Thursday, 15 May 2014
Fan-tastic: the Victorian art of flirting
Are you a bit of a flirt? Do you sometimes catch an attractive man’s eye, then deliberately look away. Give him a little knowing smile. It’s all innocent fun and part of the games we play with each other. The Victorians were no different. While researching my novel Diamonds & Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery (publ. Crooked Cat Books) I delved into the world of nineteenth century courtship. It was a fascinating journey.
Of course there were certain restrictions that do not apply today. Young ladies were not allowed to be alone with a gentleman unless they were properly engaged. You couldn’t even say ‘hello’ to the prospective love of your life until he had been formally introduced by a mutual friend. There were no mobile phones to send flirty messages, or indicate your availability. And most of your obvious charms were covered up in a crinoline, bonnet and button boots, or hidden under layers of corsets and uncomfortable underwear (the average weight of a Victorian lady’s underwear mid-century was 14 lbs).
But if you were a canny lass, you had one infallible way of indicating to that handsome beau that you fancied him rotten: you could use your fan.
Fans were an extension of the Victorian lady’s body and the language of the fan was an important part of the dating ritual. Once you had mastered its subtle messages, you could go an awful long way down the matrimonial path solo and unchaperoned. So here are some of the top flirty ‘’moves’’:
Fast fan movement - I am independent
Slow fan movement - I am engaged
Fan resting on right cheek - Yes
Fan resting on left cheek - No
Drawing fan across forehead - We are being watched
Fanning face with fan held in right hand - Leave me alone
Swinging the fan - Will you see me home?
What I love about this is that it shows how women, in an age of male dominance, and rigid social formality, still found a way to subvert the rules. Of course, the effectiveness of the fan relied upon one very big unknown: that the gentleman in question also knew the language! If he did not, the ensuing results could be pretty disastrous....
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