Shaking hands (long quote)
Posted by Carolyn B on March 17, 1998 at 23:16:40:
In response to Shaking hands, written by Caroline on March 16, 1998 at 14:19:45
This is from "The 'hand of friendship': shaking hands and other gestures in the Dutch Republic" by Herman Roodenburg in A Cultural History of Gesture (1991) one of those academic essay compilation books.
[The first part of the essay discusses gestures and handshakes as a means of sealing agreements/peace/marriage, etc. in Dutch society. Translations of the French quotes are mine - feel free to correct them!]
Discussing handshaking and the French vs. the English:
[Before 1800] the gesture itself was certainly known but it had a different meaning from the present one. Indeed it was only in the nineteenth century, for example in a French manual of 1858, that the handshake was finally included in the official etiquette of the elite though the gesture was still deemed improper, at least outside the sphere of friendship. As its author, the Baronesse de Fresne, makes clear, "Ne donnez pas votre main qu'a vos amis, et ne l'offrez jamais a un superieur" ["only give your hand to your friends and never offer it to a superior"]. Such a gesture "est de bien mauvais ton et peut vous exposer a recevoir un affront [is in bad form and could expose you to receiving an affront]."
The baronesse's observation is interesting because two centuries earlier the Quakers had made a comparable distinction between friendship and the rules of civility. In his famous history of the sect, William Sewell explained that the Quakers declined the 'common fashion of greeting' such as baring their heads and other gestures of deference. Instead the deemed it "more agreeable with Christian simplicity to greet one another by giving their hand."...For the Quakers, this particular gesture connoted friendship and brotherhood, just as they addressed each other as "friends" thereby eliminating all hierarchy and class distinctions among themselves.
[These examples] suggest that the handshake as a salutation somehow originated with the Quakers and then spread from this highly closed and egalitarian community to other sections of society as a popular way to greet one's equals or friends. But we must be careful here. More than in any other field, that of the study of gesture is one in which the historian has to make the most of only a few clues. Still it is probably safe to say that our modern handshake first became known in England before it spread itself to other countries. The developments in England and France were certainly different. To the French in the first half of the nineteenth century the handshake was something new, a gesture that recently had come across the Channel. For example, when Leon Dupuis pays his farewell visit to Emma Bovary and then merely shakes hands with her, she exclaims "A l'anglaise donc" ["In the English fashion then"]. Again, in Eugene Sue's Mysteres de Paris Madame de Lucenay only receives a "shake-hands" from a young cousin of hers, the Duke de Montbrison: "Celui-ca allait donner un shake-hands a sa cousine". Both ladies, expecting a kiss on the hand, were clearly surprised by this more informal gesture. To the French and other continental travellers visiting England, the same, rather egalitarian gesture must have been construed as typically English.
So, is hand-kissing a more continental gesture? (I still think of it as being rather un-English) The point seems to be that handshaking/extending one's hand is between equals and friends (male or female?), otherwise you would bow, curtsey, etc.
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