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Looking for the perfect wife

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Well, my classes are over for the semester, leaving me with a bit of spare time for the next month, so I'm sure I'll be blogging every day now...Okay, maybe not.  But I'm setting a New Year's resolution of getting back on track with this blog. But, for starters, saw these two ads as I was digging around my proverbial treasure chest, both from the same day.


A young gentleman, 24 years of age, of untarnished reputation, handsome, and who possesses a loving heart and fills a high position in one of the most lucrative commercial houses in New York, desires most sincerely to obtain a wife who can make him happy for life; she must be young and handsome; wealth no object; simply purity and devoted love.  Please address, in strictest confidence, stating age and enclosing carte de visite, R.H., Herald office.



Matrimony - Tired of living alone, I have seriously made up my mind to marry, if I can find a good woman of small means.  The advertiser has some property, is over 40, fair looking and kind.  Country ladies preferred.  No answer noticed for sport.  Write particulars.  References exchanged.  James B. Loring, New York Post office.

Hm.  Lots o' thoughts about these ads, the first in particular.  R.H. seems like a decent guy, but there is a great big red flag that, if I was a woman in the 1860s perusing the ads, would give me pause.  He says he would like to obtain a wife ("obtain"?  Sounds like he's trying to buy one) "who can make him happy for life."  Ahem.  R.H.  It's not just about you, you know.  I know you say you have a loving heart, but it would be nice if you would explicitly mention that you will also try to make her happy for life.  Jeez, selfish much?  Don't you also find it interesting that he says he possesses a loving heart and a great job in the same breath?  What an odd pairing.  I'm not saying people don't still mention both their career and their personal characteristics in ads today, but it is so funny that he would put the two on an equal level.  "I have a great job and a loving heart."  You know what I mean?

I also like this ad because of the way he describes this perfect wife.  All she must have is "purity and devoted love."  This is so very, very Victorian!  This ideal of the pure and devoted wife who will make the domestic circle a haven for her hard-working husband.  Talk about separate spheres!  Historians no longer really think that men and women really followed this "separate spheres ideology," so it's really fascinating to me to see how much people wanted it to work.  Or at least, this guy does.  I don't think this woman really existed, though.  That being said, the fact that he says money was no object makes him a decent character in my book.  He means well.  He's just spent too much time reading Reveries of a Bachelor.

The second guy I'm a little less sold on.  Half of me thinks he's for real but perhaps a bit socially inept; the other thinks he's trying to swindle some innocent country maiden out of her property.  He is tired of living alone, but will only marry if he finds a wife with some means (however small).  That just...rubs me the wrong way.  If you are that tired of living alone, why is it so important that she has property?  Wouldn't you just like a nice loving wife to make you happy for like, like R.H.?  He does give a full name and promises to give references, so that lends the ad an air of legitimacy, but at the same time, both names and references could easily be fabricated.  So I'm skeptical.  It's the country ladies preferred that also gets me.  I guess, assuming he's for real, he's just trying to avoid meeting some urbanite society belle.  But I can't help thinking a "country lady" is more likely to be a bit innocent and naive and more likely to trust a scoundrel who has a way with words.

Well, maybe I'm too hard on him.  But his ad definitely gives me pause.

©2010 Pam Epstein

2 comments:

Jennifer December 12, 2010 at 7:22 PM  

Maybe I am being unfair to Mr. Loring, but he makes me think of more than one guy I have known - older and single for a darn good reason. I picture him as being maybe rather shy or lacking confidence, and dealing with it by being rather antagonistic and arrogant toward the people around him, especially women. He probably spent a lot of time trying to convince other people he was better than them, thinking they would be impressed, and never really understanding why everyone couldn't stand him.

walking tours new york October 4, 2011 at 12:49 PM  

I like RH, although I know the term obtain gives you pause. It was a much different time back then and while it may not be a great way to speak about a woman, I am sure it was common place and probably well accepted to speak that way. You would be single a long time if you hung on to every man's word in the 1890s.

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