Love in Georgian England...

Saturday, 23 February 2019

love in georgian england

With Valentine’s Day still fresh in the memory, why not have a look back at the history of love? Take a trip back to the 18th century, when the art of the love letter reached new heights and matching with a partner was a little more involved than swiping right...

Dr Sally Holloway, Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in History & History of Art, is an expert on the history of love and emotions. She appeared on BBC History Magazine’s podcast on 15 February to talk about courtship in Georgian England, a time when rising literacy rates and the popularity of epistolary novels - stories told through letters - led to a great boom in amorous correspondence.

As well as the art of the love letter, the wide-ranging conversation contains some fascinating insights about courtships in history. When did Valentine’s Day start to become the celebration of love we know today? How did the culture of the time shape how people loved? What did men and women in the 18th century give as gifts and how did they handle break-ups? Plus more scandalous subjects to boot…

Caught your interest? Why not listen to the podcast.

And you can find out even more about the history of love in Dr Holloway’s book, The Game of Love in Georgian England. Released in January, the book has recently been positively reviewed in The Telegraph. It states that “Holloway adroitly couples details with theory, and enhances her “object-driven approach” with illuminating reproductions of period pictures, cartoons and artefacts”.

Speaking about the book, Dr Holloway said: “It explores how relationships were formed using the language of love, how love letters aided the development of intimacy and how courtship was navigated through sensory interaction with tokens such as ribbons, gloves, and garters. It presents the Georgian era as an important moment when romantic customs were integrated into commercial culture. For example, consumer objects such as toys, books, furs, printed textiles and epistolary accessories - such as inkwells, paper and seals - were eagerly taken up by couples and exchanged as romantic gifts. 

“Valentine's Day was also integrated into the consumer economy, with a gradual shift away from lotteries held on Valentine's Eve (13 February) and towards the exchange of cards the following day. The earliest surviving printed valentine card with accompanying date was produced by the printer and publisher John Fairburn in 1797, as love evolved into a booming marketplace. As the celebration transformed into a more recognisably modern celebration, manufacturers created a range of new designs to draw in consumers, such as 'flower cage' and lace paper cards.”

Whether you’re still love-drunk from Valentine’s or just have an interest in history, Dr Holloway’s work is well worth your time.