American Manners Matter
During the 20th century there were many aspects of American life that baffled English society. As America tried to make their own new society and government, England watched from afar and sometimes up close. One such English visitor, Frances Trollope wrote of her experiences in Cincinnati in “Domestic Manners of the Americans.”
Trollope gives her view of American society with no qualms of politeness. She describes many aspects of her experience with clear repugnance and disdain for America. Her work covers a variety of topics from the landscape to the social system. Her review on the “amusement” quickly became a way to evaluate America’s religious space and society. While Victorian England was experiencing growth in both Evangelism and Catholicism, America was experiencing their Second Great Awakening. It is clear from Trollope’s comments that she found many things lacking in society. In many regards her criticism highlighted the superiority felt by England as a whole over America. It was a common view at the time that Americans were inferior to the English. America’s egalitarian society was also incomprehensible to such a rigorous society as England’s. All of these differences created a great platform for Trollope’s piece. Her work became quite a success on both sides of the pond for its witty dramatic take on America. While Americans were angered by her audacity, her views were greatly accepted in England.
The society of America was not what Trollope was accustomed to at all. She found herself quite at a lost because part of America’s egalitarian system relied on an equality that surpassed money and career status. America was experiencing an increase of society, focusing on religion and equality which greatly vexed Trollope. Her opinions were especial popular among higher levels of English society. The idea of equality was repugnant to those who relied on such hierarchy in England. The idea of being equal to the poor was almost comical to some classes in England. She found that in America, “equality of rank is affectedly acknowledged by the rich, and clamorously claimed by the poor” (Trollope 1752). Here Trollope finds many things to criticize regarding religion, social hierarchy, and general life. She finds the high regard paid the ministers to be distasteful and sinister. America begins with little expectation of formal society. Church is the first gathering place to be established, and the social climate centers around it. Trollope’s reaction to this is to remark on the uneven representation of gender. Her repeated note on the number of women present at church gathering paints an unflattering picture of the clergy.
Trollope’s view of American socializing and church influence angered Americans for many reasons. While England continued with a marginal amount of change, American planned to be very different and prize equality and democracy. The struggle to be seen as equal as a nation was made all the harder by works like Trollope’s.
“Frances Trollope.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 3 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 Dec. 2013.
“Second Great Awakening.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 5 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 Dec. 2013.
Trollope, Frances. “Domestic Manners of the Americans.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. 1749-1752. Print.