Pretty speeches and quiet agreeableness: man, I feel like a 1960s woman

Vintage Summer: A book of advice for women from a bygone era has sections on ‘your husband, your money and you’ and ‘imagination in marriage’. What will a group of modern women make of it?

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 10:58

The title of the book Frankly Feminine is as blunt as they come. This 544-page slab of a book, published in 1965 and edited by Eileen McCarthy, is subtitled “A book of comprehensive information and advice for the woman of today”.

It is a kind of handbook, although it is definitely not a feminist one. Its 13 sections cover topics such as beauty, manners, home-making, cookery, and entertaining. If you owned this book in 1965, you would have had the tools to deal with everything from “how to make a pretty speech” to “simple carpentry” and “secrets of sex appeal (women do not often recognise vitality in other women. Men sense it from thirty feet)”.

There are knitting patterns; tips about which flowers are suitable to send to friends on board a ship; how to eat “difficult food (no hostess in her right mind would offer corn on the cob at a formal dinner”; tips about shampooing blankets; a chapter on palmistry; advice on how to add weight (“perhaps you lost weight in an illness and are now determined to get back your curves”); and much more.

Alas and alack, this marvellous book is not mine. It is borrowed from a colleague, to whom it will have to go back. Perhaps she won’t recall I have it, although sadly I can’t find any guidance in Frankly Feminine about the etiquette of returning borrowed books.

There is, however, a chapter about personal relationships. Topics covered here include quarrelling; your husband, your money and you; mother and daughter jealousy; and imagination in marriage. It also includes sections about how to be happy with life and happy with people.

We no longer live in an era where we send flowers to friends on board ship, but the foundation of life at any time is surely built on our relationships with others.


The verdict of women from 2014

Let’s see how 1965 advice about being happy with yourself and others will go down in 2014. Four of us – Veronica, Oonagh, Zeljika and I – sit down to dinner in my house, armed with copies of the relevant pages of the relationships chapter. There are several intakes of breath.

“Oh. My. God,” Veronica marvels when she has finished reading. “Who wants to start?”

Oonagh does. “My instinct is that it’s written for girls going to finishing school,” she says, before reading out some advice on how women should make friends with other women. “Your hat is on straight, your gloves are clean. Tell yourself that everybody can do with one more attractive friend and that you are going to be that person.”

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