Feb 22, 2008

The Romantic Voice of the Victorian Gentleman

My dear readers, as I frequently do given my romantic disposition, my thoughts of late have turned once again, to romantic notions. Specifically the traditions of courtship and love within the Victorian era in which we (loosely) live in Caledon, Second Life. Having done a little research, I have come across a number of fine references and examples of courtship etiquette and love letters.

The Victorians romanticized love as well as tragedy. They revered love and courtship despite their strict moral code and rules of etiquette. To gatherings, young women were chaperoned generally by their mothers or another married lady to ensure that nothing 'improper' happened. Balls and dances were the means of introducing young ladies to Society. She was expected to stay close to her chaperone until someone asked her to dance and was quickly returned to her chaperone at the end of each dance. To dance more than three times with the same partner was considered forward and improper.

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)

Under this strict code of etiquette, the Victorians invented new ways to play courtship. Items of apparel such as fans, gloves, and handkerchiefs were given meaning as were objects given as gift called 'love tokens' such as flowers, painted miniatures, or jewelry set with gemstones of particular significance. The diamond ring which symbolizes innocence became popular as the engagement stone during this era.

Love letters and cards allowed expression of deep emotion which society dictated was improper to be expressed otherwise. Valentine's Day was the day which allowed complete written freedom. Valentines varied from paper hearts to intricate designs of gilded lace, powdered glass, and parchment art. Books were sold containing verse to copy into customized cards for those not poetically inclined.

Since the words that I have found to illustrate my romantic notions of the moment are written by an unknown gentleman about his beloved, I thought I might provide some general definitions of the Victorian Gentleman:

  • A man of gentle birth, one entitled to bear arms, though not noble; A man of chivalrous instinct and fine feelings.
  • It is still expected that a gentleman stand up the first time a lady enters a room or takes her final leave.
  • It is considered chivalrous to open a door for a lady if he happens to be in reasonable proximity.
  • Should never remove his coat while standing, sitting, riding, or walking with a lady.
  • Shall never ask a lady to dance if he has his coat removed.
  • Shall lift his hat and say Excuse Me when he brushes against a lady on the street.
  • Should always walk on the outside when walking with one or more ladies.
  • Shall not hold a ladies arm, except when support is needed.
  • Shall remove his hat while talking to a lady.
  • When a gentleman is seated in a restaurant and a lady acquaintance enters and bows, the gentleman should return the bow while he remains seated, if the lady stops at his table the gentleman shall rise and remain standing till she departs.

I imagine the scene as I read the gentleman's words below.

He has just left his beloved on the wide veranda of her home, her mother having been sitting at the table just a few feet behind them for the entire interview. Since they have been courting for the last few months, he has been permitted to sit over evening tea with the young lady and occasionally touch her gloved hand as they talk. He has brought her flowers, a lace handkerchief, and a sealed letter as gifts this day.

As he departed, the blushing young woman looked boldly into his eyes much longer than would be acceptable in public and offered her hand to him. The love-struck gentleman seemed to look deeply into her soul as he bowed over her hand and kissed it ever so gently...feeling the folded parchment pressed into her palm...meant for him. Both their hearts beat more rapidly. He caught his breath as she whispered, "Be well, my love. Rest this night and dream of us."

I read the farewell, the gentle request, and smile.

Does she not see the vast galaxy that leaves me to sort through?

So many fragments of wonders fill my soul...

Of sitting stoically as the train pulls out of the station, a virgin
rifle across my lap, watching as she waves me a tearful farewell through the steam....

Of riding through the portcullis slowly, my visor locked down as she watches bravely from the tower, lance set to defend her honor against a foe I cannot defeat...

Of watching her nervously as she plays the spinnet in her mother's
parlour, my hands twisting in my lap, gripping my straw boater tightly to keep from touching her flaxen hair...

Of cursing, coaxing more speed from the battered old engine as she
bravely mans the wheel of my tramp steamer, praying that darkness and pluck allow us to avoid the German blockade...

Of easing her slowly back in the tall grass, laughing together,
ignoring the calls of the friends seeking us as she draws up her skirts slowly, meaningfully, offering me what we have both craved for so long...

Of laying the last card of the straight flush on the green baize
before leaning back dramatically, catching her eye as she rakes in the chips, the gleam telling me I had best get her to our room quickly before she pounces on me...

Of bowing low to her over my walking stick as she curtsies carefully
so as not to unbalance her wig, swelling with pride as she sets one gloved hand lightly on my arm, the entire court watching as I lead her out to the minuet.

Doesn't she realise the worlds contained in "..and dream of us"?


Darien Mason said...

Errrm...*wipes his brow* oh yes...very nice...*removes his goggles to wipe them dry as the steam escapes from behind the glass* very nice indeed...

Sir Tele said...

Extraordinary. I tear up as well.

I cannot add to this without detraction, but let me say...watching the Jane Austen adaptions on public tv this month...if I were not so very straight, I would do Darcy in a minute.

Also (if I can follow that) I LOVE the gender equality, the equal opportunity, of Caledon, but know that gender must also be honored and respected (avatar gender, of course). It is one of the things I struggle with in writing the Code Duello.

Finally, may I live up to even half of the responsibilities of Gentlemen you list here.