Marriage: Creating a Partnership, Not Reeling in a Catch
The great Romantic painters had the same goal—to craft an image so beautiful that it would come to life and marry them. Increase your chances of turning images into love using the modern version of painting, photography …
The sample photo suggests that the way to transform "images into love" to is throw on some kitschy lingerie, splay yourself in the most awkward position imaginable on a bed, and fork over $95.00 for the picture.
The image might have gone from G-rated to R-rated, but the sentiment in this marketing campaign is strikingly similar to those of the conduct books popular around the eighteenth century. Such literature offered young ladies not only moral and domestic instruction, but also tips on how to attract the best husband. If you've read any Jane Austen, then you've encountered her satirical treatment of these works: priggish Mr. Collins reads passages from one popular conduct book to the captive Bennet girls, and the heroine of Emma tries to make a love-match by painting an "enhanced" portrait of her friend in hopes a gentleman will fall in love with the woman in the painting.
Since reading (as opposed, perhaps, to seeing) is believing, here are some samples from the original sources:
In his 1765 Sermons to Young Women, Rev. James Fordyce wrote:
Your best emblem, beloved, is the smiling form of peace, robed in white, and bearing a branch of olive … in a female we wish nothing to reign but love and tenderness ….
A modest but animated mien, an air at once unaffected and noble, are doubtless circumstances of great attraction and delight.
Dr. John Gregory warns women in A Father's Legacy to his Daughters of 1774:
The power of a fine woman over the hearts of men, of men of the finest parts, is even beyond what he conceives. They are sensible of the pleasing illusion, but they cannot, nor do they wish to dissolve it. But if she is determined to dispel the charm, it certainly is in her power: she may soon reduce the angel to a very ordinary girl.
Centuries of advancements for women separate Emma and the conduct books from the Groupon boudoir photo offer, yet they all convey the notion that if a woman can project the desired image—angelic in the eighteenth century, erotic in the twenty-first—she will succeed in her quest to catch a man.
When the basis of marriage was economic or political—as it has been for nearly all of human history—it made sense for a woman to direct her wiles toward making "a good catch." Most times her very livelihood depended on it. But around the time these conduct books were being written, a major shift was taking place in the view of marriage, a shift that occurred through a newly emerging Christian understanding of marriage.
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