In the novel The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells, what type of manners does the newly wealthy eponymous hero struggle to acquire?
In the novel The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells, Silas Lapham is a self-made man, who by means of his business acumen, has acquired a certain amount of wealth. He exemplifies what is sometimes termed the "nouveau riche" (French for "newly wealthy"; or "new money"), and does not really fit in the social environment of the upper and upper middle classes, even though his money enables him to buy an address in a good neighborhood, and entry into upper class social circles. Mr. Corey comments to his son Tom:
But the suddenly rich are on a level with any of us nowadays. Money buys position at once. I don't say that it isn't all right. The world generally knows what it's about, and knows how to drive a bargain. I dare say that it makes the new rich pay too much. But there's no doubt but money is to the fore now. It is the romance, the poetry of our age.
When the Lapham family begins to interact with the Corey family, Silas becomes concerned about his manners, especially when he is invited to dinner at the Corey house and needs to use proper table manners and social etiquette. His manners are of a particular concern because his making a positive impression on the Corey family will help his daughters make good marriages.
Lapham's concerns were not unusual. This was a period in which an entire industry grew up around etiquette, with innumerable books and magazines devoted to helping the newly wealthy learn the manners of the classes they aspired to join.