Shapely Ankle Preferr'd: A History of the Lonely Hearts Advertisement by Francesca Beauman

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Shapely Ankle Preferr'd: A History of the Lonely Hearts Advertisement by Francesca Beauman

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Category: History
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Not a frivolous scurry through something trivial, but a majorly enjoyable history of a factor of society with more to say than you might think...
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780099513346

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You might think the Lonely Hearts ad a trivial matter. You might think it should appear in lower case and not be capitalised, but you'd be in disagreement with Ms Beauman, who gives a big L and a big H to it every time she writes of it in her survey of its history. What's more, she gets to write about a lot more than just the contents of the adverts in this brilliant book.

Beauman points out March 1695 as when the first ad of its kind appeared - or the first we can date with any sense of honesty, for spoofs were already extant, and nobody knows which came first, the parody or the echt, honest plea for help ending the advertiser's status of being single. In the several centuries between then and adultfriendfinders and other risque adult match-for-snatch websites, there is a welter of social history to go through.

This book does not cover merely the contents of the ads - although seeing what was required through the ages is very interesting. It seems to boil down to, in order, money, good parentage, a good nature, and good looks - with the occasional insistence, where needed, of the lady responding being profligate, and not of the sort to follow the ridiculous fashions of the time.

No, instead we also get the priorities the advertiser was esteeming in himself - which seems to be money, looks, nature - and not much else. Individuality was a long time coming. We also learn how the coffee-house, then the regular shop counter, then finally in the 1850s a Box Number first offered by the Telegraph, was where the applicants' letters initially ended up. Principally, I suppose, we learn why the ad was made in the first place - certainly before it was a regularly accepted way to meet someone you needed a reason to so do, such as haste in getting married before a certain life-changing event, the fact one had little time at leisure because of work, or perhaps because London or another city was just too large to meet that someone right through the usual community facets. Or, of course, the advertiser was just too plain ugly.

There is a full history here of, and around, the Lonely Hearts, focusing at times on the general, at times on the specific; and nowhere is that more so than in 1827, where a murderer used the system to find someone, and his responses were made public. It seems even then the intriguing method of matching and hatching was still not really accepted, and those females who offered hope to the advertiser were still generally disparaged in the press. The other side to the coin was an MP, no less, requesting someone single and heavily pregnant, as he was in need of an heir before you could say (or offer a bit of) how's your father...

The lip-smackingly good trivia here carries on to include the current Pope's parents, the fact that those scammers who pretend to fall for a lady and run off with the proceeds when they successfully get a loan of money given them is a Victorian invention, and the more modern birth of trendy, word-limit-beating shorthand, in gay publications.

Yes, it's only in very recent, mainstream times the female advertiser has been in the majority.

But there is a lot more here than the trivia. There is the sociology, as we see the lives and times of those on the Lonely Hearts pages in order to understand their output, and vice versa. We see the contemporary media - plays, music hall and press - that responded to what slowly became an institution. And throughout, Beauman is superb in balancing the academically-suited with the glowingly joyous, the deadly serious with the inane, the highfalutin with the tabloid. Surely nobody else could have sifted through so many men wanting ladies in their 20s and given us such a surprising, revelatory and suits-all-comers book. Well worth exploring.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Beauman mentions it, so we will too - They Call Me Naughty Lola by David Rose is a great collection of the supremely odd current examples of the Lonely Hearts, from the LRB.

Buy Shapely Ankle Preferr'd: A History of the Lonely Hearts Advertisement by Francesca Beauman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Shapely Ankle Preferr'd: A History of the Lonely Hearts Advertisement by Francesca Beauman at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Shapely Ankle Preferr'd: A History of the Lonely Hearts Advertisement by Francesca Beauman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Shapely Ankle Preferr'd: A History of the Lonely Hearts Advertisement by Francesca Beauman at Amazon.com.

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