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Almost typical, but not quite

Friday, January 8, 2010

This is almost a typical matrimonial ad, but it's just a little off. What do you think?




A gentleman, holding a lucrative situation and moving in a highly respectable circle, whose further claims are only to a persevering business exertion, and a disposition (if reciprocated,) to make a happy fireside, is anxious to unite in matrimony with a girl who owes her title of lady to education and demeanor instead of etiquette. In face and figure there are his superiors, matches, and inferiors. Reality is his heart of honor, instead of proclaiming to the world as actual just by using the hackneyed term of "strictly confidential." Where the object is just, confidence is [?]. Address J. Serious, Herald office.

I'm so annoyed I can't quite make out that last word - any guesses? I assume what he's trying to say is that where the object is just, confidence is a given, but I don't know what that word is. (Or, alternately, he's trying to say that where the object is just, there's no need to be confidential because there's nothing to be ashamed of?) The last lines are very confusing.

It's an odd ad. On the one hand, he claims to be a gentleman and uses most of the right words, but on the other, it's like he doesn't know how to put them together properly. Either he's a very bad writer, or he's borrowing a lot of phrases from different places and mish-mashing them together in a very disjointed fashion. I'd say he was borrowing from letter-writing manuals, of which there were many back in the nineteenth-century - very, very common - but since he seems to be eschewing etiquette, that would be a little strange. One explanation is that he's not what he seems. I believe that a lot of these ads were what they claimed to be, but a lot were con artists hoping to meet an easy target. And in the middle, I think a lot of advertisers were men and women who stretched the truth enormously to make themselves seem more successful than they actually were. So maybe this guy isn't quite the socially superior and persevering businessman he describes; maybe he's just a mid-level clerk with high hopes.

But I don't know - somehow that just doesn't match the tone. The other possibility that I'd buy into is that he really was someone who was just a bit eccentric. The fact that he says he wants to meet a lady who is educated and attractive but not obsessed with following proper etiquette says that maybe he's just bored with that lifestyle. The fact that he also sneers as the "hackneyed" but indeed very common phrase "strictly confidential" points to that as well. Here's a man trying to rise above social customs and niceties and wants to meet a woman who shares his slightly broader values.

He just puts it so strangely!

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein

9 comments:

Ms Avery January 8, 2010 at 9:24 AM  

I think it says "confidence is cant"? Which would fit with your second interpretation, I guess.

drwende January 8, 2010 at 12:41 PM  

"Cant" was my first thought, too.

I think "owes her title of lady to education and demeanor instead of etiquette" is not a rejection of conventional manners but an offer to take a girl who comes from a lower social class but has improved herself.

melusinehr January 8, 2010 at 1:05 PM  

I thought it might be "sane"?

Doogie January 8, 2010 at 3:23 PM  

I think cant as well using this def:
insincere, esp. conventional expressions of enthusiasm for high ideals, goodness, or piety.

Pam January 8, 2010 at 3:49 PM  

I think "cant" has it. I thought "sane" too, M, but that makes no sense whatsoever.

drwende - I could buy that, but I think he might say "breeding" rather than "etiquette" in that scenario.

drwende January 9, 2010 at 11:59 AM  

"Breeding" would ordinarily be the right term -- but as you say, everything's a little "off" about this one. You're right that it reads like someone pretending to be a Victorian gentleman.

A couple of your recent ads are such fabulous puzzles that I'm starting to wonder if there's an unexploited niche writing Victorian romantic suspense novels!

Pam January 9, 2010 at 12:46 PM  

Well, I've already decided that if the whole PhD thing doesn't work out, I want to become a Harlequin romance novelist - seems like I've already got some good material! =)

Juliana January 10, 2010 at 2:35 PM  

I love your blog!!!

I am a new follower. Pop on by to my blog and follow back if you would like. It is nice to "meet" you and I look forward to following your blog. ~Jewels at A Blonde Walks Into A Blog

Pam January 11, 2010 at 9:35 PM  

Juliana - I'm so glad you like the blog! I will absolutely visit yours too!

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