Oakland Tours in Focus: Love, Victorian Style

By Marcy Breffle, Education Manager

This month the Love Stories of Oakland program returns to share stories of love – romantic, platonic, temporary, and eternal – found at Oakland Cemetery.  A cemetery may seem like a strange place to learn about love, but of the 70,000 people who rest at Oakland, almost all of them loved—or were loved by—someone. In anticipation of this special program, we’re sharing advice for dating, proposing, gift-giving, and achieving that happily-ever-after love story – straight from the Victorians.

Rules of etiquette and strict social traditions guided Victorian society. Calling cards, chaperones, and fan flirting were all part of courtship. How did the Victorians feel about physical contact? A man could offer his hand to a woman if the road they were walking upon was uneven, but this was the only acceptable form of touch. What if a gentleman’s visit to his sweetheart’s house extended past 10 o’clock in the evening? That would only be acceptable if the visit paid is a family one, and not a tete-a-tete. A little amorous congress before a couple’s impending wedding? Absolutely improper!

Read on to learn about the fascinating traditions of Victorian dating.

How to make the first move.
“A gentleman should not be introduced to a lady, unless her permission has been previously obtained, and no one should ever be introduced into the house of a friend, excepted permission is first granted….When a gentleman is introduced to a lady, both bow slightly, and the gentleman opens conversation. It is the pace of the one who is introduced to make the first remark.”

– Our Deportment, Or the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society, 1882 

Impress the parents.
“It is a well-known fact that in America the young people make their own marriage engagements, and that the parents have very little to do with it. But while this is in the main true, it is eminently proper for a young gentleman to consider the feelings of the parents of the young lady whom he desires to wed, and to do all that may be possible to defer to their wishes.” (Rules of Etiquette and Home Culture: Or, What to Do and How to Do It, 1893)

Marry in haste, repent in leisure.
“It is very unwise, not to say presumptuous, for a gentleman to make a proposal to a young lady on a too brief acquaintance. Such hasty proposals generally come from mere adventurers, or else from mere novices in love, so that in either case they are to be rejected. A lady who would accept a gentleman at first sight can hardly possess the discretion needed to make a good wife.”

– Rules of Etiquette and Home Culture: Or, What to Do and How to Do It, 1893

Don’t be stingy with gifts. 
When a couple become engaged, the gentleman presents the lady with a ring, which is worn on the ring finger of the right hand. He may also make her other small presents from time to time, until they are married, but if she has any scruples about accepting them, he can send her flowers, which are at all times acceptable.

– Our Deportment, Or the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society, 1882

Keep the spark alive.  
“Husband and wife should remember, when starting out upon their newly wedded life, that they are to be life companions, that the affection they have possessed and expressed as lovers must ripen into a life-long devotion to one another’s welfare and happiness, that the closest friendship must be begotten from the early love, and that each must live and work for the other. They must seek to be congenial companions to each other, so that every hour they pass together will be mutually enjoyable. They should aim to have the same tastes, so that what one enjoys will be alike enjoyable to the other, and what is distasteful to one shall be no less so to the other. Each should yield in matters where it is right to yield, and be firm only where duty is concerned. With a firm trust in one another they should ever abide, that each may say to the world, ‘I possess one on whose character and heart I can lean as upon a rock.’ ”

– Our Deportment, Or the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refine Society, 1882

 

To hear more about Victorian love and romance, attend the acclaimed Love Stories of Oakland program on Saturday, February 16 and Sunday, February 17. Tickets are only available online at Freshtix.com.