[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to welcome author Samantha Hastings to the site today to talk about all things courtship and dating in the 19th century!]
“But I can’t,” Drina said.
“Why ever not?” George asked.
“Propriety and all that.”
“You would need a lot of rope…”
In the nineteenth century, there were many rules about courtship for who, when, where, and how young men and young women could get to know each other. Courting couples had to follow propriety with a capital “P” or a young lady could lose her “reputation.”
Etiquette Rules for a Young Lady:
- An unmarried young lady can’t be in the company of a young man unless there is a chaperone.
- A lady should never dance more than three dances with the same young man.
- A young lady goes down the stairs FIRST followed by the young man.
- A young lady should not ‘cut’ an acquaintance (pretend that she doesn’t know them).
- A young lady doesn’t wear pearls or diamonds before dinner.
Etiquette Rules for a Young Man:
- A young man who meets a young lady in the street, or the park, must wait for her to first curtsey to him before he can bow and/or tip his hat to her.
- A young man can’t speak to a young lady unless she speaks FIRST.
- A young man is always introduced to a young lady, NEVER the other way around.
- A young man goes up the stairs FIRST followed by the young lady.
- If going to a concert, a young man enters the room ahead to find a seat for the young lady.
(Etiquette rules adapted from What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool).
With all of these rules it’s a wonder that any courting couple fell in love. When writing historical fiction, instead of chaffing (or breaking) these rules, the challenge is to make believable romance within these social confines. Because touching is forbidden, a lingering look, a witty repartee, or a well-written scene can be just as swoon-worthy as a passionate kiss in a contemporary romance.
When was it okay to touch? Well if you were wearing GLOVES a gentleman could offer his arm to a young lady while walking (such a strenuous exercise). He could take her hand to help her into (and out of) a carriage. And he could hold her hand (and waist!) while dancing.
Ball scenes are a delight to write because the characters can speak privately to each other while dancing. They can say romantic compliments, or even more enjoyable to write, they can fight.
As a writer, it is so much fun finding unique ways for my characters to touch. In The Last Word, David and Lucinda’s first ‘touching’ scene is when he falls asleep on the train and his head rests on her shoulder. What could be tame, becomes enflamed because no one has touched Lucinda in years. She even scandalously removes her glove and runs her fingers through his hair waking David.
Lucinda and David are lucky that her chaperone, Mrs. Patton, falls asleep whenever she sits down. Victorian chaperones were older women who were married, widowed, or even single, that ensured a young woman remained virtuous until marriage.
The Almost Kiss is one of my favorite romantic devices. When Lucinda and David are having a spat, she literally falls into a thornbush after telling him that she doesn’t need his help. Ironically, the back of her dress is caught on the thorns and she does need his help to get free. David is forced to put his arm around her to reach the thorns snagging her dress. He’s not impervious to her proximity or her lovely lips. Luckily, for propriety with a capital “P”, Lucinda’s shoulder is scratched and bleeding which helps David recall the rules of courtship.
But what about kissing? If a couple was lucky enough to escape their chaperone, physical contact could include a kiss on a gloved (or ungloved) hand, a butterfly kiss, a kiss on the cheek (so steamy!), and even a kiss on the lips, but marriage was supposed to follow soon after.
The subtle cues of courtship, from curtsies to butterfly kisses, leave the focus of the romance on the character’s emotions rather than physical touch and make historical romances unforgettable reads.
“Standing on her tiptoes, she gave him a butterfly kiss, her eyelashes gently brushing his cheek.” —The Invention of Sophie Carter
About the Author:
Samantha Hastings has degrees from Brigham Young University, the University of Reading (Berkshire, England), and the University of North Texas. She met her husband in a turkey sandwich line. They live in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she spends most of her time reading, eating popcorn, and chasing her kids. Her first novel, The Last Word, is available now. The Invention of Sophie Carter comes out on July 14, 2020 and A Royal Christmas Quandary arrives October 6, 2020.
The Last Word by Samantha Hastings, out now!
1861. Miss Lucinda Leavitt is shocked when she learns the author of her favorite serialized novel has died before completing the story. Determined to learn how it ends, Lucinda reluctantly enlists the help of her father’s young business partner, Mr. David Randall, to track down the reclusive author’s former whereabouts.
David is a successful young businessman, but is overwhelmed by his workload. He wants to prove himself to his late father, as well as to himself. He doesn’t have the time, nor the interest, for this endeavor, but Lucinda is not the type to take no for an answer.
Their search for the elusive Mrs. Smith and the rightful ending to her novel leads Lucinda and David around the country, but the truths they discover about themselves―and each other―are anything but fictional.