History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

30 May 2007

Actions Speak Louder Than Words...

Did you know that, in 18th and 19th century England, a woman could flirt entirely without words, using items such as a fan, her gloves, parasol, or handkerchief instead? Indeed, an entire flirtation could take place in silence with subtle gestures and motions which could be easily hidden from prying eyes. Here's a sampling:

The Fan
Carrying it in the right hand in front of face = Follow Me
Drawing across forehead = We are watched
Placing handle across lips = Kiss me
Drawing in across cheek = I love you
Fanning quickly = I am engagnedFanning slowly = I am married
Resting against right cheek = Yes
Resting against left cheek = No

The Glove
Biting tips = I wish to be rid of you
Dropping one = Yes

Dropping both = I love you
Thumb exposed on left hand = Kiss me
Smoothing them out = I am displeased
Striking them over shoulder = Follow me

The Parasol
Carrying it elevated in left hand = I desire to make your acquaintance
Carrying it elevated in right hand = You are too forward
Carrying it over the right shoulder = You can speak to me
Carrying it over the left shoulder = You are cruel
Dropping it = I love you
Tapping the chin = I am in love with another
Touching handle to lips = Kiss me

The Handkerchief
Drawing it across the cheek = I love you
Drawing it through the hands = I hate you
Folding it = I wish to speak with you
Twisting it in the left hand = I wish to be rid of you
Twisting it in the right hand = I love another
Drawing it across forehead = We are watched

I'd like to know how ladies could keep all this 'body language' straight--can you imagine having to memorize all these nuances, else you might convey the wrong message to someone, even if by accident? "Hmmm, I want to tell him 'yes' with my fan--but it is my left cheek I touch, or my right?!" And what if you were simply a klutz, prone to dropping things?! Better hope you only accidentally drop one glove--indicating 'yes'--rather than both, indicating "I love you"! Think of the trouble in which you might find yourself if you had a habit of touching things to your lips without thought!

I can't even think of any modern parallels--can you?


Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

I can't even think of any modern parallels--can you?

Text message abbreviations! LOL

8:19 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Cool post, Kristina! Where on earth did you find this? Source(s) please!

Comparable actions today--flipping hair behind shoulder (flirting?); leaning forward to speak (I am interested in what you say, think?). . .

I dunno. I've been married a while now and sometimes I swear I don't have to so much a lift an eyebrow and my husband gets it. ;-)

And sometimes he is clueless ...

8:22 PM  
Blogger Christine Wells said...

These are fun, Kristina! In my novel Scandal's Daughter, I have the hero making these coded messages to the heroine using a hand of playing cards instead of a fan.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

modern parallels?

The handkerchief codes that were so popular with gay men a few years ago. A lot was communicated by what color hanky stuck out of which back pocket of a pair of Levi's 501s.

Here's a list of them -- I have no idea how accurate. Some are really raunchy, some funny, some so highly coded I don't know what they mean. Like "tearoom top (pours)"???? I gotta go email a friend, who is sure to know.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Diane Perkins said...

I was thinking the same thing, Kristina. What if you forgot which cheek it was? Or what if you really did just drop your gloves?

Like Pam, I was thinking of the signals to let people know your orientation--which ear is pierced, for example. But I never could keep those straight (oops! a pun!).

5:55 AM  
Blogger Kristina Cook said...

Ack--forgot to cite my post! I got most of it from "The Ladies of London"--a wonderful, spiral-bound 'reference guide' extravaganza by Kristine Hughes. I bought it one year at RWA, at the 'book sale' room (whatever they call it!) and it is probably my all-time favorite reference book.

7:50 AM  

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