 1911; the first edition appeared in 1922, the 14th and final in 1955. The book’s enormous popularity finally brought her the celebrity she’d long craved. She had a newspaper column and a radio show; the pages of the nation’s women’s magazines were open to her; she wrote an engaging book about a cross-country car trip in 1915. Post was up-to-date enough to float an unsuccessful idea for a TV show, but she slowly faded away with dementia in the ’50s.
Far too polite for its—or our—good.