Sunday, 15 August 2010

How to flirt like a Victorian

In 1892 Lady Beatrice Violet Greville published The Gentlewoman in Society, a how-to guide for aspiring socialites. She included an entire chapter on 'Flirting', with plenty of tips for young ladies eager to snare their man...

 All women require in love one of three things - amusement, sympathy, or adoration. Flirtation combines the three and, when sagely conducted, is fraught with no evil consequences.

1. The Society flirt is a war horse: “Society flirtations are rarely guileless. The Society girl's ears are open, her eyes are keen. She has noted the affairs of her elders; she longs for a flirtation of her own, as the war horse sniffs the scent of battle from afar; but she has no foolish visions of its eternity.”

2. Know your setting: “All sorts of surroundings suit all sorts of girls. The London beauty is miserable out of the glare of wax candles and the hum of the city streets: her complexion does not stand early rising, and her feet are especially suited for dainty high-heeled shoes. Her appearance is regal in the ballroom, but she looks uncomfortable and dowdy when the rain has taken the curl out of her fringe...a country girl who looks rosy and common and underbred in London appears charmingly neat and fresh in the studied simplicity of a tailor gown or the dainty adjuncts of a frilled, pink cotton skirt." 

3. Remember that flirtation is an empty spoon: “...the essence of flirting is froth; and those who look to find genuine sustenance in it wil come away disappointed, for, as has been well said, 'flirtation is a spoon with nothing in it'." 

4. Avoid the male flirt, they always marry a dull cousin: “the male flirt...makes the girls' hearts beat with anticipation, raises hopes he never intends to gratify, and 'carries on' as the saying is, with different girls, season after season, until suddenly, to everyone's astonishment, he throws the handkerchief to the unlikeliest of all – a girl he has met for a week in a country house – a simple village maiden who has never been to London, - the cousin he has flirted with and jilted in the long ago.”
Wearing enormous pink flowers will not fail to attract attention
5. Expect 'silly things' from your beloved :“if by chance he should be really touched, he will make an abject fool of himself, will do silly things in sober earnest, will wait hours for a glimpse of his beloved, will stoop to the most humiliating attisude, will fawn, and pose and cringe, and generally make himself ridiculous."

6. A practise engagement makes perfect: “The most unsophisticated girl learns something after an engagement of three months; and the void created when it has been broken off - the want of adoration, of the hundred and one attentions and trifles that prove the ardour of a man – naturally impels her promptly to try her luck again...this time with a better chance of success,”

7. Don't expect presents: “Englishmen...do not realise the pleasure given to a woman by the little attentions she may accept..the hot house flowers sent anonymously...the spray which exactly matches the gown she is to wear - the huge bouquet which arriving at the last moment fills all her sisters' hearts with envy. An Englishman thinks he has done all that is necessary if he makes himself agreeable to his lady love and plainly shows his preference.”

8. Never underestimate male reserve: “It is the greatest mistake to assume that it is the girls who are shy. They may pretend to be, but in reality they are audacious to the verge of rashness. It is the boy who is diffident, who longs to declare is love, but dare not.”

9. A good flirt is a woman of the world: “To be an adept at flirting requires...the knowledge of mankind of a diplomat, the savoir faire of a courtier, the tact of a sovereign, the discretion of a priest, and the charm of a woman.”

10. Beware becoming a 'professional flirt': “there are some professional flirts, who have absolutely exhausted all sensation, who have reduced flirtation to a study, who know exactly when to look, and how to look, who convey in a glance a depth of affection they have never even realised, who play with a man as a cat with a mouse...living enigmas, female Machiavellians,for whom no man is a match.” 


Lady Beatrice Violet (seen here at a family wedding) is the woman in white with the large hat on the far left. Pic from www.dursleyglos.org.uk.

Extracts from Lady Beatrice Violet Greville, The Gentlewoman in Society (Henry and Co., 1892).

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