Bookshelf: Cultivating Elegance

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When I think about modern elegance and sophistication, I think of the following ten books which serve as a proper guide to achieving a greater level of poise and refinement. Elegance is not necessarily about following antiquated rules or guidelines, but is about becoming well-rounded and always demonstrating the utmost civility. It is about respecting yourself and others while simultaneously not taking yourself too seriously. Later this month, I will write about what I call the Pantheon of Sophisticates---women who personify what it means to be elegant. For now, I recommend reading these books for inspiration.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.” 

The Butler Speaks by Charles MacPherson
This whole book was full of wonderful quotes. Charles MacPherson focuses on the idea that true etiquette is less about stodgy rules and more about making your guests feel comfortable.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
"No one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with.  A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, all the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”

“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott
“To live well—to live within your means and to avoid the seduction of the material world. That is what I call prospering.” 

How to Be Lovely by Melissa Hellstern
“The most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy— that’s all that matters.” 

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
“Books were her refuge. Having set herself to learn the Russian language, she read every Russian book she could find. But French was the language she preferred, and she read French books indiscriminately, picking up whatever her ladies-in-waiting happened to be reading. She always kept a book in her room and carried another in her pocket.” 

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
“I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren’t pretty, or smart, or young. They’re still princesses.” 

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
“This was loyalty of a sort which was rare in an age of self-indulgence. It was an old-fashioned virtue of the type which her philosophical colleagues extolled but could never themselves match.” 

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton
In conversation, trifling occurences, such as small disappointments, petty annoyances, and other every-day incidents, should never be mentioned to your friends.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
“And yet we are told that femininity is in danger; we are exhorted to be women, remain women, become women. It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination? Is a rustling petticoat enough to bring it down to earth?”