Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Thoughts and Notes of "Thanks"

Giving Thanks to All
Being thankful really is something most people should practice year round, however a lot of people I run into seem to be anything but thankful these last few years.  Many people seem to be drained and anxiety filled. Others I know, go into bouts of depression for months at a time.  I try to reach them to offer encouragement, but they make it very hard if they will not pick up the phone or respond to cards and emails.

I'll admit, there are brief moments when I start to feel sorry for myself, or I let depression sneak in when I am in pain or not able to conquer tasks that need to be taken care of, on any random day. However I try to overcome negative thoughts by reminding myself of a few things;

The sentiments of this vintage Thanksgiving card are especially meaningful to me.












I have food in my pantry.  Millions of people throughout the world go to sleep each night hungry. And though my health leaves so much to be desired these last few years, and I would need a miracle to be as healthy as I was even 4 years ago, I am not wheelchair bound, unable to speak or move, as is the case with my niece's new father in-law.  He has been suffering from ALS for several years now.  Seeing him at my niece's wedding a few weeks back, I was struck by the fact that he cannot be much older than me and he must feel as if he is in a prison. 

No, I have a lot to be thankful for when I see others who have so little. I have the ability to work and share a skill, though my doctor advised me to stop long ago. I am thankful for the help of all my friends these past few challenging years.  Especially the help and support of Demita and Alicia, who are willing to do the physical things for me that I can no longer do and continue working. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my medical insurance. Most importantly, I have a roof over my head, while so many people do not.

My kids are healthy and employed. Many throughout the U.S. and world are not healthy and are not employed. I am thankful that I live in the United States, where I have a bounty of freedoms and a better quality of life than in many countries around the world.  Above all, I try to remember that life is short, and in this short amount of time I have been given, I need to never forget to say, "Thank you" and really feel appreciative for all that I have been blessed with over my lifetime.

Saying "thank you" takes so little time and effort.  It means much to others, in a world in which people are more apt to complain about poor service than praise good service.  In a world where people are more likely to pass by others without giving a smile.  A world in which strangers avoid situations when help should be given, instead of offering a helping hand. In this world we share with others, saying "thanks" and showing appreciation is at the very least, a truly civil and polite thing that one can do.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Will the Real Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Please Stand Up?


Kiera Knightley as The Duchess of Devonshire












Movie review preface, by Maura Graber

Several weeks back, I asked Demita if she could do her next review on The Duchess. The whole conversation came up after Demita shared her OMG thoughts having recently watching the movie and I had just received an email from another etiquette consultant I trained, telling me that she had just watched The Duchess yet again, and that she had probably "watched it hundreds of times". She loves the movie, whereas I have watched it only once. Finding it so depressing, I have not been able to watch it again. Aside from a very few classics and favorites which end ominously, I prefer happy endings if I am going spend time watching a movie. The Duchess didn't fall into that category. In fact, as I have been helping Demita hone her sleuthing skills, we have found that Geogiana Spencer's life was a mess that would rival anything on reality television today.  The following is Demita Usher's review:















"Electioneering Duchess"... "Stolen Duchess"...  "Duchess as Portrayed by Hollywood"... The "Two Duchesses"…. Will the Real Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire, Please Stand Up?

                             By Demita Usher 
                              
When I first embarked on this journey to write a review about the movie based on Georgiana Spencer's life, I thought it would be a simple review to write, with  a few historical notations added for good measure, to compare her real  life to the Hollywood version. I quickly discovered nothing could be further from the truth. The more I investigated (thanks for the continual push for more research, Maura) the deeper the rabbit hole became. I found the movie depiction of the Duchess of Devonshire was a bit like reading the Cliffs Notes of her life, skirting over huge amounts of information about who she really was historically.

There were many complexities that made up the life of this fascinating woman. I understand that there is only so much you can share in less than two hours without making it a "Harry Potter" movie or "Lord of the Rings", but there is so much that was either unknown or overlooked about her life, I feel the need to bring the real story of Georgiana's life to our readers.

The Hollywood version presents viewers with a fresh faced Georgiana, enjoying a life of privilege with her young friends at her parents’ home. She is summoned by her mother who informs her that her marriage to the Duke of Devonshire has been arranged, and she soon will be the Duchess of Devonshire. She expresses a joyful excitement at her future royal position. After her wedding, she discovers the Duke to be cold, distant, and lacking in the affection that would assist in developing a loving bond with his new wife. She shares her concerns with her mother who assures her that once she produces a male heir, her husband’s cold approach to  intimacy will no longer be a problem as those encounters will lessen over time.

As she prepares to produce a male heir for her husband, the Duke presents her with the first of her royal duties, stepmother to his young daughter who is a product of a liaison with his maid. She is uncertain how to be a mother to the child and if she expresses any opposition, it is clear that there will be no negotiation. Her husband expects her to raise this child as her own. It is during this time her husband’s infidelity comes to the forefront and she is confronted with yet another situation that she must adjust to and accept.

The movie fast forwards to a few years later, and we find the Duchess has given birth to three daughters, but alas no male heir. In addition to her duties as a wife and mother, she is also a member of an elite sisterhood of women who were known as “Political Hostesses”.  Hannah Greig,  historical advisor for the film, stated that, “Aristocratic women in the 18th century were responsible for the political life of the nation.”  This group of women were wives of royalty and aristocrats and wielded much influence and had the power to sway elections in the favor of certain candidates through the elaborate dinner parties and social gatherings they hosted. It seems that good food, drink and stimulating conversation could almost buy an election. These women knew the power they held.

During this time Georgiana befriended Lady Elizabeth Foster who was estranged from her husband and children. After inviting Lady Foster to stay at the manor she shares with the Duke and their children, Georgiana experiences a very painful betrayal. The Duke and Elizabeth have an affair. With careless disregard for his wife's feelings, not only does the Duke refuse to make Elizabeth leave, but they continue the affair. With Lady Foster's three sons also living in the home, a polygamist lifestyle is suddenly the new normal in Georgiana's life.  

In the midst of all this chaos, Georgiana eventually bears the Duke a son and begins an affair with politician Charles Grey. She becomes pregnant by Grey, is forced into exile until the child is born and then commanded to give the child to Charles’ family to raise. It was made clear that she had to end the affair with Grey, or face divorce and permanent separation from her other children. She complied, settled back into her role at the manor, and somehow made peace with Elizabeth. The movie ends with the two women and their children playing happily on the manor grounds. This saga defies all logic, and would have a long run as a daily soap opera or popular reality show. Where are the cameras when you need them?!?
Indiana County Gazette, 1892

In reality, the Duchess was truly a fashion trendsetter for her time. So much so, that women’s fans had her likeness printed on them. In the movie she was called “The Empress of Fashion”, though I have not located any historical evidence to support this moniker. In fact, there were times when her fashion statements caused her to be publicly censured because she wore garments that had such a masculine influence, it sent the upper crust of society into a real tizzy.

Quizzically, after her death in 1806 and throughout the 1800s, Georgiana was referred to as the “Electioneering Duchess” in newspapers and periodicals. Why she was given this name in the political arena, above all of the other political hostesses of her time, is a bit of a mystery. Though she was charming and influential, her actions many times got her into hot water. She was accused of overstepping her bounds to get votes. She was accused of trading  kisses for votes. Some went so far as to accuse her of having slept with men to sway their votes. Whatever her methods, the results spoke for themselves and I am not certain if the title given to her as the “Electioneering Duchess” was a compliment or an insult. If the caricatures of her at the time were any indication, it seems more like a slap in the face, so to speak. By the end of the 1800s, a portrait of the Duchess, painted by Gainsborough, had been stolen.  For the better part of the early 1900s, Georgiana was referred to as the "Stolen Duchess", referencing the painting.
The real woman who went from being a “rock star” of her day to a missing relic in the form of a painting in the 20th century was a lot more diverse and complex than any movie could accurately articulate. What I enjoyed most about  the movie was  beautiful costuming and the opportunity to view intimate snapshots into 18th century life. I found the undertone of the movie to be more bitter than sweet, because the social norms of the time greatly restricted Geogiana's freedoms to make healthy and happy decisions for herself, something my 21st century mind could not live with if I were in the same position today.  The movie also  gave me a profound appreciation that I do have the freedom to choose who I love and who I marry. I highly recommend viewing the commentaries that accompany the movie. Ralph Fiennes, as well as the historians who worked on the film, provide some very helpful insights with regard to the attitudes and mindsets that shaped that time in history.
As I reflected on what I thought to be injustices that could have easily been resolved if she had just divorced her husband, taken her kids and sued for alimony and child support, I discovered that in order to understand her story, you have to put yourself the frame of mind of the 18th century, the protocol of the time. The expectations, the roles of men and women as they truly were, and not how Hollywood spoon feeds it to us, nice and neatly package with just enough tension to keep us watching while omitting the harsh reality of what is was really like to live in a world where privilege could be a prison and true freedom was a fantasy.

The etiquette for the time dictated to men and women so differently. When it came to infidelity and child custody for example, it clearly benefited the men.  Though it was a known fact that men and women took on lovers though married, women were judged more harshly in the court of public opinion when it came to such matters and were not as easily forgiven. If a woman took a lover before producing an heir for her husband, it could land her in a world of trouble. The Duke kept the Duchess in exile for two years after she gave birth to her lover's child, while he was able to freely continue to have an adulterous relationship with her best friend and father children with her. 

After Geogianna returned from exile, she resumed her life, which included continuing to accommodate her best friend sleeping with her husband. These types of arrangements must have been accepted as normal by those in society. Even Napoleon, when writing to the Devonshire manor, addressed both Georgiana and Elizabeth by the term the “two Duchesses”. It seemed to be common knowledge that there were two women there, both living as the Duke's wives.

When it came to financial rights, the women had a lot more to lose. If divorce was eminent, custody of the children was given to the man automatically, something our 21st century minds cannot comprehend in this era where women seem to get the kids, the house, the car, the dog, and even the cat 99% of the time. During that period, if a man divorced you,  the poorhouse could be your next residence.   

Before she produced a male heir, Georgiana had written to her sister that though she loved living at Devonshire, she did not feel as it was really “her” home too. The tone of the letter made it clear that technically she did not  have a “claim” to her home until she bore her husband a son, despite the fact she had borne him three daughters. 

When it came to politics, women were not taken seriously and had no right to vote so they wielded their voting power through their feminine influence which proved to be a powerful force to be reckoned with because again due to the protocol of the time, opportunities for women were limited so they had to get creative to make their voices heard.

The more I read, the more I see that in many ways  her story could read like the life of any woman in a influential but limited position in the 21st century; Georgiana had a drug problem and was addicted to laudanum, she battled infertility, she had a cheating husband, she developed a gambling problem, she had affairs, she bore an illegitimate child and was heavily involved in politics. She was indeed a walking reality show waiting to happen. The Real-Housewives-of-Name- Your-Favorite city or state, have nothing on her. 

After her death, her name was not  mentioned in popular conversation for close to 60 years. When her name did resurface, it was in reference to a painting of her that had gone missing for many years and resurfaced. No mention of who she really was, what she contributed in her lifetime was even really discussed, just a painted portrait of her that people fought and /or debated about.
Gainsborough's famous portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire
  During this excavation, I discovered that Georgiana was more than a pretty lady in pretty clothes. She was also a songwriter, a poet and a published author.  She was a lady of many talents and many sorrows who died blind and in debt, but despite her difficulties, she lived her life despite the boundaries that the social graces of the time that surrounded her, but her life was far from perfect and there was no Hollywood ending with a round of tag on the manor grounds.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How Sense of Smell and Common Scents Can Affect Common Courtesies


File this under "Nasal Sway":
Can one manipulate good behavior just by the scent of the room? It turns out you can, according to an assistant professor at Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management! 


According to a 2009 TIME Magazine sidebar article, "Call It Nasal Sway", an experiment was conducted to test people's propensity toward charity, ethical behavior and good manners by using common household scents. Ninety-nine participants were assigned to either a Windex-scented room or a neutral-smelling room and given a list of tasks to complete. Included in the list was a request for volunteers and donations for "Habitat for Humanity".
Results revealed that people in the Windex scented room (citrus scented Windex to be exact) were more likely to give money and help others than those in the room that was not scented with Windex.  According to co-author and social psychologist Adam Galinsky, from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, "Economists and even psychologists haven't been paying much attention to the fact that small changes in our environment can have dramatic effects on behavior. We under emphasize these subtle environmental cues," he says.

Researchers on morality and scientists agree that people do strongly associate physical cleanliness with "purity of conscience". It is the thought at the heart of old sayings like "cleanliness is next to godliness" and "as evidenced by the widespread use of cleansing ceremonies to wash away sins in various religions around the world".

Arab men displaying traditional form of greeting.


Another study, published in a 2008 "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin" showed that people are more critical and judgmental about certain moral issues when exposed to the vapors of a commercially available, "fart" (their term, not mine) scented spray. I'll stick with the Windex, thank you.