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Grandmother was a little crazy. Oh, she didn't think that she was a lighthouse or anything, but sometimes she had trouble remembering what year it was and that sort of thing. One afternoon, she overheard me talking to my sisters about calling a boy, and she was outraged that any young woman would be so forward! She angrily swept into the room, and insisted that men much prefer to protect a frail woman than fight with an independent one. She then declared it was time for proper swooning lessons. Here is what that southern lady taught me:

  1. There is no point in swooning, if no one is going to notice. Wait until a shocking statement has been made, something about war, infidelity, or The North. Then, throw your hand to your forehead in a delicate but dramatic gesture, and verbally call attention to the situation. Saying something like "Oh my my" or "Don't talk about such things" will do nicely.

  2. Swooning should be graceful. It is preferable to collapse into a chair if possible, to avoid getting your dress dirty. Sit down and lean over the arm of the chair, to create a graceful line. Let your head roll to the side, over your shoulder; this shows off a lovely neck, whereas placing the chin on your chest would just make your neck look pudgy. Finally, cross your ankles, for "a lady reveals nothing." All of this must be done in a single falling motion, or it won't be believable.

  3. Falling to the floor is the most dramatic. If a chair is not readily available, you must collapse onto the floor. In a single motion, bend from the knees and slide down to the floor. Fall with one arm outstretched to cradle your head, and again cross the legs. Make sure that your dress remains down.

  4. Don't awaken until you have been given a reason. There is no point to swooning if you fall down and get right back up. You must wait until you have been slapped, shaken, or given smelling salts. Be sure to look confused and apologetic.

If you are really lucky, the object of your attentions will notice that you are swooning, and catch you before you fall. This is a good sign, since it means he cares about you, is gallant, and strong. Be sure to let him catch you.

My landlady in Memphis had in her parlor a "swooning couch" she swears was very common in the South. It looked like a very short sofa with one arm missing. Her demonstration of its use resembled closely the one given here. If a lady fell into the sofa at the open end, she could arrange herself so that the upper portion of her body rested on the high arm at the other end, providing a picture of frailty and great vulnerability, that a southern gentleman could not resist. She admitted that she had not used it in years. It would appear that values have changed in the South and nobody sets great store on the artifice of the swoon any more.

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