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Bad Seeds

Friday, November 13, 2009

So, I didn't blog this morning - sorry about that. I'm down in Chattanooga for the Symposium on the 19th Century Press, the Civil War, and Free Expression and this is my first free moment!  So without further ado, today's fare:




An honest gentleman (30) would like the acquaintance of an unmercenary lady; object matrimony.  FAITHFUL, 815 Herald office.

A cultured gentleman solicits the acquaintance of a sensible, well bred lady, matrimonially inclined; one looking for high attainment and affinity; trifler, distressed or adventuress not noticed.  Address HOME, 158 4th av.
I've mentioned in the past that although there were a lot of women who married for money, there were also a lot of men who recognized that women had little choice in the matter.  These two ads are interesting to me because they address those issues so directly.  Do not contact me if you just want me for my money.  (Also don't contact me if you're not serious, or if you're just out to have fun!)  The fact that they feel it's necessary to specify that suggests that it's a problem they have encountered before, or that their friends have. 

Of course, it seems like a bit of a gesture in futility.  I mean, if a woman really does want to marry some guy for his money, she's not just going to say so!  How are these men going to know if the woman who contacts him is or is not mercenary, or a trifler, or an adventuress?  I'm actually not certain what people mean by "trifler" (a word both women and men used) or "adventuress."  I think of "trifler" in the sense of, trifling with one's feelings.  But they might have just meant people who answered ads for fun with no intention of following through (this definitely happened).  Adventuress - perhaps a girl who answered ads for fun and actually met the advertiser, but with no intention of getting married (also apparently happened, though the evidence I have on this is more anecdotal).  In any event, neither of those two are going to be stopped by this kind of warning, are they?

I wonder how much of the time people who answered ads weren't in earnest?  And how many people were only responding for mercenary reasons?  If it happened so much that it had to be addressed - why did people bother printing ads?  Or does this mean that despite the triflers and mercenaries and adventurers matrimonial advertisements really did work, so it was worth the risk?  Either way - ads like this raise more questions than answers...

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein

6 comments:

Arwen November 14, 2009 at 5:50 AM  

Hmm, I also wonder how many of those 'triflers' and adventuresses *were* seriously interested until they met the advertiser. Seriously matrimonally inclined still doesn't mean "will accept first offer" after all.

(reminds me of the sort of online dating profiles that claim they're messed around all the time by people who aren't serious, but who sound more like they just reveal their unappealing side on closer contact and therefore turn people off)

Ms Avery November 14, 2009 at 6:31 AM  

I have seen 19th-century writers use "adventurer" and "adventuress" to mean someone who marries a person for their money, so it might just mean that.

Pam November 14, 2009 at 3:47 PM  

Ms. Avery - you're right, I've seen that too.

Arwen - So true! It's easier to believe someone's jerking you around than to accept they just might not like you!

Liz November 16, 2009 at 9:31 AM  

Totally off-topic, but reading about the words adventuress brings it to mind - I've been reading Edith Wharton novels (hem) in my trip abroad, and the kinds of women who have to marry for money obviously feature as large characters in those. Do you happen to know whether Mrs. Wharton or her contemporaries ever mention personal ads in their fiction? Not that I'm suggesting you go reading for such things immediately, but if I keep on with the New York High Society Novel, I shall keep an eye out in case some reference pops up.

Pam November 16, 2009 at 1:31 PM  

Liz - I've only read "House of Mirth" and "Age of Innocence" since starting this project, and neither mention personal ads - but the former is definitely relevant. I meant to work it into my dissertation but somehow never did. I guess I can still add it in!

Liz November 17, 2009 at 12:04 PM  

Yes, I've just read "House of Mirth", which is what made me think of it!

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