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File these under "WTF?"

Friday, May 8, 2009

These two ads date from November 24 and November 27, 1861. The first one is a little more run-of-the-mill, although there are a few things that are pretty amusing - "any good or ugly looking lady" is not the sort of thing you see in personal ads, really, ever. And it's also not so often that you see men claiming to be nobility looking for a wife in a newspaper. If you're laughing at the "grateful smiles and pangs of pleasure," however, that's nothing compared to other ads I've seen before (Bertram being a great example of someone who was far more, shall we say, poetical). But the follow-up ad three days later is not normal. At all:

With a view to matrimony - A gentleman of respectability recommends himself and fortune to any good or ugly looking lady, of good breed, highly respectable, and fit to become willingly a mother and keep up the good name of an ancient family; ennobled by ancestry [of her] own. Ladies of a certain rank and age need not apply, as heirship is the object of the fair sex's worshipper. Favor your candidate with grateful smiles, and pangs of pleasure await your steps. Such ladies as this advertisement may induce to reply may address, with confidence, Don Zacharias Cora Ajo, station D Post office, New York.

The ladies who replied to Don Zacharias Cara Ajo's matrimonial advertisement on last Sunday are hereby informed of the receipt of their charming letters, and are begged, therefore, to favor him with their photographs, stating size of forms, means, &c, in order that Don Zacharias Cara Ajo may select the one who will, by her charms and qualities, become the fortunate holder of said Don. The remainder of the photographs will be returned. Please address as before.

Um, okay, Don. Let me get right on that.

Either this guy really was that clueless, or it was a joke. By the tone, I'm leaning toward joke. So what do we make of this? Personally, I think "Don Zacharias Cara Ajo" placed this ad as a prank, for his own amusement, and then printed the follow-up to let the women who'd answered that they'd been had. (Sadly, this is one of those claims virtually impossible to make when writing a dissertation.)

But it intrigues me quite a bit for a number of reasons. First, "matrimonials" weren't cheap to publish - they cost double what other ads did, so whoever did this had enough money to throw away just for the fun of it. Second, you know, this is the Victorian era. Victorians were staid and serious and repressed - or at least that's the stereotype. You weren't supposed to make fun of love or marriage. Unless you're Mark Twain, you don't get to be tongue-in-cheek. I don't know who this guy is, and I'm not sure how to work him into my dissertation, but I will say that finding little gems like this certainly make my job a lot more entertaining.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

© 2009 Pam Epstein


Unknown May 9, 2009 at 12:05 AM  

Those are hard to read!


Pam May 9, 2009 at 8:04 AM  

I know, I'm going to work on that. You can enlarge them if you click on them. I'm going to try and figure out a shortcut so it'll always say "Click to enlarge" every time I put up an image. For long ones or those that are hard to read, I'll always write out the text, but if I do that every time I'll never get anything else done in my life at all.

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