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Happy Valentine’s Day: Victorian Etiquette Manuals Reinforced Performative Gender Roles

heteronormative

Roses are red/Gender is performative/Mass Market Romance/Is heteronormative

This little gem started circulating throughout my social network last night and I couldn’t be happier.

“Roses are red” gives it a fun Valentine’s Day theme.

The nineteenth century illustrates how performative gender is even if they didn’t know it yet. The Victorian’s obsession with etiquette famously fuelled manuals on how to properly be a lady, or a gentleman.

Look up “homosexual in the OED Historical Thesaurus and the words begin in 1892 with Richard von Kraft-Ebbing’s Psychopathia Sexualis. Though they didn’t have the language to express it clearly, Victorian England periodically had homophobic heart attacks, as is evidenced in the case of Fanny and Stella, a pair of flamboyant trans-women.

Cross-dressing was popular in the nineteenth century and naturally part of the LGBT community. Yes, although they didn’t use that term for it, nineteenth-century England had an LGBT community. Women, like Fanny and Stella, were called “Mollies,” by people in the know, and could meet kindred spirits by frequenting “Molly Houses.”

Other words that emerged for homosexuals in the 1890s included: “Uranian” and “invert.” It was more polite to call your gay friend a “confirmed bachelor.” My other blog has more on the sexual orientation of men in the 1890s.

Lesbians were female “companions,” as in the case of the best-selling novelist, Marie Corelli, and her female companian, Bertha Vyver. People didn’t generally start worrying much about what lesbians were doing until the 1920s. Though, “Sapphism” became a thing in the eighteenth century. This term originated with the Greek poet Sappho who lived on Lesbos Island. All the terms related to Sappho can be traced through the Victorian Era and Wonder Woman comics.

Mass-market romance is still heteronormative even if gender-neutral terms of endearment have permeated our language throughout history. I’m happy to say that the digital era is making everything more democratic and entertaining. This Valentine depicts love between the Hulk and the Beast (of Beauty and the Beast). I love this one with Catwoman and Wonder Woman, but who doesn’t love Wonder Woman?

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Love Tokens

tokenThis Valentine’s Day, the heroine in the novel you’re writing dutifully cut a lock of her hair and tied it in a bow for her beau. In return, he’s given her some token of his love, but did you know that means he might literally be giving her some token of his love?

Love tokens originated in the 1700s, but were very popular in this sentimental era – especially in the 1880s. The hero in your novel would visit a jeweller, or some other metal worker, and have the coin decorated at the one pictured above. On the reverse, Nellie might find her beau’s initials and the date. To make it more special, Nellie’s beau has included a picture. If he could afford it, he might have embellished her love token further with precious stones, raised enamel, or cut-out designs within the coin.

The tokens might be made of any metal and became souvenirs, or mementos, of a special time. They might be maid out of actual coins, like a nickel or a dime, and they might have a hole punched in them to allow Nellie to wear it on a chain around her neck. The great variety in Victorian love tokens illustrates how they could be given by a beau of any class. One might take a copper coin and engrave it themself.

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Nineteenth-century Nellie may have given a love token to her best friend, her sister, brother, or any other member of her family. They’re making a comeback and are a popular item on sites that sell handmade goods, like Etsy.

Are you giving someone you love a love token on Valentine’s Day?

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Ten of the Most Romantic Words You Never Knew

Romantic Words

The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties celebrates the coming of Valentine’s Day by sharing ten of the most romantic words you never knew… or have I too underestimated your vocabulary?

  1. numinous adj. describing an experience that makes you fearful yet fascinated, awed yet attracted; the powerful, personal feeling of being overwhelmed and inspired.
  2. serein n. a fine rain falling from a cloudless sky.
  3. cordiform adj. heart-shaped.
  4. eudaimonia n. human flourishing; a contented state.
  5. sweven n. a vision seen in a dream.
  6. selcouth adj., adv., n. (to make or be/the state or characteristic of) unfamiliar, unusual, rare; strange, marvellous, wonderful.
  7. trouvaille n. something lovely that was found by accident.
  8. basorexia n. the overwhelming desire to kiss (this is a medical term).
  9. philocaly n. the love of beauty.
  10. redamancy n. the act of loving someone who loves you; a love returned in full.

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Victorian Zombie Valentines Are Here!

The Victorian Zombie Valentines are here and are a great way to support the Victorian Dictionary Project!

Click here to but this card.

Click here to but this card.

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Click here to buy this card.

Click here to buy this card.

Click here to buy this card. It’s also available as an organic cotton t-shirt.

Click here to buy this card.

Click here to buy this card.

Proceeds from the purchase of these cards will fund the publication of the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties.

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.

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A Fancypants Fancy Cat

I’ve started getting my store ready for Valentine’s day. Any requests or product suggestions?

This first card started out as an image of my cat, Timmy. The term, “fancy-man” first appeared in print in 1811. It was followed by the noun and adjective “fancypants,” a term used to refer to anything or anyone that is really fine, or pleasing, to behold.

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A fancy cat for my fancy man; this card is now for sale.

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.