Friday, October 8, 2010

Victorian Courtship Rituals, Or How Fanning Meant Flirting

The rules of courtship in Victorian England were many and varied. Since courtship and marriage was viewed primarily as a career move for young men rather than something done for love, the rituals took on excessive importance so as not to waste the time of anyone involved. Why would the young Lord Danforth pursue the eldest daughter of Baron Whistlefield if it meant he couldn't advance his own property holdings or his situation in Parliament?

I have a whole lot of commentary on this topic, but that's not the point of this post. Rather, it's to share the minimal freedom that upper class women had when it came to interacting with young, available men at social events. This freedom to "flirt," as it were, was limited to how the woman made use of her fan:

(Source: Literary Liaisons, Ltd, "Courting the Victorian Woman") 

Personally, I never knew that the different ways a lady used her fan meant different things. The proper courtship rituals of Victorian Britain are endlessly fascinating. Expect quite a few more posts on this area in the future. 

14 comments:

Linda G. said...

Love this post! Just goes to show, where hormones are involved, people will find a way to communicate. ;)

Josh said...

Excellent post.

Flower language is also an interesting topic. It's not quite as dynamic as fan language, but still an engaging piece of Victorian romance and courtship.

nemone7 said...

My Spanish Grandmother used some of these signals(everyone uses fans during the summer,It's hot)to flirt in church.Even though it wasn't forbidden to interact more openly with the opposite sex,young women were watched closely by older relatives(and gossiping neighbours)This was only 70 years ago.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I don't think I ever knew about the meaning of a woman's fan. Totally fascinating!

C. N. Nevets said...

This is great stuff, though it will probably end up mostly giving me more to complain about when I watch period movies and plays.

Amalia T. said...

Really interesting! Great post and thanks for sharing it! I'd love to see more!

Matthew Delman said...

Linda -- Of course, the more entertaining bit is how you'd learn this language in the first place. I wonder if it was something men taught their sons ...

Josh -- I used to know by heart what the different colors of roses signified. And yes, it is a fascinating topic.

Nemone7 -- The whole reason fans were used like this is because it was socially acceptable (and discrete). I'm sure the older relatives of young women knew the signals as well, but accepted it because of its discrete nature.

Stephanie -- I know, right? It's awesome the way people will communicate.

C.N. -- I'm with you! I'll probably end up watching a period movie and commenting on the lack of accurate fan usage at some point, thus aggravating my wife.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Seriously?? Wow. I had no idea! :-)

Evangeline Holland said...

I've got to kill the joy and comment that fan language in the Victorian era is a bit of an urban legend. I searched my primary resources and couldn't find a thing about using fans to signal messages between upper-class Victorians. I did, however, find a few references to Spaniard maidens 'speaking' with their fans, so I will guess that Nemone7's family anecdote backs up my research.

Taryn Tyler said...

As complicated and constricting as fan language and flower language was, at least the Victorians had the advantage of definative meanings in their flirtations instead of guessing and hoping their subtle or not so subtle hints are understood.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Wow. I would never have made it as a Victorian lady. Just sayin ... :)

Jeannette Ng said...

But also invented by Fan companies to sell more fans. The various lexicons that were developed ended up being more than slightly confusing in their eventually contradictory definitions (I was always particularly fond of "Help! Rescue me from this really dull conversation!"). I could but presume various sets came and went in fashion. I always wondered if there are ever any amusing/embarrassing confusions resulting from such.

writtenwyrdd said...

That's really neat information. I was aware that the Victorians places a lot of meaning into fans (as well as earlier eras doing so), but I had not known the various permutations.

There was also a lot of significance placed on flowers during that time. Certain colors or types had great significance, and pretty much every flower or herb had a meaning.

writtenwyrdd said...

That's really neat information. I was aware that the Victorians places a lot of meaning into fans (as well as earlier eras doing so), but I had not known the various permutations.

There was also a lot of significance placed on flowers during that time. Certain colors or types had great significance, and pretty much every flower or herb had a meaning.