The Mystery of Love, Courtship and Marriage Explained — How to Write Victorian Love Letters

So, you sit with a pen in your hand and a blank Valentine’s Day card before you.  But you just can’t think of those special words to express your true feelings for your beloved. Have no fear, The Mystery of Love, Courtship and Marriage Explained, 189o has come to your rescue. This book is filled with great advice and sample letters just for you and your special circumstances.

Let’s get started:

Love Letters: It is almost impossible to lay down rules for writing a love letter. Some young gentlemen make themselves very ridiculous with their pens. They overdo the thing. After you are engaged to be married, it is best not to be too sweet upon your sweetheart, or she may become disgusted. Before engagement, she will perhaps bear a little soft-solder or highfalutin, if not laid on too thick. But not put too many adjectives in your letters, and as a general rule avoid the repetition of endearing terms. One dose of adulation is quite sufficient to give at one time. If your sweetheart is a sensible girl, she will make wry faces even at that. The generality of the sex, however, love to be loved, and how are they to know the fact that they are loved unless they are told? To write a sensible love letter requires more talent than to solve, with your pen, a profound problem in philosophy. Lovers must not then expect much from each other’s epistles. As the object of this little treatise is to aid young men in their courtships, we will give a few specimens of letters that may be written to bring about an understanding between would-be contracting parties. Also forms of answers to the same where young ladies desire to return their autographs:

The following letter may be written by a young man who has shown a partiality for the society of a lady, but who has not had the courage to tell her that “he adores her.” If she accepts him under such circumstances, she will consider herself as good as engaged to be married.

Tuesday Afternoon.

Dear Miss Thorne:

I hope you will forgive me for presuming to write to you without permission, for I assure you it is with reluctance I take up my pen, But I feel that I must reveal to you my feelings and my hopes. Trusting that my attentions have, in a measure, prepared you for a demonstration of some kind as regards the future, I now throw myself at your feet, and ask your love! If I know my own heart, it has an unalterable affection for you. Can you, and will you respond to it? I will be with you this evening, when I hope to be greeted with loving smiles of approval. Adieu till then,

H. Seymour.

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Fan And Handkerchief Flirtations

Several days ago, I came across The Mystery of Love, Courtship, and Marriage Explained by Henry J. Wehman, published in 1890. This campy how-to book includes guides for “popping” the question, writing love letters, and managing a beau. Let’s learn the arts of handkerchief and fan flirtations. 

Fan Flirtations

Carrying in right hand in front of face — Follow me.
Carrying in left hand — Desirous of an acquaintance.
Placing it on the right ear — You have changed.
Twirling it in left hand — I wish to get rid of you.
Drawing across forehead — We are watched.
Carrying it in right hand — You are too willing.
Drawing through the hand — I hate you.
Twirling in right hand — I love another.
Drawing across the cheek — I love you.
Closing it — I wish to speak to you.
Drawing across the eye — I am sorry.
Letting it rest on right cheek — Yes.
Letting it rest on left cheek — No.
Open and shut — You are cruel.
Dropping — We will be friends.
Fanning slow — I am married.
Fanning fast — I am engaged.
With handle to lips — Kiss me.
Shut — You have changed.
Open wide — Wait for me.

Handkerchief Flirtations

Fans and flowers have each their language, and why not handkerchiefs? No reason having been discovered, it has transpired that handkerchief flirtations are rapidly coming into fashion. As the ” code of signals” is confined to a select few, but we do not intend that they shall enjoy the monopoly any longer, and accordingly publish the key.

It may be used at the opera, theatre, balls, and such places, but never in church; and we hope that this restriction will be observed, and are quite sure that it won’t.

Drawing across the lips — Desirous of an acquaintance.
Drawing across the eyes — I am sorry.
Taking it by the centre — You are too willing.
Dropping — We will be friends.
Twirling in both hands — Indifference.
Drawing it across the cheek — I love you.
Drawing it through the hands — I hate you.
Letting it rest on the right cheek — Yes.
Letting it rest on the left cheek — No.
Twirling it in the left hand — I wish to speak to you.
Twirling it in the right hand — I love another.
Folding it — I wish to speak with you.
Drawing it across the forehead — We are watched.
Over the shoulder — Follow me.
Opposite corners in both hands — Wait for me.
Placing it on the right ear — You have changed.
Letting it remain on the eyes — You are cruel.
Winding around the forefinger — I am engaged.
Winding around the third finger — I’m married.
Putting it in the pocket — No more at present.

Harper, Alvan S. Woman in striped dress holding handkerchief. 1890 (circa). State Archives of Florida.
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