Thursday, June 26, 2014

Courtship in the 18th Century

Dancing was an important courting ritual among the wealthy. It was considered a good way to determine a potential marriage partner’s physical soundness, as well as the state of their teeth and breath. Dancing taught poise, grace and balance, especially important to women who had to learn to remain in their “compass”, or the area of movement allowed by their clothing. Balls often lasted three to four days and took all day and most of the night. They were the primary means of socializing in the south.

Outsiders observing the eighteenth-century southern elite commented on the sharp contrast between male and female standards of behavior. Timothy Ford, a New Jersey lawyer who moved to Charleston in 1785, wrote that “the ladies” there were “circumscribed within such narrow bounds” of acceptable behavior that they “carry formality and scrupulosity to an extreme.” Young gentlemen, in contrast, were expected to be “abandoned” and “debauched.”

Women within the southern elite were by no means “privileged to do anything.” They were expected to embody decorum and self-restraint.  In June 1734, the South Carolina Gazette printed a prayer for young ladies that called on “Virgin Powers” to defend them against “amorous looks” and “saucy love.” When tempted to commit an indiscretion, respectable women should arm themselves with “honour” and “a guard of pride.”  Avoiding company and behavior that might compromise one’s reputation did not require prudery or self-isolation. Conduct manuals appearing in the late eighteenth century advised young women to steer a middle course between undue familiarity, which was dangerous, and cold reserve, which made them undesirable. 

The best reading experience on your Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.

No comments: