Monday, July 13, 2009
Last Friday I posted the ad below and said that I thought the writer was a bit of a Mr. Collins (from Pride and Prejudice) type. Two of my commentators, however, took a totally different idea away from it and found the very proper gentleman much more appealing. And I took away one more interpretation altogether: that he might have been a con artist. Where would I get that crazy idea? Well, it turns out that a fair number of matrimonial ads were, in fact, placed by men and women with the idea of ripping off the gullible folks who answered (it also worked the other way; swindlers answered sincere ads with the same idea in mind). It's impossible to know the percentage here; critics at the time thought that pretty much all ads were frauds, and I've found lots of incidents that back this up to a degree. I suspect that the vast majority were real, but it was a scam that worked.
For some reason, this one strikes me as, possibly, a man who wasn't part of the upper middle class trying to sound like what he thinks a wealthy man would write. It seems too proper to me, like he's over-imitating.
You can imagine how difficult it makes it for me to write a dissertation when it's so easy to interpret these ads in so many different ways!
Now here is an ad that I am almost certain is real:
A young American, in receipt of a moderate income, and possessing a not disagreeable personal appearance, desires to open correspondence and eventually, if mutually pleased, forming personal acquaintance with some young lady of pleasant looks and manners, not over 20 years of age. The subscriber, through removal of friends and family from the City, is left without any female company: and having always been of a retiring and homelike disposition, finds the ordinary formalities too irksome and too little understood by himself to enable him to acquire it by any other method than the present. He would prefer a good-natured girl, who has a liking for music and poetry, and who has some idea of housekeeping. Letters will be treated with the sincerity they deserve. Address ALFRED, Box No. 101 Times Office.
I seriously have a big soft spot in my heart for this guy. How many of us have found the "ordinary formalities too irksome and too little understood" to meet people? Obviously I'd put it in different words, but we all know dating is hard, and it was much harder back then. You didn't get to go to a bar and start chatting with strangers; if you were in the middle-class, someone who knew you and the person you were interested in had to introduce you. Otherwise, too bad - unless, of course, you used a personal ad. Now this is the same issue that both Bertram and Christopher were both facing, but this man's ad just seems a bit more poignant.
Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!
©2009 Pam Epstein