Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Masks and Victorian Attitudes

All month, Genre-istas have written about masks: insights, motivations, purposes, self-disclosures, cultural elements, and so much more. I've enjoyed broadening my horizons through the eyes of each contributor.

Several of my fellow Genre-istas mentioned masks as a self-protection of an emotional kind. Masks that safeguard and protect, hide the emotional and internal upheavals that are too private to announce. After all, so many of us have been trained from childhood to politely ask "How are you?"--and also taught that 99%+ of those who ask don't really want to know.

As I considered what, if anything, I might add to this well-developed conversation, I looked at the subject of masks through my own ever-present lens: Victorian Era. I'm forever researching nineteenth century attitudes, prevailing societal norms, etc. to ensure my fiction set in the Victorian American West is accurate. Because I write sweet romance, nineteenth century (American) courtship expectations are an ideal focus. I wasn't all that surprised to see human nature really hasn't changed--nor has the American outlook on proper length of getting-to-know-you before tying the knot. Most of all, we recognize dating/courting couples have a mask of sorts--the "dating face", "putting our best foot forward", on our best behavior and all that good stuff, to ensure we don't sabotage a new relationship before it begins.

The following true-to-history excerpt comes from Marriage and the Duties of the Marriage relations, in a Series of Six Lectures, addressed to Youth, and the Young in Married Life by George W. Quinby, published in 1852.
Beware of hasty engagements and hasty marriages... Many a young man and young woman may appear well outwardly; yea, exceedingly beautiful and captivating--especially on a slight acquaintance--while inwardly they are all rottenness and deception.
When young persons--utter strangers--are thrown together as I have described--fall in love--are hastily engaged and hastily married--how can they reasonably expect to know any thing concerning the real character and disposition of each other? Instead of this, every thing is unfavorable to such knowledge. Their courtship is brief and quite all deception. They present only the favorable side in each other's presence. They listen only to the most captivating tones--to "sweet words of undying affection;" for these only are spoken. Every look and every movement is artificial. Thus is the real character of each hidden from the other--not designedly, perhaps--and the parties are deceived.
...in nearly every instance of marriage under similar circumstances, the match proves unfortunate and very unhappy. The parties become sensible they were deceived--criminations and recriminations pass between them--quarrels ensue, and alienation and wretchedness are the consequences.
Another precaution which must be exercised by both parties, in the choice of a companion, that a correct judgement be formed, is not to rely on ball room and other deceptive appearances.
...A prettily painted "piece of artificial workmanship," elegantly dressed and moving with the grace of a sylph in the merry dance, is very fascinating... but let him be cautious. When he marries he should connect himself with a wife; this is what he needs--not a ball room automaton.
Could he follow this charming creature to the place of her abode, hear her coarse words of complaint if vexed, and witness her in the morning with disheveled hair, disordered dress, and pale, haggard, dissatisfied countenance, the golden hues of his thoughts would vanish, the palpitations of his heart cease, and every idea of matrimony be driven from his head.
The entire text is available online:
  1. Archive.org
  2. Forgotten Books
  3. Google
  4. National Public Library
  5. Amazon

Hi! I'm Kristin Holt.
I write frequent articles (or view recent posts easily on my Home Page, scroll down) about the nineteenth century American west–every subject of possible interest to readers, amateur historians, authors…as all of these tidbits surfaced while researching for my books. I also blog monthly at Sweet Americana Sweethearts (first Friday of each month) and Romancing the Genres (third Tuesday of each Month).

I love to hear from readers! Please drop me a note. Or find me on Facebook.

Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt LC


Sarah Raplee said...

What's the old saying? "Marry in haste, repent in leisure?"

I enjoyed reading Mr. Quimby's insightful lecture. As you said, his observations hold true today.

I'm a history buff, so I look forward to your posts!

Judith Ashley said...

Other than his 1852 prose, I heard much the same 'lecture' from my parents - lol. Thanks for sharing Mr. Quimby with us.

Kristin Holt said...

Thank you so much, Sarah, for your contribution to the conversation and kind compliments. I'm glad you enjoy the historical tidbits. =)

Kristin Holt said...

Thanks, Judith--
Isn't it amazing how much truth about human nature is the same, no matter the era? Loving, wise parents then urged the same things as loving, wise parents now.
Thank you for contributing!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

So true, Kristin. Love the Victorian angle!

Kristin Holt said...

Thanks, Lynn!
Appreciate your feedback. =)