Dear Mary

Dear Mary: our son’s future in-laws want to play social oneupmanship with us

14 April 2018

9:00 AM

14 April 2018

9:00 AM

Q. We were about to send off to the printers the invitation for our son’s wedding (we agreed to do this bit) but now the prospective in-laws are asking for the use of the word ‘with’, as in ‘You are invited to the marriage of Lady X with Mr Y’. We have noticed that ‘with’ is used in the marriage invitation of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and understand that it conveys the implication that one party (the first named) is socially superior to the other. What should we think?

— Name and address withheld

A. My most highly placed observer declares that ‘This is a highly royal usage which it would be common for a commoner to imitate.’ If you are being rushed to printing, you could make the tactful request that you retain the more conventional ‘to’ by claiming that a much-loved ancestor of yours, a stickler for traditional form, always insisted on ‘to’ rather than ‘with’. Would they mind if you honoured the wishes of this eccentric old boy as you can inexplicably sense his disapproval from beyond the grave?

Q. A godson has passed his training to be a doctor. However he’s decided not to take the qualification further and has instead moved to Berlin ‘to write’, although a contemporary tells me that ‘he isn’t doing much except wearing polo necks and smoking’. Needless to say, his parents’ opinions hold no sway, but for various reasons the boy has always been something of a fan of mine and, since I am personally acquainted with how rewarding a career in medicine can be (even in 2018, when a third of doctors’ priceless time must be spent on filling out pre-emptive paperwork), I feel strongly that I would like to intervene. What would be the most diplomatic path to take? — Name and address withheld

A. You must make a subtle approach because today’s young, being much more informed about technology, tragically assume they know better than their elders in general, even those they are fans of, about everything else too. He would be unlikely to take the advice even of Anthony Trollope, who recommended that if you want to write or paint, you should carry on with a day job and write or paint in your spare time. However, in The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham, the biography by Selina Hastings, we learn how when Maugham himself qualified as a physician in 1905, he too decided to go and live in Europe and write instead. Only too late did it dawn on him that he could have ‘written in the evenings’. Despite his success, he regretted giving up medicine for the rest of his life. He never forgot the fascination and fulfilment he had enjoyed during his training, which taught him such a great deal about human nature and inspired his first novel, Liza of Lambeth. Since Maugham was the same age as your godson when he made this wrong decision, send him this book. It is a page turner.


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