While most people envision Victorian romance as courtly and idyllic, some Victorians welcomed the romantic opportunity to be quite cruel. Bullying was nothing new to Victorians who chose to send “vinegar valentines,” which would stay around for about the next hundred years.
These vinegar valentines did not send sweet nothings and sugary words, they were meant to sting and insult. Their purpose was to send specific insults to the recipient through a range of satirical verse. They might indicate anything from a criticism of the recipient’s perceived faults to a rejection of the recipient’s advances. These valentines zeroed in on anything from excessive vanity to drunkedness to stupidity. They were not general, but very specific, with some of their targets being the nagging wife, the philandering lover or the uncaring new father.
With the current attention to curtailing bullying of any sort, it is probably hard to imagine that these vinegar valentines would have been very widespread. Quite the contrary in Victorian times, as these insulting little greetings made up half of all mass produced cards sold in the 1870s. Why hasn’t this cruel fad been remembered? Probably because most who received them promptly threw them away! Not something you would want to enshrine in your scrapbook or nestle in your keepsake box.
While the messages were quite specific, several common themes emerged. One very common theme might be characterized as the “no way” message. This was a cruel way of implying that the affections of the pursuer were not, and never would be, returned. Not the best way to handle things, but probably better than being ghosted. At least a
person would know where they stood after receiving a cheeky little verse, such as:
“ Tis a lemon that I hand you,
And bid you now”skiddoo.”
Because I love another,
There is no chance for you.”
One of the most popular – the “no one likes you” vinegar valentine – simply meant to send the message that the recipient was universally despised for being ugly, having a poor character or an unappealing personality. That covers just about everything.
A society where the affluent young people rarely worked, casting aspersions on someone who might have a job was accomplished with a “I’m mocking your job” greeting. Such a kindly way of telling someone they were definitely “lower class!”
These charming missives made their way to our fair country, but some were deemed to be too over the top. In 1905, 25,000 vinegar valentines were held back in a Chicago post office, because they were seen as being too inappropriate to mail. Sadly, although this is no longer an acceptable way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, bullying still remains in the online world. Victorians were really no crueler than people today – they just expressed their cruelty in a different way.
Remember – pretty is as pretty does, and a kindness is never forgotten!