Romance Advice

You know the drill! Below are quotations from 1820s-1840s texts giving advice about how the upper classes do all sorts of things. Today we’re focusing on how they have sex, flirt, court, and marry. Previous posts include how to party, how an aristocratic family should operate, and how to stay (fashionably) healthy.

As usual, anything in brackets is my own snark.


There were very special rules to courtship in the early nineteenth century, rules that were necessary because courtship didn’t just concern the two people directly involved. Upper-class marriages involved the immediate and extended families of the two people getting married, their social position and circle of acquaintance, their income and business interests, and (based on their level of political power) occasionally the state of the nation.

With such high stakes involved, there was every opportunity to offend someone or to otherwise ruin one’s reputation and prospects. Romantic dalliances with no intention of marriage had to be handled very carefully.

Plate opposite p. 79 in H. Clauren's "The Green Mantle" from Ghost Stories. (London: Ackermann's Repository of Arts). 1823.  With permission of the University of Glasgow Library Special Collections. Shelfmark Sp Coll Ferguson Al-d.47.

Liaisons and Sexuality

  • “Nothing, my dear son, is like a liaison (quite innocent of course) with a woman of celebrity in the world” (Pelham 1:29). [Always bang famous people].
  • “In marriage a man lowers a woman to his own rank; in an affair du Coeur he raises himself to her’s [sic]” (Pelham 1:29). [ALWAYS BANG FAMOUS PEOPLE]
  • “Now-a-days, when a young man is affected by a fever of the heart, or ague of the mind . . . he goes abroad. The Continent is a might safety-valve. It is surprising the quantity of vice that escapes in that direction” (Cecil 150). [Go be freaky in Europe. European chicks love freaky stuff.]
  • “Percy . . . sank into a seat beside a lady of forty-five, who sometimes amused herself in making love to him – because there could be no harm in such a mere boy!” (Godolphin 1:64). [I flirt with 10 year olds all the time. Absolutely no harm could come from that.]
  • “Like the generality of Whig noblemen, he was peculiarly loose in his notions of women, though not ardent in pursuit of them. His amours had been among opera-dancers, ‘Because,’ as he was wont to say, ‘there was no d – d bore with them’” (Godolphin 1:144). [Well, I suppose if your goal is to look at boobs and legs, then yeah, looking at women with nice boobs and uncovered legs probably wouldn’t be boring for you, you filthy old he-goat.]

Assessing Partners (Male)

  • “’Chesterton, though very desirable as a husband . . . is terribly heavy as a suitor – he brings up such a long battering train of clumsy, round-about speeches. He has none of your soft, sly, sentimental small shot. That is the attack the ladies prefer. They like to be pelted with sugar plums, as we used to do at Rome, in the Carnival’” (Granby 2:83). [“Oh, god, yes! Pelt me with your verbal sugar plums! Pelt me!” *bodice rip*]
  • “He was a model husband. The pin money of Madame la Comtesse was as punctual as the coupons of the Bank of France. A new equipage every second year – diamonds reset every third – and annual étrennes from the glittering magazine of Jaset . . . attesting the ardour of his conjugal devotion” (Cecil 215). [J.Lo. Was wrong. You CAN buy my love.]
  • “Mr. Smithson had just married some twenty years too late – with his habits, like his features, quite set, and both in a harsh mould. Young Lady! . . . do any thing rather than marry a confirmed bachelor – venture on one who has been successful with seven succeeding wives, with ten small children ready made to order” (Romance and Reality 1:128). [You’re telling me to marry Diego Rivera, Larry King, Billy Bob Thornton, Frank Sinatra, and Bluebeard. You are telling me that all of these men are not set in their ways and will be good husbands who will adapt to my way of life. Go on. Tell me again.]
  • “Miss Maria Osborne, it is true, was ‘attached’ to Mr Frederick Augustus Bullock . . . but hers was a most respectable attachment, and she would have taken Bullock Senior just the same, her mind being fixed – as that of a well-bred young woman should be – upon a house in Park Lane, a country house at Wimbledon, a handsome chariot, and two prodigious tall horses and footmen, and a fourth of the annual profits of the eminent firm of Hulker & Bullock” (Vanity Fair 129). [You’re a class act, Maria Osborne.]
  • “Let every prudent girl, therefore, make many inquiries of the man for whom she designs herself, amongst his friends and general acquaintance; and if she hears him pronounced ‘the best fellow in the world,’ the most good-natured creature in existence,’ let her beware! This is but negative praise after all, – what is invariably said of a fool, or of the next-a-kin, a weak-minded man; and what folly and caprice does not that term imply!” (Finesse 1:134). [“He’s a kind soul who will be faithful and gentle and–” “NEXT!”]
  • no young lady ought ever to talk twice to a man who seems to take pleasure in her society, unless she knows him to be eligible” (Yes and No 1:122). [“Hi, Charlotte, nice to see you again! Is this seat taken?” “I don’t know. ARE YOU MARRIED?”]
  • “’Un bon mariage,’ which is familiarly translated into ‘a good match’ by the colloquial English, of the fashionable world, is generally understood to include the promise of a park in the country, a mansion in town; a set of horses, a diamond necklace, and a opera box . . . An excellent match affords a mere multiplication of these advantages” (Women As They Are 1:2). [Five mansions in town! Ten thousand horses! Forty-seven opera boxes! You’ll be the only one there!]

Assessing Partners (Female)

  • “So far from knowing who and who were together, Emily Barnet knew not even who was whom. Had she been my wife, this would have been a defect . . . She never read a newspaper, – never heard a scandal” (Cecil 107). [Gossip is the way to a man’s heart.]
  • “a woman must be charming indeed whose husband does not wish himself unmarried at least ten times a day” (Cecil 154).
  • “if you would have a proper value set upon your homage, pay your court to a woman of eight-and-thirty. The flutter of a little miss of sixteen, is nothing to the agitation with which the poor grateful soul uplifts her head above the waters of oblivion” (Cecil 8). [There is nothing I can say that is more hilarious or offensive than this quotation.]
  • “he admitted her beauty, and could appreciate the extent of her capacity, and the excellence of her disposition. By these she was strongly recommended to his choice; but perhaps not more strongly than by the circumstance of her inheriting a fortune of eighty thousand pounds” (Herbert Lacy 2:2).
  • “The young Marquis of Dartington . . . resolved to fall in love with Lady Erpingham. He devoted himself exclusively to her; he joined her in the morning in her rides – in the evening in her gaieties. He had fallen in love with her? – yes! – did he lover her? – not in the least. But he was excessively idle! what else could he do?” (Godolphin 1:278). [Avoiding boredom: the foundation for evey healthy relationship]
  • “Although old fellows are as likely to be made fools as young in love matters . . . it is generally the young men who marry vulgar wives” (Sketches and Travels in London 280).
  • A woman who cannot laugh is a wet blanket on the kindly nuptial couch” (Sketches and Travels in London 283). [Because they’re both clammy! . . . Wait, no, that’s not right.]
  • As if any man chooses a wife. Know, fond man, there is no choice left for you. She falls to you as necessarily as the card which the juggler has fixed on, while he seems to lay the whole pack at your disposal” (The Davenels 1:7). [Which is why no woman EVER has had her heart broken or ended up an old maid. EVER.]
  • “every woman, who is worth anything, will be jealous of her husband up to seventy or eighty, and always prevent his intercourse with other ladies” (Sketches and Travels in London 303). [Raging jealousy is the sexiest. It’s how you know she cares.]
  • “A man who is bold enough to marry an old maid, it must be acknowledged, deserves a better fate than what is generally in store for him” (Tales of Fashion and Reality 306).
  • “’whenever I marry, it shall be a girl who will set off my curricle [carriage] and my coronet, and I will ask nothing more’” (High Life 1:108). [Glad you have such high standards.]
  • “’A man ought to be a good deal older than his wife, that he may advise her, and guide her, and all that’” (Recollections of a Chaperon 1:197). [Because those silly women would set themselves on fire if there weren’t someone there to say, “No, my dulcet dove. Remember? Fire is hot. Why are you ladling soup into your handbag? Oh, you beautiful nincompoop, how I love your mindless ways”.]

How to Flirt

  • “Be cautious, then, young ladies; be wary how you engage. Be shy of loving frankly; never tell all you feel, or (a better way still), feel very little” (Vanity Fair 201). [“And a better way still is to summon a winter that will last a thousand years. That shit is irresistable.”]
  • I should be addicted to shewing my power over my lover, as well as exerting it. How delightful to alarm, to agitate him – to make him feel as if he could never be sure of me!” (Victims of Society 8). [“One day, I’ll offer him tea. The next day, I’ll poison him. The next day, I’ll give the antidote–or maybe not. That’s the fun of it!“]
  • “Observing the same things daily, breeds indifference. Young ladies should not be seen too frequently by the person you wish to interest in their favour” (Tales of Fashion and Reality 54). [Playing hard to get. ‘Nuff said.]
  • “’I would have you encourage them [his affections] as much as you can. Ay, as much as possible; but, only don’t fall in love with him for fear he should not be in earnest. If he actually offers, then love him as much and as fast as you can’” (Finesse 1:3) [And they say romance is dead.]

Estates, Titles, and Family

  • “I am quite delighted to heart that Henry Granby is to have a title and a fine estate. Now he wants nothing but a wife” (Granby 3:133).
  • “’A man who comes into a new estate, has too much to do to think of marrying . . . He has to look over the steward’s accounts. He has to ride over the estate. He has to look at the buildings on it. He ahs to enquire into the state of the leases, and see when they drop, and when they want renewing, and whether they ought to be raised or not’” (Granby 3:134).
  • “In France, holy matrimony is always an affaire, – that is, an affaire of everything but the heart” (Cecil 215).
  • “’Remember, one good marriage in a family entails another’” (Finesse 2:56)
  • I would sooner see every descendant of my house stretched in their grave, than disgraced by a commercial alliance. It is the pride of my life that not one of my four daughters was allowed to marry lower than an earldom” (Pin Money 1:303). [“Mom, I’ve married a wealthy viscount! Isn’t that fantastci? Mom, what are you doing with that machete? Mom? MOM?!]

General Rules and Customs

  • “Mammas get nervous when the month of June expries without the undecided man coming to the point” (Cecil 350).
  • “The end of the season was unusually dull, and my mother, after having looked over her list of engagements, and ascertained that she had none remaining worthy staying for, agreed to elope with her new lover” (Pelham 1:3). [Another healthy basis of marriage: ‘Eh, there’s nothing better going on.]
  • it is by no means necessary that love should be the prelude of matrimony” (Victims of Society 23). [Or, you know, ever.]
  • “marriage is like money – seem to want it, and you’ll never get it” (Romance and Reality 1:36). [Don’t be so desperate! Be cool, for shit’s sake.]
  • “Love is made up of contraries: a fair woman, they say, best loves a dark man; a tall man generally selects a little woman for a wife; and the portly dame admires to tuck a pigmy spouse beneath her sheltering arm; the mild and timid girl turns with delight to the bold and sparkling lover; the ancient crone sighs for the blooming youth” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. II 88). [The cat falls for the dog, the George Foreman grill falls for the vegetable peeler, love is all MADNESS!]
  • “If a girl unfortunately takes a fancy to a man, unfit to be her husband, it must not be noticed. ‘Love turns the more fiercely for obstructions . . . Ridicule perhaps is better expedient against love, than sober advice’” (Tales of Fashion and Reality 55). [This is actually amazing advice for all mothers. “No, no, it’s totally cool if you want to marry him. I don’t care. Hey, you have to live with someone who says ‘supposubly’ and ‘irregardless’. It’s your life, whatever.”]
  • “’the best way to prevent a marriage is to announce it prematurely’” (Arlington 1:92). [This is probably why Alan Rickman won’t return my calls.]
  • “’If you are so dishonourable as not to fulfil your engagement . . . be assured that I will instruct my lawyer to commence proceedings against you, for a breach of promise of marriage’” (The Confession of an Elderly Gentleman 87). [Ah, the good old days where you could sue a man for not marrying you.]
  • “’if ever you should have a son – which I begin to doubt – never send him to a lonely parsonage in a marshy country, where there are four cunning unmarried daughters, open-mouthed, to decoy his boyhood into a premature engagement’” (Mothers and Daughters 1:36-37).
  • A thousand opportunities for falling in love are afforded to young people in a continental tour, which are denied them in England” (Dacre: A Novel 1:100). [Yeah, because as the quote in the sexy section above says, people in Europe are FREAKY].
  • “A country house, with a large party in it, is considered by the Lady Mothers of the present day, most favourable to matrimony, as it often winds up a London flirtation” (Country Houses 2:57).
  • “’A short courtship gives one more time and subject for conversation after marriage, than exhausting all one’s topics of small-talk before-hand’” (Almack’s Revisited 1:71). [God forbid you get to know the person you’re marrying.]
  • “Lady Honiton always held forth, that well bred girls, and probably she thought high bred sons, had none but interested aristocratic feelings, in short, no hearts, those were vulgar plebeian appendages to the human frame; that important organ and all its various beatings – its joys – and its anguish, were only for ordinary people” (Country Houses 3:25). [Emotions: the vulgarest]
  • “I have seen manoeuvring mothers succeed; but I have as often seen them fail in their matrimonial speculations . . . I came to the conclusion that, as there was no rule which could ensure success, it was safer and more respectable to do too little than to do too much; better simply to fail, than to fail and to be ridiculous at the same time” (Recollections of a Chaperon 1:1-2). [Actually very good advice. Mothers: stop scheming. You’re acting like an asshole.]

The Wedding

  • “people cannot be married without a clergyman – the milliner and the jeweler are equally indispensable” (Romance and Reality 2:108). [Jesus won’t bless this marriage without a smart hat and new earrings. Jesus hates plain-Janes.]
  • “After much hesitation . . . Lady Lauriston consented that Adelaide should be married with her head uncovered. ‘No girl,’ said Mr. Stanbury, ‘in his time ever wore one of those frightful huge bonnets’” (Romance and Reality 2:110).
  • “’You should have seen the wedding! Six bridesmaids in pink, to hold the fan, bouquet, gloves, scent-bottle, and pocket-handkerchief of the bride; basketfuls of white favours in the vestry, to be pinned on to the footmen and horses; a genteel congregation of curious acquaintance in the pews, a shabby one of poor on the steps . . . and of course four horses for Mr. Pimp’s bridal vehicle” (The Book of Snobs 160). [Yes, there is a character named Mr. Pimp. And, appropriately, it sounds like the whole wedding was pimped out.]
  • The happy bride-groom spends about a year’s income in dresses for the bridesmaids and pretty presents; and the bride must have a trousseau of laces, satins, jewel-boxes and tomfoolery, to make her fit to be a lieutenant’s wife” (The Book of Snobs 160-161). [That sounds like a good use of money.]
  • “the wedding was a very proper wedding; plenty of white satin and orange-blossom, plenty of hysterics and aromatic vinegar; and a charming dead faint in the vestry from poor dear Lady Mandeville, when the bride was torn from her arms” (The Fair of Mayfair 1:261). [Weddings in the 1830s weren’t actually legal without a charming dead faint from the mother of the bride.]

After Marriage

  • “a husband and wife need not weary each other with constant companionships; different establishments, different hours, different pursuits allow them to pass life in great measure apart, so that there is no necessity for hatred” (Godolphin 2:213-214). [The best way to a happy marriage is to never, ever see your spouse. Hey, at least your sex life will remain fresh.]
  • “that ceremonious lord . . . who, when his young wife embraced him, told her that his former countess, though a Howard [an old and prestigious dynasty], never took such a liberty” (Victims of Society 15). [“The only embracing we will do is with our genitals, but that’s okay, because it’s a way to keep our line going. Embracing with our arms, Amelia? That’s too forward.”]
  • “domestic feelings are passes de mode [out of fashion]” (Victims of Society 11). [Emotions are SO last year.]
  • “A man should see in his wife, not an amorous puppet, with whom he wiles away his idle hours, but the partner, the helpmate” (Victims of Society 55). [Wow, this is . . . shockingly modern.]
  • “‘Lady De Clifford . . . I beg you will leave off calling me those familiar names. I permitted it at first in the nonsense of the honeymoon, as it is vulgarly called, but upon reflection, I am convinced that they do away with that solemnity of respect which a wife ought to evince towards a husband” (Cheveley 48). [‘I’m not ‘George’. I am ‘George Octavius Tarquin Reginald Smyth-Smithson, Fourth Baron De Clifford. Kindly remember to call that out IN FULL when we have sex later tonight.”]
  • Cheveley is vulgar enough to doat upon his wife” (Cheveley 444). [Gross, Cheveley. Seriously.]
  • “’you talk as if a husband and wife were to sit making agreeable conversation together continually. I wish you could see how married people of fashion live in Paris. It does not signify what sort of man you marry there, provided he has rank and fortune’” (The Davenels 1:197-198). [Ew, don’t talk to your husband.]
  • “’I am convinced the happiest marriages are those dispassionate ones, when the parties joined in wedlock bear nothing more than a reasonable regard for each other. They should be affluent, have each their separate course of amusements, and see ach other rarely; for absence is the only salt that preserves matrimony form cloying’” (Tales of Fashion and Reality 101).
  • “the married men of fashionable life are to be seen with every body’s wives but their own” (Women As They Are 3:39-40). [Adultery is in this year.]
  • “’there is nothing a man can so ill bear as the idea of being watched, particularly by a wife; besides, all his male friends would avoid him if they saw he had such an Argus – for, beautiful as you are, you must not have an hundred eyes, to spy out every thing your husband does’” (The Exclusives 2:55-56).
  • “’Married people should not see too much of each other. Toujours perdrix is insipid’” (Recollections of a Chaperon 1:89).
  • “’very submissive wives often have faithless husbands’” (Recollections of a Chaperon 2:22). [Yes, by all means, blame one spouse for the other’s infidelity.]
  • They had never known the blessings of domestic happiness, but they had always treated each other with civility; and as no glaringly bad result had ensured from this prudent match, her good opinion of “mariages de convenance” was confirmed by experience” (Dacre: A Novel 1:24).
  • “’Lady Sophia, according to report, passed with him through a very amicable matrimonial existence, and . . . [h]e had the good manners to die before she had attained to that mature age when a successor [a second husband] becomes an object of indifference’” (The Three Eras of Woman’s Life 2:25). [Aww, so thoughtful!]

The below is a direct quotation from a marriage guide, as reproduced in Catherine Gore’s 1842 silver fork novel, Cecil:

“Q. What is the first duty o in life of a well-educated young lady?-”

“A. The first duty in life of a well-educated young lady, is to make an excellent match at the close of her first season.”

“Q. What constitutes an excellent match?-”

“A. A peer, or a baronet, with a sufficient rent-roll . . . The eldest son of a peer or baronet, whose father does not enjoy particularly good health . . . The second son of a wealthy peer, or a baronet with five thousand a year, constitutes a tolerable match.”

“Q. At what epochs is well-educated young lady intitled [sic] to pretend to the excellent, the good, or the tolerable math?-”

“A. During her first season, she may restrict herself exclusively to eldest sons of peers. On the second, she must include healthy baronets. Should she be so unfortunate as to survive a third, she will have to submit to the necessity of an eligible younger brother.”

“Q. How is the well-educated young lady to discriminate on a first introduction between an elder and a younger brother?-”

“A. The Elder brother is usually quiet, unpretending, and careful of committing himself. The younger brother is better-dressed, better-looking, gives himself airs, and will probably talk nonsense and squeeze her hand, not being likely to be brought to an explanation by her Chaperon.”

“Q. What course must a well-educated young lady pursue, to insure an excellent match at the close of her first season?-”

“A. She must look and talk as pretty as she can; but avoid the imputation of being a flirt, by accepting only the attentions of quiet, unpretending young men. Those who are better-dressed and better-looking, may be sent to call the carriage while the quiet, unpretending young man is putting on her cloak. But she must anxiously beware of being seen with them in tea-rooms, – or the shrubberies at a déjeuner, – or riding in the park, – or coming out of the Opera, – or any other critical situation.” (Cecil 289-290).

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