During the 19th century there were many forms of behavior and attitudes that were proper and improper. When researching an area keep in mind if these books on behaviors and manners were in keeping with your area and time frame. And of course putting a character into a situation where she or he has been taught to behave in one way and is frowned upon in the new area he or she find themselves, is great for building tension. With that in mind I'd like to share a couple of these "proper" manners and behavior from Miss Leslie's "The Behavior Book" ©1855 Note this book was written with English manners in mind and the author notes a few differences for American behavior.
CONDUCT IN THE STREET.
When three ladies are walking together, it is better for one to keep a little in advance of the other two, than for all three to persist in maintaining one unbroken line. They cannot all join in conversation without talking across each other—a thing that, in-doors or out-of-doors, is awkward, inconvenient, ungenteel, and should always be avoided. Also, three ladies walking abreast occupy too much of the pavement, and therefore incommode the other passengers. Three young men sometimes lounge along the pavement, arm in arm. Three young gentlemen never do so.
If you meet a lady with whom you have become but slightly acquainted, and had merely a little conversation, (for instance, at a party or a morning visit,) and who moves in a circle somewhat higher or more fashionable than your own, it is safest to wait till she recognises you. Let her not see in you a disposition to obtrude yourself on her notice.
It is not expected that all intimacies formed at watering-places shall continue after the parties have returned to their homes. A mutual bow when meeting in the street is sufficient. But there is no interchanging of visits, unless both ladies have, before parting, testified a desire to continue the acquaintance. In this case, the lady who is eldest, or palpably highest in station, makes the first call. It is not customary for a young lady to make the first visit to a married lady.
When meeting them in the street, always speak first to your milliner, mantua-maker, seamstress, or to any one you have been in the practice of employing. To pass without notice any servant that you know, is rude and unfeeling, as they will attribute it to pride, not presuming to speak to you themselves, unless in reply. There are persons who having accepted, when in the country, much kindness from the country-people, are ashamed to recognise them when they come to town, on account of their rustic or unfashionable dress. This is a very vulgar, contemptible, and foolish pride; and is always seen through, and despised. There is no danger of plain country-people being mistaken for vulgar city-people. In our country, there is no reason for keeping aloof from any who are respectable in character and appearance. Those to be avoided are such as wear tawdry finery, paint then- faces, and leer out of the corners of their (yes, looking disreputably, even if they are not disreputable in reality.
When a gentleman meets a lady with whom his acquaintance is very slight, (perhaps nothing more than a few words of talk at a party,) he allows her the option of continuing the acquaintance or not, at her pleasure; therefore, he waits till she recognises him, and till she evinces it by a bow,—he looking at her to give the opportunity. Thus, if she has no objection to numbering him among her acquaintances, she denotes it by bowing first. American ladies never curtsey in the street. If she has any reason to disapprove of his character or habits, she is perfectly justifiable in "cutting" him, as it is termed. Let her bow very coldly the first time, and after that, not at all.
Young ladies should yield the wall to old ladies. Gentlemen do so to all ladies.
In some cities it is the custom for all gentlemen to give their arm to all ladies, when walking with them. In others, a gentleman's arm is neither offered nor taken, unless in the evening, on slippery pavements, or when the streets are very muddy. A lady only takes the arm of her husband, her affianced lover, or of her male relatives. In the country the custom is different. There, a gentleman, when walking with a lady, always gives her his arm; and is much offended when, on offering his arm, the lady refuses to take it. Still, if it is contrary to the custom of her place, she can explain it to him delicately, and ho will at once see the propriety of her declining.
When a lady is walking between two gentlemen, she should divide her conversation as equally as practicable, or address most of it to him who is most of a stranger to her. He, with whom she is least on ceremony, will excuse her.
A gentleman on escorting a lady to her own home, must not leave her till he has rung the bell, and waited till the servant has come and opened the door, and till she is actually in the house. Men who know no better, think it sufficient to walk with her to the foot of the steps and there take their departure, leaving her to get in as she can. This we have seen— but not often, and the offenders were not Americans.
If you stop a few minutes in the street to talk to an acquaintance, draw to one side of the pavement near the wall, so as not to impede the passengers—or you may turn and walk with her as far as the next corner. And never stop to talk in the middle of a crossing. To speak loudly in the street is exceedingly ungenteel, and foolish, as what you say will be heard by all who pass by. To call across the way to an acquaintance, is very unlady-like. It is best to hasten over, and speak to her, if you have any thing of importance to say.
When a stranger offers to assist you across a brimming gutter, or over a puddle, or a glair of slippery ice, do not hesitate, or decline, as if you thought he was taking an "unwarrantable liberty. He means nothing but civility. So accept it frankly, and thank him for it.
When you see persons slip down on the ice, do not laugh at them. There is no fun in being hurt, or in being mortified by a fall in the public street; and wo know not how a lady can see any thing diverting in so painful a circumstance. It is more feminine, on witnessing such a sight, to utter an involuntary scream •than a 6hout of laughter. And still more so, to stop and ascertain if the person that fell has been hurt.
If, on stopping an omnibus, you find that a dozen people are already seated in it, draw back, and refuse to add to the number; giving no heed to the assertion of the driver, that "there is plenty of room." The passengers will not say so, and you have no right to crowd them all, even if you are willing to be crowded yourself—a thing that is extremely uncomfortable, and very injurious to your dress, which may, in consequence, be so squeezed and rumpled as never to look well again. None of the omnibuses are large enough to accommodate even twelve grown people comfortably; and that number is the utmost the law permits. A child occupies more than half the space of a grown person, yet children are brought into omnibuses ad libitum. Ten grown persons are as many as can be really well seated in an omnibus—twelve are too many; and a lady will always regret making the thirteenth—and her want of consideration in doing so will cause her to be regarded with unfavourable eyes by the other passengers. It is better for her to go into a shop, and wait for the next omnibus, or even to walk home, unless it is actually raining.
Have your sixpence ready in your fingers a few minutes before you are to get out; and you may request any gentleman near you to hand it up to the driver. So many accidents have happened from the driver setting off before a lady was entirely out of the vehicle and safely landed in the street, that it is well to desire the gentleman not to hand up the sixpence till after you are fairly clear of the steps.
When expecting to ride in an omnibus, take care to have sufficient small change in your purse—that is, sixpences. "We have seen, when a quarter-dollar has been handed up, and the driver was handing down the change, that it has fallen, and been scattered among the straw. There was no stopping to search for it, and therefore the ride cost twenty-five cents instead of six: the driver, of course, finding the change himself, as soon as he got rid of all his passengers.
It is most imprudent to ride in an omnibus with much money in your purse. Pickpockets of genteel appearance are too frequently among the passengers. We know a gentleman who in this way lost a pocketbook containing eighty dollars; and various ladies have had their purses taken from them, by welldressed passengers. If you are obliged to have money of any consequence about you, keep your hand all the time in that pocket.
If the driver allows a drunken man to come into an omnibus, the ladies will find it best to get out; at least those whose seats are near his. It is, however, the duty of the gentlemen to insist on such fellows being refused admittance where there are ladies.
No lady should venture to ride in an omnibus after dark, unless she is escorted by a gentleman whom she knows. She had better walk home, even under the protection of a servant. If alone in an omnibus at night, she is liable to meet with improper company, and perhaps be insulted.