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Wife for Sale

Friday, March 5, 2010

This one really, really rubs me the wrong way.

Personal - Will introduce to any honorable gentleman of 50 or over of ample means, desiring a wife, a refined Christian lady, aged 41, possessing practical common sense, genial, lovable, and true, fine family, unexceptionable socially, stylish personal appearance; gentleman seeking a wife of genuine worth and honest affection, rare opportunity; combination of circumstances alone prompt this matter of introduction; explained satisfactorily. Gentleman only of honest purpose, high moral order, culture, and good income, giving correct address, will receive notice. Address Ella Q. Brock, Hartfod, Conn.

Query: Do you think Ella is talking about someone else, or is she very bizarrely referring to herself in the third person? This ad creeps me out. I think almost all of it I could come to terms with except the phrase "rare opportunity." Why don't you just add: "Act now! Going fast! Will not last!" Ew.

I've seen a few ads here and there where men address parents or guardians in their advertisements (maybe I'll post one of them next week) rather than women directly. I assume that's an attempt to appear more socially proper since technically men were supposed to get a girl's parents permission to become engaged and everything. But I can't think of another ad where I've seen someone advertise on behalf of someone else in this manner. I'm sure there are others - but not many. And the style of this one - it really is, like someone selling a person.

I am dying to know the circumstances which have prompted this manner of introduction! What happened to this woman? She must be in dire straits of some sort. Needs to get away from someone or something? And why didn't she advertise for herself? Maybe she's very, very proper and thinks that advertising for a husband is beneath her and repugnant, so either she asked Ella to do it for her, or Ella took it upon herself. Or Ella is actually the woman in question. People did talk about themselves in the third person all the time in these ads after all. They just didn't start their ads out with "Will introduce..."

Still, if this one makes me uncomfortable, I can only imagine how it went over back in the day when so many people thought matrimonial advertising was terrible and crass and commercial. Because if you look at an ad like this, it sure seems that way.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein


Bianca C March 6, 2010 at 12:31 AM  

Professional matchmaker?

Pam March 6, 2010 at 7:56 AM  

Possibly, but that's rarer than you'd think except among certain immigrant groups. White middle-class people don't seem to have used them at all. Also, I've never seen this name again, and you'd think if she advertised once she'd do so repeatedly. I don't know - I guess that's as good an explanation as any.

Unknown March 6, 2010 at 8:10 AM  

I detect a strong whiff of self-important use of the third person in this one--the "receive notice" bit is so contrived--"notice" meaning of the lady's affection p'raps?

Pam March 6, 2010 at 9:00 AM  

Yeah, it is an odd way of putting that, isn't it? I thought it meant that he would "receive notice" if he fit the description appropriately and the lady was interested. Definitely pretentious!!

Amy March 8, 2010 at 12:41 AM  

Pam, I just found your blog (via NYT) and am thrilled. I already love the craigslist missed connections (and Sophie Blackall's art) and as a Sherlockian have been fascinated by what Holmes and Dr. Watson referred to as the agony columns. Thank you for such a wonderful collection.

Pam March 8, 2010 at 9:01 AM  

Wow - thanks Amy! I'm glad you are enjoying it!

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