I often wish I had a butler. Blame it on P.G. Wodehouse — who wouldn’t want a lovely man like Jeeves around to fix all the random scrapes you get yourself into? Take a look at Smithers from the Archie comics, or Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey. One of my favourite books of all time is Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. Butlers have always seemed almost otherworldly, mostly unseen and unheard, but somehow always around to keep things running smoothly.
In real life, of course, a butler is slightly beyond my budget. In real life, I open my own door and hang my guests’ coats. Which is probably why I end up rarely entertaining guests at all. After all, what if I forget the sugar bowl when setting out the tea tray? Or worse, introduce people to each other in the wrong way? Fortunately for the etiquette-clueless like myself, Charles MacPherson has written The Butler Speaks, a handy, comprehensive guide to etiquette and housekeeping.
In all seriousness, it can be rather intimidating to enter a fancy restaurant and have no clue how to act. I grew up in a private all girls school where one of our home ec classes featured a lesson on proper table setting, and which piece of cutlery goes with which dish. The idea was that as daughters of politicians, CEOs and the like, and as future powerhouses ourselves someday (an alumna of my school went on to become President of the Philippines), we may be placed in situations where we’d have to choose from a dozen spoons and forks, some important dignitary across the table from us, and we must know how to comport ourselves. (Pro tip: Start from the outside in.)
MacPherson’s book is full of good tips. Even if, like me, you’re more likely to have beer and nachos in a pub than caviar at a state dinner, it’s always good to know how to introduce your boss to a potential important stakeholder. At the very least, it’s a lovely treat to set out proper afternoon tea for your friends, and really create an experience of luxury. MacPherson even includes some historical information on the roles of servants within a household, which is fascinating to a Downton Abbey fan like myself.
Then of course, even more applicable since most of us don’t have servants at all, the book contains tips on vacuuming, doing laundry, cleaning floors, and other such household chores. All drudge work I doubt any of us cares for, but seriously, doing them to the standards of a proper butler is a fun exercise in the imagination — not only are they useful tips, but we can also use them to imagine ourselves into a Downton Abbey sort of life. We may be on Team Servant within the Downton Abbey set, but it’s still a bit more of an adventure than simply cleaning the house in between work days.
Just as a proper butler always appears presentable, the book itself is lovely. Simple illustrations and an understated gold and cream colour scheme reflect the elegance of MacPherson’s theme, and make this a butler of a book.
Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.