Check it out: ‘Lost Art of Being a Lady’ offers lessons from the past





“How to Boil a Flamingo and 49 Other Lessons in the Lost Art of Being a Lady”

By Alison Rattle and Allison Vale; Prion Books, 207 pages.

The modern dating scene can be a grueling one.

One of the first things you have to decide is if you’re going to enter it the old-fashioned way — physically go to a place where other singles hang out — or stay at home in your bathrobe, scrolling through an online battalion of potential suitors. Whichever method most suits your style, you still have to find someone you’re willing to date.

Well, if dating seems tough now, imagine what it was like for our ancestors, particularly early 19th century English women. It was all about the formal and strict process of courtship, which, in my opinion, was much more demanding on the fairer sex. A courtship-worthy female needed to look, speak and behave as a proper lady. As my handyman neighbor might say, applying some spackle and a fresh coat of paint just wasn’t enough. There were basic skills to master.

For a taste of what some of those skills were, read “How to Boil a Flamingo and 49 Other Lessons in the Lost Art of Being a Lady.” Drawing from generations of womanly advice, authors Alison Rattle and Allison Vale graciously explain some of the finer traditional and nontraditional points of ladyhood. Learn how to “alight from a carriage,” “be presented at court” and “use arsenic judiciously.” Preparing and cooking a calf’s head might have been quite normal, if not icky, but identifying changeling children and warding off evil curses are not the usual fare in a lady’s how-to guide.

If you decide to check out this delightful book, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Learning how to “avoid the paroxysms of sleep” most certainly put me on to the path of ladydom.

Jan Johnston is the collection development coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at She blogs at