A young lady in the Victorian era had very little freedom and she was expected to conduct herself with decorum and follow strict rules of etiquette. Luckily, there was a plethora of guide books available to the Victorians, so that they could be au fait with the latest standards in morals and gentility.
Young ladies generally could not have careers, let alone jobs and their education often consisted of such matters as: running the household, embroidery and water-colour painting (yawn). All this was in essence training to catch a husband, but one could in no way be overt about it. Oh no! Ladies must act in a seemly fashion, with a demeanour of correctness and breeding. So of course a hidden code language developed, to outwit the rules and conventions.
Enter the secret language of the fan, but beware of the prying eyes of chaperones! A lady inhibited by the bounds of society, could still send a message to an impudent young buck, that he had been impertinent, by making forceful movements with a closed fan. Also if the young maiden was holding her fan over her left ear, a perceptive young swain should realise, that it was time for him to be off; his presence was no longer required.
A young Victorian Mademoiselle could however, declare her softer and more romantic feelings with a fan; positioning the fan across her heart was tantamount to saying ‘I love you’. A mere desire for friendship however, could be signalled by dropping a handkerchief. If a young gal is twirling said handkerchief however, the young Romeo should forget all thoughts of romance, as the young filly is simply not interested.
Help at Hand
If stuck for ideas, a young Victorian lady could apply to a wonderful little publication called The Standard Beau Catcher: Containing Flirtations of the Fan, Eye, Glove, Parasol, Cigar, Knife and Fork, Handkerchief, Window Telegraphy, and Language of Flowers, which was published in 1890. Or, she could use her fan in ways that only the very dimwitted would fail to understand, she could tap her folded fan when impatient, half-open her fan over her face and whisper 'we are being watched' or as mentioned, melodramatically place a fan across her heart and look directly into the eyes of her chosen Romeo, to convey 'I belong to you'.
So although the Victorian era may have been a repressive time for woman, many young ladies were innovative and resourceful, they used their brains to subvert rules and restrictions, to express their thoughts and feelings in audacious ways, and in the process, gave meaning to the old English proverb: Where there's a will there's a way.
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