This chapter begins by looking at the social mistake in relation both to the novel and to the rather sudden appearance of the etiquette book in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. While there had long been other works on manners—courtesy manuals, conduct books, etc.—the etiquette book differed from what came before because it made its case for of good form without offering the reader a stable ethical ideal. In the absence of shared social or cultural ends, the mistake emerges as an object that is at once reliable and disturbing. Then, in the context readings of eating peas with your knife in Thackeray and pointing at people in Balzac, the chapter develops a psychoanalytically inflected theory of the social mistake both in general and in relation to the particular form of the nineteenth-century novel.
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