romance victorian style

Beginning a love relationship in the 19th century was much more challenging than it is today. In Victorian times, much more etiquette was called for. During the Victorian era, unmarried women complained of all the good men being "taken", and they wondered if "Mr. Right" existed, just like women do today. Advice manuals were prevalent during the Victorian years, and women turned to these books for the advice that they provided, whether good or bad. These books offered advice on not marrying young and one particular manual that was written in 1874 stated, "A young woman cannot be considered if any sense prepared for this under 21; 25 is better." However, if a woman did not marry early in life, statistically, she may not be able to marry at all.

Victorian dates were almost always supervised in some way. Women were not allowed to be alone with a man until they were engaged. A woman was never to go anywhere alone with a gentleman without her mother's permission. A woman was never to go out with a gentleman late at night. In fact, it was considered extremely impolite for a gentleman to stay late at a woman's home. A gentleman could only call on a lady with her permission. When saying good night, the girl was never to go farther than the parlor door, instead, a servant would see her suitor out.

Just because a gentleman had been introduced to a lady for the purpose of dancing did not mean that he could assume to speak to her at another time or place. This would be improper! If a gentleman met a lady he wished to become better acquainted with, he was to make subtle inquiries to find a mutual friend who could introduce him. One thing that was permitted at social events was flirting. Subtle flirting techniques including using various personal accessories such as fans, parasols and gloves to convey messages of interest or disinterest. Once formally introduced, a gentleman could offer to walk a young lady home by presenting her with a card that asked if he could be her escort. The woman could then weigh her offers and present her own card to the gentleman she liked best.

Church Socials and Holiday dances would have been considered suitable places to meet a potential partner, and glamorous galas or balls were common. If a gentleman was introduced to a lady for the purpose of dancing did not mean he could speak to her if he saw her at another time or place. It would have been improper and if the gentleman wanted to become better acquainted with the lady, he would drop subtle hints to a mutual friend to possibly arrange for the friend to introduce him properly. Flirting was frowned upon but subtle suggestions that used with a personal accessory, such as a fan or a parasol was acceptable. Calling cards were customary and almost a necessity. Once a couple had been introduced formally, the gentleman could offer to escort the young lady home by offering his card to her. A woman would collect many cards in a an evening but the one that she preferred most, she would present her own card to him and this would mean she had accepted his offer.

If she had progressed to the stage of courtship in which she walked out with a gentleman, they always walked apart. A gentleman could offer his hand over rough spots, the only contact he was allowed with a woman who was not his fiancée.

One of the most romantic aspects of a Victorian courtship was the written word. Not only did women keep a diary of the courtship, but both partners exchanged romantic letters. They also exchanged lockets, antique coins, portraits, poems, sketches and locks of hair. The following actions were considered extremely rude in the presence of company; crossing the legs, adjusting your hair, winking your eyes, laughing immoderately, beating time with your feet and and hands, rubbing your face or hands, shrugging up your shoulders, placing your hand upon the person with whom you are conversing,looking steadily at one, and so on.

'The delight of the average hostess's heart is the well-bred man, unspoiled by conceit, who can always be depended upon to do his duty. He arrives in good time, fills his card before very long, and can be asked to dance with a plain, neglected wallflower or two without resenting it. He takes his partner duly to the refreshment-room after each dance, if she wishes to go, and provides her with whatever she wishes. Before leaving her, he sees her safe at her chaperone's side.'

-Mrs. Humphry, Manners for Men (1897)