There exists a tiny book of lessons – pages of delicate instructions that could be held in your hand.  They are filled with drawings so light, that the lines seem to whisper with words that have been pulled from the air:  like an atmospheric embroidery.  They barely have shape; each one sighs with a pretty thought and then is gone.

The book is called “Whimlets” and was published in 1902. 


Directed chiefly at women, it teaches them to behave, just as their clothing – pulled from the ribs of whales – taught their bodies how to behave:

Know When To Quit

The ladies are pretty, exasperating, shallow and charming.  And they need a good talking down.  They are tall and willowy; trapped in Edwardian curves and overcome with eyelashes and dark, unraveling hair that dripped onto delicate shoulders. 

Mirror, Mirror

The ladies are foolish, of course, but the men are content that they stay so and are willing to only scold them with a dainty rhyme.

An Expensive Ring

This book is a light tap on feminine fingers, a loving frown, when the ladies are being too delightful.  Pouting and frivolous, silken and stupid – they must not wander outside their fairy circle of rules and destinies.

This book has survived many decades, many changes – but inside its pages, the delicate little laws remain.  They still live, condescending to this world from one that has long vanished.


10 responses to “Behave

  1. A different era, a whole different time. However, sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if it were mandatory that one parent, not just the women, stay at home with the children. You have kids, one of you stays home full time. Period. Would we be where we are or somewhere better/worse? I often think about how children would grow up if someone was there to spend time with them, work with them, challenge them to be better. More silly thoughts for a late night…

  2. What a funny and sad and charming little book that seems like.

    On an off-topic note, I really hope Harriet and Lord Peter called their children “W(h)imlets”

  3. We have gone from these society ladies to our own version of the shallow, silken and stupid Paris Hilton and the Kardashian weirdos.

  4. The drawings are delightful, but why is the young woman drowning an angel? Is it her devilish nature, or is she merely extracting a favor?

  5. I burst into an evil “Bwhahahahaha!” laugh after reading the last pic. 😉

  6. I learnededdd that first one (know when to quit) really well!! I must be a lady after all!

  7. kzinti – Often, “mandatory” leads to bitterness, but on th e other hand, I agree: a child doesn’t have the chops to exist without a parent to hold/lead/teach…to create a living link of affection and wisdom. Not silly t houghts at all!

    Alex – If Lord Peter’s nephew was called ‘Pickled Gherkins’, could ‘Whimlets’ be very far behind?

    Lauri – so true; but the society ladies were at least trapped by etiquette; today’s nighttime animals sadly have no restraints at all.

    Doug – I’ll admit; some of the drawings are a little obscure. And are those unopened letters on the ground? What IS going on?

    doranyc – Ha! really; was it so very wrong of her?

    leendadll – Hooray! Hooray for leendadll’s entrance into the land of lady-ness!

  8. What a charming little piece! reminds me of a small book I have, called “from the ballroom to hell” talking about how ballroom dancing makes women cheap and they end up prostitutes (there are actual statistics, hah!) I wonder what they would think of today’s times…

  9. I would love to have a look at the titles in your personal book collection. I sometimes see “Aubrey books” when I’m in the used bookstores. I wonder how many of them you actually own.

  10. Charming lil’ tome, methinks; the icing on the cake is “whimlets.”

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