Welcome to the weekend, 18th-centuryists! Do you find yourself swooning, and it’s not just from your corset? Do you feel like spending all day running through the meadows and reading love poems, just like Marianne Dashwood before a fall? Then you might be under the spell of Valentine’s Day.
In the 18th century, you could profess your love by pinning a slip of paper with your sweetheart’s name onto your clothes, leading to the idiom, “wear your heart on your sleeve.”
Of course, you could always get him or her a Founding Fathers valentine, from Publius Esquire:
Want to be a little more generous? Head over to Making History Now for an amazing 18th century-inspired Valentine’s gift guide. I would definitely commit improprieties if my boyfriend got me that Marquis de Lafayette necklace over shrub glass cocktails…
Regardless of how you celebrate or whom you celebrate with (or if you celebrate at all!), here are some sweet words from 1784 to wish you a happy weekend:
The rose is red, the violet’s blue
The honey’s sweet, and so are you
Thou are my love and I am thine
I drew thee to my Valentine
The lot was cast and then I drew
And Fortune said it shou’d be you.
I’m starting with a novel that isn’t technically in the 18th century, but: 1. it’s in the Romantic period, which is my secondary focus; and 2. everyone knows that the long eighteenth century goes from, like, 1649 to 1832 anyway,* and longer if we find anything cool before or after that that we like. Maybe it’s our time period; it just puts us in that colonizing mood.
*Okay, not really, but kind of.
Our heroine is a young lady of moderate fortune who’s been educated (as a “puppet in the hands of others,” creepy) by her Aunt Stanhope, a woman known for matchmaking her nieces after molding them into coquettes. Belinda has come to stay in London with lady Delacour to get a husband. But lord Delacour is a drunk and lady Delacour only acts like she’s happy in her notoriety (theatre metaphors abound), and they’re basically super-bitchy to each other all the time EVEN IN FRONT OF BELINDA which is so so not done, so Belinda quickly figures out that she’s going to have to actually rely on herself. While she’s figuring that out, most of the whole first part of the novel is really about Lady Delacour, who is fantastic and talks too much and I love her.
Everyone (at least, on Amazon) compares this book to Jane Austen, and let me state for the record that that pisses me the hell off. Jane Austen is great. Of course she’s great. And of course they were writing at the same time and they read each other and blah blah blah. But the weird impulse to turn every book that’s by a female author or about a (nonwhoring) female character from the 1740s to the 1820s into Pride and Prejudice with Wigs means that you miss all the things in each book that aren’t Pride and Prejudice. Belinda’s rational like Elizabeth Bennett, but she’s a lot more into philosophy and conduct than being a wit. And neither of her love interests, Clarence Hervey the dandy genius or Mr. Vincent the sexy creole (meaning here English descent but born in West Indies), are remotely like Mr. Darcy or Mr. Mr. Darcy’s Friend. And seriously, there are other hunks in English literature besides Mr. Darcy.
Speaking of the Jane Austen treatment, let’s take a look at the cover of my copy and its inappropriate invitation to Look Inside!: