June 23, 2014

Old-Fashioned {Redux}

[This is a reprint of my article, "Being Old-Fashioned, Downton Abbey Style," from the summer issue of SEASON magazine. Scroll to page 93 or enjoy text below!]

Being Old-Fashioned, Downton Abbey Style
One of my favorite bridal historians, British writer Ann Monsarrat, talked about how old “innocent superstitions…just for fun” became wedding “traditions” in Victorian times. Although most wedding customs have ancient roots back to the days of arranged marriages (like “the superstition that the bride and groom should not meet on their wedding day until they do so at the altar”), it was the sentimental Victorians who made them part of the “rules” of wedding etiquette. And even if a tad old-fashioned, some traditions stayed around while others disappeared in the regimented practicality guiding many weddings today.

It reminds me of the episode of Downton Abbey in season three when Martha Levinson, Cora’s very avant garde American mother played by Shirley Maclaine, arrives for Lady Mary’s wedding. At dinner the night before the ceremony, Violet, the other grandmother (Maggie Smith’s witty character, the proper Dowager Countess) tells Martha that Matthew won’t be dining with them since it’s “bad luck” for the groom to see the bride. Martha teases about following such old-fashioned notions: “It’s 1920 for heaven’s sake!”

However, old-fashioned or not, keeping some traditions just brings out the sweetness in us. Remember the Downton Abbey scene later that night when Matthew slips into the Abbey to apologize to Mary and—with her slightly opened bedroom door between them—asks for a reconciliation kiss. After a pause, Mary softens and smiles: “Only if you close your eyes…it’s bad luck to see me before the wedding.” (He does, she does, then takes a peek, and they seem even more in love when they meet at the altar the next morning!)

Now I can appreciate the benefits of being practical as much as the next fellow; and I understand that the current practice of taking photographs of all the wedding party before the ceremony is indeed “practical.” But don’t you think it spoils some of the romantic mystery?

Ann Monsarrat told this charming story around the 1893 wedding of a future king and queen: 

…when Princess May of Teck and the Duke of York caught sight of each other from opposite ends of one of the long, long corridors of Buckingham Palace on their marriage morning, they took it as a happy sign. They were a constrained couple, always writing to explain how much they loved each other and apologising that they could not actually say so; both were warmed by the brief encounter. The Duke, according to Queen Mary’s official biographer ‘swept her a low and courtly bow. This gesture she never forgot.’

Certain old-fashioned notions may be worth saving—especially if they inspire such courtliness and tender memories. And in our “let it all hang out” modern world, they may prove absolutely essential in keeping some of our “mystery” intact (and a woman’s mystery never goes out of fashion and sometimes romance needs a bit of old-fashioned nudging.) ~

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