After a "get-to-know-you" family visit apparently turned into an ordeal, Carolyn Bourne wrote an email to Heidi Withers, 29, telling her she had a thing or two to learn about proper manners before she married Bourne's 29-year-old stepson, Freddie.
The email criticized everything from Withers' table manners and sleeping habits to her parents' financial status after the young couple visited the Bourne family home in Devon, a rural county west of London.
"Your behavior on your visit to Devon during April was staggering in its uncouthness and lack of grace," Bourne wrote, according to Britain's Press Association. Bourne even said it was a pity that Freddie had fallen in love with her.
Withers then passed on the email to some friends, who passed it on to others. The email quickly sparked a debate in the press, on Twitter and on Facebook about who was right: The hypercritical mother-in-law or the future bride who offended her in-laws by specifying what foods she wouldn't eat and taking seconds without asking permission.
Edward Bourne, Freddie's father, told The Associated Press on Thursday that no one involved would comment on the matter.
But the future bride's father did surface, telling the Daily Mail newspaper that Carolyn Bourne seemed to be an unbearable snob.
Nick Curtis, a columnist with the Evening Standard newspaper, said the contretemps has revived every stale joke on the planet about intrusive mothers-in-law.
"I sort of sided with both," he told the AP. "I'm not a parent, but I am a son-in-law, so I side with the junior partner. But I'm old enough now to believe in good manners, so I sided with the mother-in-law too."
Curtis said there was a useful lesson in this for every family.
"The moral is don't send out emails like this, and if you do receive one, don't forward it out. And be as nice to your in-laws as possible," he suggested.
"It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.
Unfortunately for Freddie, he has fallen in love with you and Freddie being Freddie, I gather it is not easy to reason with him or yet encourage him to consider how he might be able to help you. It may just be possible to get through to you though. I do hope so.
If you want to be accepted by the wider Bourne family I suggest you take some guidance from experts with utmost haste. There are plenty of finishing schools around.
Please, for your own good, for Freddie's sake and for your future involvement with the Bourne family, do something as soon as possible.
Here are a few examples of your lack of manners:
- When you are a guest in another's house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat, unless you are positively allergic to something. You do not remark that you do not have enough food. You do not start before everyone else. You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.
- When a guest in another's house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early, you fall in line with house norms.
- You should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter.
- You should have hand-written a card to me. You have never written to thank me when you have stayed.
- You regularly draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you should ask yourself why.
- No one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity style behaviour.
I understand your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters' marriages.)
If this is the case, it would be most ladylike and gracious to lower your sights and have a modest wedding as befits both your incomes."