12 Feb 2014 12:00pm - 2:00pm CRASSH, Seminar room S1, First floor*


Dr Sally Holloway (Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London)
Romantic Things: the Material Culture of Courtship in Eighteenth-Century England

Sarah Ann Robin (MA BA, Faculty of History, Lancaster University)
Understanding Love through Material Culture: England and America in the Seventeenth-Century



Saly Holloway. This paper will argue that creating, exchanging and physically handling ‘romantic things’ played an indispensable role on the path to matrimony. The paper reconstructs the material world of courtship in England between c. 1730 and 1830 by combining objects in museums, archives and country houses with textual and visual representations of gifts in ballads, poems, novels, letters, diaries, paintings and prints.

Love tokens will be divided into three thematic categories to examine the meanings and purposes of particular gifts: ‘Food’, ‘Textiles’ and ‘The Body’. These categories are used to explore male and female roles in the economy of courtship, how certain gifts changed over time, and over the course of a relationship. The paper draws upon a cornucopia of objects including gingerbread, oysters, ribbons, garters, rings, silhouettes, eye miniatures and hair-work tokens. These romantic objects were vital in guiding courting couples from initial intimacy to a deeper emotional connection.


Sarah Ann Robin. Material culture played a critical role for those who fell in love. Tokens signified promise and intent during courtship, betrothal and afterward. Gifts served the necessary and practical demands of living, and conveyed the wishes, aspirations and personal experiences of the givers. Personal objects brought tangibility to the fragility of life: the hair of a lover could enclose an ocean and keep distant memories alive.Objects commemorated the deceased, becoming agents of comfort for those who were left behind.  Furthermore, objects of this period often had numerous owners: they were transferred, exchanged, altered and given; thus informing us of a complex and multifaceted network of relations. Finally, objects occupied both the public and private spaces of love. Some were commemorative and declarative; others were worn against the skin, and hung on the walls of the private, domestic sphere. They were the reminders, reinforcers, consolers and mediators of love. 

My talk will consider the multi-pronged approach which I have taken in my doctorate, and that which has led me to these conclusions. Objects reflect the expectations and realities of ‘being in love’ but to think of them as pure reflections is not enough; their study must be a three-dimensional one, not only of mirrored images, but one with different sides, heights and depths, of fabrics, designs and functions. It is this approach which shall be discussed.



Open to all. No registration required.

Things: Comparing Material Cultures 1500-1900 main page

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