Monday, May 19, 2014

Looking for Love ~ Victorian Style

by Carol Hedges

I was idling through The Guardian's 'Soulmates' column the other week, as you do, because it has good adjectives, and I was struck by the number of ladies and gentlemen who are looking for love - or possibly romance, friendship, affection, a good time, adventure, passion or felicity (yup, copied that last from someone's ad.)

This makes me think that nothing really changes, does it? The sequel to my current novel Diamonds & Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery is about the Victorian search for the perfect partner, and the many and various ways such a search could be derailed, shipwrecked or run aground. I have therefore been researching the history of the 'lonely hearts' advertisements which go back, amazingly, to 1695. Yes, that is not a typo. The very first advert for Ms Right dates back to the seventeenth century.

Admittedly I know I am lucky in that Beloved Husband and I have been married for 39 years come this September, and although those of you who know us well would say that in our case it is definitely Mr Chalk wed Ms Cheese, we go along amicably and are looking forward to growing even older together. We still make each other laugh. A lot. In his case, every time I open my mouth and say something about football.

Others do not have such good fortune. 'Good fortune' being the critical attribute. To snare Mr Right in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was not so much GSOH as ''Comeliness, Prudence, and 5 or 600l. in Money, Land or Joynture'' that would guarantee you an admirer quicker than you could say knife. Or wife. By the 1800's, there were fifty-three newspapers all containing lonely heart ads of one sort or another. I was fairly gobsmacked at the audacity of one advertiser who wrote: ''A young man wants a wife with two or three hundred pounds; or the money will do without the wife - whoever will advance it shall have 5%'' (Daily Advertiser) Not for nothing did Jane Austen pen those famous words at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice that: 'a young man in possession of a good fortune ... must be in want of a wife.'

Sadly, despite the Victorian ideal of the 'happy wife and busy mother' fulfilling her destiny as 'the Angel in the house' for many young women, especially those of the middle and upper middle class, there was little hope of marriage. Class and income were the two great bugbears. And many men just preferred to remain single rather than take on the expense of a wife, a home and children. After all, a man could just as easily be fed at his Club and 'entertained' elsewhere other than the marriage bed. And statistically, there were very many more women than men in the mid and late Victorian periods.

To be unmarried was, for women who had few other opportunities in life, a particular hardship. George Sala in Twice Round the Clock (1862) refers to these poor unfortunates as: 'these uncloistered nuns ..wearing the stigmata of old maidenhood'. It is interesting that many novels of the period focus upon the educated middle class woman forced into governess or companion roles...but liberated at the end into marriage, which was clearly seen as the true vocation for the female sex. One wonders how many women must have seized upon these novels and been given hope, albeit false hope.

In a way, I guess we are more fortunate (sic) in that money does not feature quite so prominently in today's search for love, though I'm sure it lurks behind the scene, gurning happily. And as modern men and women, we can chose when and to whom we should marry. Not for us the advice of George Sala that: "The proper mission of man is to marry, and of women to bear children; and those who are deterred from marriage by the hypocritical cant about 'society' and 'keeping up appearances', had much better send society to the dogs and appearances to the devil, and have nothing more to do with such miserable sophistries." (op.cit)


Carol Hedges is the successful British writer of 11 books for teenagers/Young Adults/Adults. Her writing has received much critical acclaim, and her novel Jigsaw was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal. Her four Spy Girl books, published by Usborne Books and featuring feisty sassy heroine Jazmin Dawson are available to buy on Amazon.

Her ebook Jigsaw Pieces is also available in Amazon. Her latest book, Diamonds & Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery is published by Crooked Cat books,and is available as both book and ebook from Smashwords and Amazon. It is her first adult novel.

Carol Hedges lives in Hertfordshire, England. When not writing/sleeping/trying to resist cake, she tutors A level and GCSE English Literature. She also campaigns as chair of a local action group to save a community urban green space from possible development.

Bits of her writing life can be viewed on her award winning blog:
She is also on Twitter @carolJhedges
and on Facebook: www.Facebook/Carol Hedges

Diamonds & Dust
Crime Writers Association 2014 Award Entry
Available as book and ebook on Smashwords,,  to order in bookshops.


  1. A great post, as we have come to expect from EHFA. I was struck by the modern resonance of ''A young man wants a wife with two or three hundred pounds; or the money will do without the wife"--modern because a few years ago, standing outside the Eel Pie pub in Twickenham before an England-Wales match, I saw a man with a card round his neck: "Match ticket wanted. Woman with TV and big t***s would do." Although I don't suppose marriage was in his mind.

  2. There's a joke about an Israeli lonely hearts ad: "Wanted:girl with her own tractor. Send picture of the tractor." :-)

    I wonder why a man would think anyone would give him money without anything in exchange?

  3. This was a great post. I'm particularly interest in the Victorian Era, and I love a good mystery, so your book sounds like one for my TBR list. meanwhile, I learned so much from this post. I'm alsp tweeting it.


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