To all the single ladies:

Last week Groupon offered a ticket to lasting love (at a 76% discount!) by way of your own personal "boudoir photo shoot." The ad proclaims:

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 ...
Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.