Laura Claridge was born in Clearwater, Florida in 1952. Claridge is an American author, most recognized for her biographies of major 20th century figures, including painter Tamara De Lempicka, Norman Rockwell and our own Emily Post. Additionally, Laura has been a frequent contributor to newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. She has also appeared repeatedly on NBC, CNN, BBC, CSPAN, and NPR.
Notably, Claridge’s work on the American icon, Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners, was well received, awarding her a National Endowment for the Humanities grant in 2005 and the J. Anthony Lukas Prize for a Work in Progress in 2006. P.J. O’Rourke, author of Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude Peoplepraised the biography: “It was the genius of Emily Post to show us that manners are the small coin of mortality…Emily Post became perhaps the most important and certainly the most influential moralist of the 20thcentury. It is Laura Claridge’s genius to explain the surprising and improbable background and equally amazing personality of Emily Post.”
Laura was in the midst of writing this work when she was diagnosed with primary CNS lymphoma, an aggressive and rare form of brain cancer in the fall of 2003. Six months later, she could barely remember anything about Emily Post. Throughout her struggle, Claridge used Emily Post as a source of strength: “Having Emily around gave me an automatic place to return any time I lost a sense of my structure.”[i] She clung to this project as a lifeline—“If only I kept writing, I would never die.” Perhaps diving into the popular “What would Emily Post do?”, Laura also used the lessons of Emily Post themselves to serve her in the healing process.
Now, in her own memoir, Claridge discusses the influence of Emily Post on surviving her sickness, as well as the determination to finish the biography and the ultimate success it has achieved. In Mind Over Manners, Laura Claridge shares her experience of a ten-year cycle of treatment, recovery, and relapse, and the need for courage and strength throughout such an ordeal.
At first, when taking on this project, Claridge felt no ties to Emily Post. She did not seem to relate to her lessons in Etiquette, “[Post] was from another age, after all.”[ii]However, as her sickness progressed Laura began to feel a new admiration for Emily Post, which in turn, “fueled [Claridge’s] desire to write again.”[iii] From the beginning of her sickness, to her health coming back to her, Claridge was guided by the teachings of Emily Post. When friends and family would encourage Laura, referring to her as an inspiration, she would disagree, using Post’s sound opinion that sooner or later, everyone would have to experience some sort of suffering in their life, and this was her time.
A great deal of comfort came from Post’s experience of losing her son, and the way she dealt with such a hardship. Just as “Emily Post wove a cocoon around herself for several months,” Claridge sat “mystified” and confused in a new house she had no recollection of.[iv] Laura even compared her recovery back to a normal life to that of Emily’s. They both began to throw themselves into projects such as gardening, which would help bring them back to the real world.
Coming straight from Emily Post’s Etiquette, Laura Claridge used her advice to help her family deal with her after the sickness had passed. She would remind them of the rule: “when soldiers came home from war with obvious “deficits,” the kindest response was to emphasize how they nonetheless remained the same.”[v] These excerpts from Post’s work helped Claridge work through issues from what to eat when not feeling well, to dealing with communicating to others during a time of hardship and tragedy. Emily Post helped pull her out of a desire to give up when the going got tough, and to rediscover the ways of being a lady in her new health.