In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Kansas City Public Library is inviting its online fans to write personal ads for their favorite characters from Victorian literature. The writer of the best ad will receive a box of Christopher Elbow chocolates and a free copy of Jennifer Phegley’s book Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England.
SWF, 18, seeks wealthy, stylish husband…
Despite the images of chivalrous lads and chaste ladies, the Victorians were an amorous bunch. For evidence, one need only pick up a newspaper from the era … and flip to the back.
That’s right. Ladies and gents in the mid-19th century found love through the advent of a new medium – one that isn’t so far off from today’s online social media sites like OKCupid and Match.com.
“In the 1850s, Victorians began regularly advertising for love,” Phegley says. “They were called ‘matrimonial advertisements,’ though we’d think of them as Victorian personal ads.”
As one real-life lonelyheart wrote the New York Herald  in 1863:
A young lady of 18, wealthy, pretty and agreeable, wants a husband. Not finding any one of her acquaintance who suits her, she has concluded to take this method of discovering one. The happy gentleman must be wealthy, stylish, handsome and fascinating. None other need apply. Address within three days, giving name and full particulars, and enclosing carte de visite, Carrie Howard, Station D, New York.
Phegley will share more stories of Victorian courtship when she discusses her book this Thursday at the Central Library.
In the meantime, you can get in the mood by participating in our Victorian Valentines Facebook and Twitter contest.
How to Enter the Contest:
- Choose a character from any work of Victorian literature (ca. 1837-1901, though we won’t exclude Ms. Austen).
- Imagine a personal ad that the character might have written for his or her local newspaper. Include details that help identify the character.
- Adapt the ad for the 21st century, and post it to our Facebook page at facebook.com/kclibrary  or tweet it to us @kclibrary  (hashtag: #VicLove) by noon on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012.
Our team of Vic lit librarians will choose their favorite personal ad. The winner will be announced online and read aloud at Jennifer Phegley’s presentation on Thursday. The winner will receive a copy of Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England and a box of fabulous Christopher Elbow chocolates.
Here are a few sample ads we came up with:
Character: Miss Havisham (Great Expectations)
Wealthy spinster left at altar seeks man to sweep off feet. Likes old cake, crumbling mansions. Contact: Havisham, Satis House #VicLove
Character: Dr. Watson (Sherlock Holmes)
Accomplished physician turned sleuth sidekick seeks lovely lady to share adventures. Gun shy needn’t apply. Contact: John, 221B Baker St.
Character: Count Dracula (Dracula)
Single, undead male seeks beautiful, innocent lady of good family for short term relationship. Will show right gal a bloody good time. #VicLove
Character: Dorian Gray (The Picture of Dorian Gray)
For a good time call Dorian, wealthy, worldly, willful. No soulful artistic types. Wit and decadence greatly appreciated.
Character: Cathy (WutheringHeights)
SWF, bossy, manipulative, rich, but passionate, seeks SWM, churlish, uncouth, impoverished, and vengeful OR refined, quiet, educated, wealthy gentlemen. Whoever gets here first. Did I mention I’m impatient?
That should be enough to get you started! Be creative, and submit as many as you want by noon on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. Questions: firstname.lastname@example.org .