In P. D. James' Cover Her Face there is a sentence I don't quite understand:
The dinner, like all unsuccessful occasions, seemed to last three times its normal length. Catherine thought that never had a family lingered so long over their coffee, never had been the men so dilatory in putting in their appearance.
Can anyone help me?
Immediately after a meal at the dining table, men withdraw to another room for port and cigars. After that, they rejoin the ladies in the sitting room for coffee. The men were reluctant to rejoin the ladies and again suffer the boring or tedious conversation, and preferred to keep downing the port and brandy in the library instead. They were reluctant to leave the library, and hence, slow to put in their appearance for coffee in the withdrawing room with the ladies.
To be accurate, the men would remain in the dining room to smoke, drink port, and talk about "serious matters" such as sex, money and politics. They might also retire to the billiard room for a game or two. The ladies withdrew, to allow them a private time in which to refresh themselves (very necessary after a two-hour dinner) and then go to the drawing room for tea and/or coffee. The men would eventually drift in to get their coffee and rejoin the general conversation It was not acceptable to smoke in front of women until after the First World War.
It is only in Oxbridge Colleges that the custom of taking "dessert" in another room continues, and not in all of them.
Of course. How often in movies have I heard, "Ladies, let's leave the gentlemen to their port and cigars."
My recollection is clouded by the current climate, whereby anyone who wants to smoke vacates present company!
Last edited by David L.; 08-Apr-2009 at 21:20.