Samstag, 2. Februar 2019

British Library Newsletter: Guide to writing love letters

The New Lover’s Instructor contains a collection of fictional letters, compliment cards and dialogues between relatives, all on the subject of love. These were intended as templates for readers to use during courtship. The New Lover’s Instructor usually follows a courtship across a series of letters, enabling the reader to see how a relationship between two individuals might develop. In some ways, The New Lover’s Instructor resembles a collection of scenes from plays and epistolary short stories, where characters and plots are developed through a correspondence between two people.
The book also contains several poems and riddles on the subject of love, which could also be adapted by readers for their own use, or simply enjoyed for their ingenuity.

More about letter-writing manuals

Letter-writing manuals in the 18th and 19th centuries did not just provide instruction for lovers. Many were guides to writing letters on business matters, such as requesting the payment of a bill or asking to borrow a sum of money. Most people who used letter-writing manuals had not received a classical or extended education, and so needed help with expressing themselves according to the conventions of the day. Because of this, many manuals contained a section on English grammar. The professions of some of the fictional correspondents in The New Lover’s Instructor reflect its probable readership: it includes letters from a tradesman, an exciseman (tax collector), a young farmer and a linen-draper’s apprentice.
We can see letter-writing manuals as an early form of self-help book.

What does it tell us about courtship in the period?

The existence of letter-writing guides such as these shows the codified nature of courtship in the 18th and 19th centuries. Like today, men and women were expected to behave in certain ways throughout a courtship, and to express their feelings and wishes according to particular conventions. Courtship was usually a very formal process designed to end in marriage.

Letters in Jane Austen’s novels

Letters play an important role in Jane Austen’s novels. Sometimes they move the plot along; sometimes they convey information about the character of the sender, or the characters of those who read and respond to the letter.
Austen’s novels often expose the conventions of courtship as absurd or even harmful. An example of this in Pride and Prejudice is when Mr Collins proposes to Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth tells him she will not marry him, but Mr Collins refuses to believe her: ‘You are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females’ (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 19). In The New Lover’s Instructor, several of the women behave in the way that Mr Collins describes, such as the ‘Lady’ in ‘Conversation the Second’ (pp. 80–82). 

Full title:
The new lover's instructor; or, whole art of courtship. Being the lover's complete library and guide; and containing ... love letters, ... Cards of compliment, ... Love epistles in verse, written in an elegant style; [etc.]
estimated 1780, London
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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