Sunday, May 24, 2009

Formal Invitations

As recounted earlier, I've recently received a wedding invitation. The invitation, in the form of a card, closely following the standard phrasing[1]:



Mr and Mrs Thomas Twiggs
request the pleasure of the company of
Mr and Mrs Samuel Long
on the occasion of the marriage of
their daughter Ethel to Mr Walter Wray
at St Swithin's Church, Dirbiton
on December 4th 193-, at 2 pm
and afterwards at
The Masonic Hall, Dirbiton
RSVP


(As an aside, Emma Twiggs and Cynthia Long are always inviting each other to events in writing, but even their informal invites to informal events read very stilted. Do they not like but have to keep seeing each other, or are they just unable to break through each other's reserve? There's probably an old fashioned play or black and white 50s-style film with all the drama being in the minutest tremble of the lip, or tiniest gesture of the (gloved) hand that could be made out of this. Or maybe an old-school farce or a musical, I don't know)

So I sat down to reply, but immediately ran into a problem. The invitation was from both parents, but as they are divorced and we're in the actual 21st Century rather than an idealised middle-class suburban 1930s there were some small but significant changes, like this:



Thomas Twiggs and Emma Wilkinson
request the pleasure of the company of
Neil W
on the occasion of the marriage of
their daughter Ethel to Walter Wray
at St Swithin's Church, Dirbiton
on September 4th 2009, at 2 pm
and afterwards at
The Masonic Hall, Dirbiton
RSVP to Emma Wilkinson,
12 Harcourt Lane
E4


(I don't have it in front of me)


So should the salutation be Dear Mr Twiggs and Mrs Wilkinson, or just Dear Mrs Wilkinson or should it be Ms Wilkinson? Not having met her I'm uncomfortable with Dear Emma and Dear Emma Wilkinson just looks wrong. So I checked A Social Letter Writer from the News Chronicle Everything Within - A Library of Information for the Home. Flicking through the letters and replies, I note that in general, one should reply in the mode in which one is addressed, so Dear Neil would go back with Dear Emma, while the reply to a yours sincerely shouldn't be yours devotedly. So the correct reply to the original (accepting) is:
Mr and Mrs Samuel Long have great pleasure in accepting the kind invitation of Mr and Mrs Thomas Twiggs to attend the Marriage of their daughter Ethel to Mr Walter Wray at St Swithin's on December 4th, and afterwards at the Masonic Hall, Dirbiton.

So, having been invited in the third person I replied in the third person (without the Mr and Mrs as they were absent from the invitation). Job done!

However it seems my style of reply was in the minority, and informal replies more usual amongst the guests. Don't fret though if you've failed to satisfy the requirements of etiquette. I too have broken with tradition, as following the model acceptances and refusals is this instruction:


Either the Acceptance or the Refusal should be written on a square-shaped correspondence card and enclosed in a suitable envelope.

I replied on ordinary writing paper[2]! What a non-conformist I am.

Of course, this part of the Social Letter Writer, while useful, isn't the most entertaining part. It may just be me[4] but the line between romance and farce sometimes seems very fine indeed. Which is why I find the Love, Courtship and Marriage letter section both wise, sad, joyful and completely hilarious. And that's why I'll be returning to it soon.


[1] Unless otherwise noted, examples taken from A Social Letter Writer, pp
272-285 from the News Chronicle Everything Within - A Library of Information for the Home. No Copyright date. The link above suggest 1939, but that may be a later addition; information in the Countries of the World section is listed as being correct as for 1928.
[2] Tesco writing paper[3] at that.
[3] Tesco Finest writing paper.
[4] It isn't, but what I have to say has nothing to do with your relationships. No, definitely not.

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