A Slave to Conduct: Dialog Between Text and Image in an Etiquette Manual Parody
This is a headnote written as a final project for Ryan Cordell and Erika Boeckeler’s Fall 2016 course on the History of Books at Northeastern University. It introduces a series of blog posts that can be found here.
Which aspects of Charles Tilt’s 1838 More Hints on Etiquette most suggests to readers in its historical moment that it is a parody of another etiquette manual, rather than its own earnest attempt to offer its nineteenth-century readers tips on how to conduct themselves in polite society? Is it the text’s dry humor, which is signaled by its lofty cadence and its hints’ conspicuous deviation from even unrefined social contract? Is it its intertextual references to the publisher’s contemporary periodical Comic Almanack and Charles William Day’s popular Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society, of which one must have existing knowledge in order to fully grasp and appreciate its parody of the early-Victorian etiquette manual? Is it the public venues to which its preface suggests that it be brought and read, despite that genre’s contract with the reader to bring them up to speed in secret?
I’ve listed these possibilities in order of their contractual inclusion in or association with what one might consider the “main” section of the manual’s text: first, the work’s formal aspects, and the rhetorical function of those aspects in the context of the work itself; second, the references in the body of that work to other works, and how those contribute to that function; and third, the references that text falling outside the book’s main section makes to social contracts, which are beyond the domain of the entire printed book. It is the last of these, I maintain, that most shapes the recognition of More Hints on Etiquette as a parody of Hints on Etiquette. Further, the materials with which the manual reveals its parody to readers may be contextualized as part of a broader experiment by publisher Charles Tilt in blurring the line between text and image in print.
The following blog posts constitute a material study of the parody’s paratexts (the term is Gérard Genette’s): most notably its well-advertised woodcuts by satirical illustrator George Cruikshank, which are contextualized by both the manual’s pseudonymic authorship and the advertisements themselves. Genette offers a taxonomy of these paratexts of the printed book in his 1997 monograph and outlines the functions that they can serve. As Cristopher Looby describes:
Genette’s overriding claim is that these paratexts impinge influentially upon our reading experience, hailing us as bookstore browsers, soliciting our attention to particular texts (or portions or details of texts), preforming our horizon of expectations, guiding our reading as it transpires, and otherwise governing our understanding of the text in remarkably powerful, if often unnoticed ways. (182)
The functions of paratexts in presenting the text to its audience, Genette argues, depends on a “location situated in relation to the location of the text itself” (4, emphasis in original). Beth McCoy describes how the paratext “performs for Genette an important spatial function, ‘enabling a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers, and more generally, to the public’ (1).” McCoy attends, however, to Genette’s treatment of paratext as a “spatial servant,” which despite–and, indeed, in accordance with–the acknowledgement of its “pragmatic status” (Genette 8), suboordinates it with respect to the rest of the text (McCoy 156). This assumed hierarchy between paratext and text parallels and compounds another hierarchy in Genette’s model, between image and alphabetic text. Genette explicitly omits non-alphabetic elements that have paratextual value, including illustrations, and admits that this omission will gird debates over “a paratextual element’s substantial status” (7, emphasis in original).
Meanwhile, recent scholarship in the history of the book has problematized the hierarchy imposed between those elements of a text that serve pragmatic function and those that are (supposedly) purely aesthetic. It is no coincidence that Juliet Fleming’s 2006 analysis of the allegedly-nonpragmatic early modern printer’s flower at once grapples with its iconographic composition and its often literally marginal status. Still, Fleming offers undue credence to the position these iconographies perform no semantic function, “freed from the obligation to signify” because their complexity and “technological” composition process rendered them “neither entirely natural nor entirely man-made” (187). While the pragmatic function of illustrations is perhaps less familiar to textual studies than media or new media studies, the field is certainly not devoid of work on visual rhetoric. Kathleen Kelly’s most recent research, for instance, portrays the sketches in Henry David Thoreau’s handwritten journal–which are “sometimes elaborate [and] sometimes suggestively simple”–as a, if not the, primary mode with which Thoreau makes meaning in the journal. Kelly’s epigraph from Louis Agassiz (“a pencil is one of the best eyes”) focuses on the extent to which the pencil, as a piece of technology, was a means of describing and representing. For Kelly, the text of Thoreau’s Journal refers to and describes images (re)produced with the aid of technology, while those images contextualize and amalgamate its entries.
George Cruikshank’s woodcuts in More Hints on Etiquette are similarly dialogic with the manual’s text: they depict the text that is near them while also setting reader’s expectations for how they should engage with that same text. Cruikshank’s “cuts,” as they are so described in the manual connote the pragmatic technology used to impart the image on the page and convey it to the reader, but the word also can be read as a reference to their similiarly pragmatic function of insulting and critiquing. These images lack captions, so the text of the book functions as a kind of extended caption; conversely, the images themselves “caption” the book’s text. In this context, Genette’s language on the function of paratext applies to the manual’s images:
And although we do not always know whether these productions are to be regarded as belonging to the text, in any case they surround it and extend it, precisely in order to present it, in the usual sense of this verb but also in the strongest sense: to make present, to ensure the text’s presence in the world, its “reception” and consumption in the form (nowadays, at least) of a book. (1)
In other words, this dialogic relationship between text and image presents this conduct manual to its implied audience, in the form of a material book, and conducts the reader, setting parameters for how the book should be read in terms of other books and other works. The most prime example of this relationship can be read on the book’s title page. A woodcut of a well-dressed, bearded, and monocled man by Cruikshank, directly following his introduction to the reader, serves first to present the reader with an example of one of his illustrations. But the woodcut also appears directly below the pseudonym “paidagogos,” written in Greek text. The Greek here in an English-language text defamiliarizes the typography, reminding the reader that typed text, itself, is a set of standardized (and not-so-standardized) images. Genette offers us a framework for describing the function of textual pseudonyms: the relevant case here, in which an abstract pseudonym totally replaces any other reference to a real-life author, is one he labels “imagining the author,” in which a “real author attributes a work to an author who…is imaginary but provided with some attributes” (47–48).
The figure of the “paidagogos” was a biblical slave figure who served as a conduct guide to a young man of a certain class in Ancient Greece, and without whom he would not leave home. The manual’s pseudonym is a play on Charles William Day’s pseudonym in Hints on Etiquette, “agogos.” While the original manual’s is an abstract “leader” or “guide,” the parody reifies this abstract concept in the form of a person, a slave. The tension here transcends the unfortunate slave reference (in the year, I might add, that those enslaved within the British Empire were freed), and is also one between the function of the two pseudonyms: while Day’s pseudonym is associated with a real person but is an abstraction, the parody’s pseudonym is associated with an abstraction rendered material guide, but has no corresponding real-life author to serve as that guide. The pseudonym is instead left to signify the book itself, whose portability renders it (and preface describes it as) the conduct guide that it’s reader simply should not leave home without. Moreover, the pseudonym signifies the figure of the suited man in the woodcut, who with his walking stick is a visual remix of the popular depiction of the paidagogos as a bald man with a shaggy beard and stick. The visual remix is, additionally, of the title page character (pseudonym Rigdum Funnidos, Gent.) in the publisher’s issues of the Comic Almanack: a jester with his own wooden staff and wearing the sandals of antiquity. This is, as one of my posts describes, a periodical of Charles Tilt’s that incorporates images with increasing prominence and function in the years surrounding More Hints on Etiquette’s publication. It is also one in which the original Hints on Etiquette was advertised the year before, and in which a feature article on good manners appeared the year of, its parody’s publication. The woodcut figure on its title page, with his arms outstretched, thus presents the book as its own comic venture and welcomes the reader to its pages.
I, in turn, welcome you to browse these posts, which trace my own experience as a contemporary reader in the archive coming to understand More Hints on Etiquette as a parody. You may note that the text of my posts similarly refers to other posts. I only wish that I had as much command, as Charles Tilt and George Cruikshank, over the images–but that may be a project for another time and medium.
Fleming, Juliet. “How to Look at a Printed Flower.” Word & Image 22.2 (2006): 165–187.
Genette, Gerard. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Ed. Richard Macksey. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Cambridge ; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.
Kelly, Kathleen et al. “About.” “A pencil is one of the best eyes” – Henry David Thoreau’s Journal Drawings. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.
McCoy, Beth A. “Race and the (Para)Textual Condition.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 121.1 (2006): 156–69.