Dining Etiquette in the Victorian Era

In the Victorian Era, there were many dining habits and etiquette that reflected the restrictions and customs of Victorian life.
Table Settings, Service, and Dining Etiquette
Table settings were similar to how they are in fancy dining settings today. Dinner knives are nearest to the plate on the plate’s right side, with other knives and spoons further away from the plate on its right side and forks on the left side of the plate in eating order.1 Tables were to be set according to the number of people attending dinner.1 If breakfast was being served, the dishes would be arranged with the person’s plate in the middle and cups and saucers to either side of the plate.1 The table settings for lunch were much the same.
For dinner parties, the servants prepared most things. They set the places for meals. Food was prepared in thedining.jpg kitchen and brought out by servants. The servants, when not needed or required, waited in nearby rooms until needed to clear the dishes.1 While the family ate meals, the servants usually ate their meals.1 This was to give the family privacy and it was probably used to distance the family from the lower class.
At such fancy dinner parties, certain etiquette was followed. People waited to eat until all other patrons were seated and ready to dine.6 People were also allowed to eat when the host said it was acceptable or if other people were eating.3 At meals, the host and hostess sat at opposite sides of the table.1 This is partially due to the fact that married couples didn’t sit together5, probably to distance themselves if one is referenced in conversation with other patrons. Company (guests) were usually limited to twelve people to ensure a pleasant meal, with guests of the same or similar social class.4 This was to ensure that there would be no intermingling of classes and that there would be no crowding at the dinner table. Talk at the dinner table was expected to be small talk, not gossip.4 It was expected that guests would arrive about fifteen minutes early, to be punctual and to not keep others waiting.4 If people gave dinner parties for friends, their friends were expected to return the gift with an invitation to a dinner party at their place of residence1, probably to be courteous and to remain on friendly terms with one another.

Reflected in the Novel
Even though there was little in-depth discussion of meals and dining etiquette in Pride and Prejudice, dining habits played a role in the development of the novel, particularly in the development of opinions of other characters.
When Jane receives an invitation from Caroline Bingley for dinner, she promptly responds as to not distance herself from Ms. Bingley.2 Elizabeth is summoned to dinner at the Bingley’s, which shows how formal simple meals such as dinner were in the Victorian Era. People were summoned to meals as if they were gods. Mr. Collins arrives at Longbourn punctually, which increased the Bennet family’s opinion of Collins. At dinner with Lady Catherine, Elizabeth is asked to try some of the dishes and doesn’t refuse, as one of the rules of dining is that guests don’t refuse requests to try dishes. Elizabeth also probably didn’t want to offend Lady Catherine and the other guests at dinner.

Work Cited
1Jackson, Lee. "Food and Drink." Dictionary of Victorian London - Victorian London - 19th Century London - Social History. 09 2006. 23 Oct 2007 <http://www.victorianlondon.org/>.
2Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 10. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2003.
3"Table Manners." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 27 10 2007. Wikimedia Foundation. 23 Oct 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_manners#British_table_manners>.
4Duttie, Lady. "Etiquette of the Table." Duttie's Just Victorian. 2007. 23 Oct 2007 <http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Plains/3250/docs/Etiquette.htm.>
5"Dining Room Etiquette." Victorian Station. 2001. 23 Oct 2007 <http://www.victorianstation.com/ettiqdine.htm.>
6"Victorian Etiquette." Towne Victorian 19th Century History. 2004. Towne Victorian. 23 Oct 2007 <http://www.angelfire.com/ar3/townevictorian/victorianetiquette.html.>