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10 Fascinating Facts About the Evolution of Dating and Courtship

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The rituals of courtship have evolved over time, and what is considered romantic today would have been scandalous, if not criminal, less than 100 years ago. As revealed in Moira Weigel's Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, a remarkable history of the subject, here are 10 things you might not know about dating and courtship over the years.

1. IT WASN'T ALWAYS CALLED "DATING."

According to Weigel, “date,” in the context of relationships, reaches back to 1896. It was first used in a newspaper column in which a young man laments that his girlfriend is seeing other people—that they are "fillin' all my dates," as in "the dates on her calendar."

2. IN 1900, DATING COULD BE A FELONY.

At the turn of last century, dating was still a new concept and law enforcement wasn't sure what to make of it—but they were sure something sordid was going on. A young man and woman meeting in public, him buying her food, drink, and gifts: well, it was veritable prostitution in the eyes of authorities, and women could be arrested for it.

3. DATING INTRODUCED PRIVACY TO THE PROCESS OF COURTSHIP.

Ironically, a man and a woman meeting in public was the best way to have some privacy. Before dating, courtship involved suitors calling on prospective partners in the family home. And since McMansions were not yet a thing, it meant the parlor or kitchen, where there were always eyes and ears close by.

4. DATING QUICKLY BECAME A BIG BUSINESS.

Before dating came into the picture, "courtship" and "calling" were conducted with the express goal of marriage. It was a family affair, as callers meant heirs, property, and happiness. The newly established dating industry, however, had other goals in mind. Marriage would hurt business. "For the first time in human history," writes Weigel, "dating made it necessary to buy things in order to get face time with a prospective partner. This remains true today."

5. CONSUMER GOODS WEREN'T ALWAYS PART OF COURTSHIP.

Whereas before, the compatibility of prospective couples was determined by land, status, and wealth, with the onset of industrialization and the rise of the middle class, consumer goods became a go-to method for determining compatibility with a potential partner (e.g., comparing phones or favorite albums.) "Taste" would become a central element of courtship, and is still used to telegraph status today, however subtly.

6. DEPARTMENT STORES CHANGED EVERYTHING.

Department stores brought those of humble means into contact with those of wealth. The shopgirl selling fashion learned to imitate her buyers, and labels would come along that could let anyone look rich. "Driven by anxiety, as well as romantic ambition," writes Weigel, "the shopgirl drove a kind of arms race. The more effectively she sold fashion and beauty culture to her clients, the more mandatory participation in that culture became. It was just what the economy needed."

7. WEARING MAKEUP HAS ITS ROOTS IN DATING.

Before the 1900s, the only women who wore "painted faces" were actresses and prostitutes. (Previously, a natural look, it was said, demonstrated "clean living.") To make their product mainstream, the cosmetics industry renamed their goods "makeup," with the lofty, admirable goal of "making oneself up" to express femininity.

8. EVEN 18TH-CENTURY PARENTS ALLOWED SERIOUS COUPLES TO FOOL AROUND.

Societal mores before the 20th century weren't so rigid as you might think. According to Weigel, "In the United States, a long tradition gave courting couples tacit permission to engage in sexual behavior so long as they stopped short of intercourse." Young couples could sleep in the same bed, provided they were each "tarried," or sewn into cloth sacks. "Benjamin Franklin reminisces about how the parents of his first marriage prospect encouraged him to fool around with their daughter. They would invite him over and leave the two of them in the parlor alone. Versions of this wink-winking permissiveness toward serious couples persisted up through the Calling Era."

9. HIPPIES WERE LATE TO THE FREE LOVE GAME.

With the rise of Marxism and feminism in the 1800s came the belief by some activists that marriage was itself "sexual slavery." Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States, described herself as a "free lover" with the inalienable right to love whomever she chose, whenever she chose, for however long she chose, "and with that right," she said, "neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere.” 

10. THE "BIOLOGICAL CLOCK" PANIC WAS BASED ON BAD NUMBERS.

Warnings of the so-called "biological clock" first appeared in the 1970s and quickly gained traction as a major source of anxiety for women in the workforce and an impediment to career advancement. (A direct sexism came with this; the male biological clock was ignored completely, giving men all the time in the world to "play the field.") But heavily quoted "clock" statistics were tragically flawed, drawn from French birth records from 1670 to 1830. As one journalist explained, "millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment."

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12 Facts About Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
George C. Beresford/Getty Images
George C. Beresford/Getty Images

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella about venturing into the moral depths of colonial Africa is among the most frequently analyzed literary works in college curricula.

1. ENGLISH WAS THE AUTHOR’S THIRD LANGUAGE.

It’s impressive enough that Conrad wrote a book that has stayed relevant for more than a century. This achievement seems all the more impressive when considering that he wrote it in English, his third language. Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, Conrad was a native Polish speaker. French was his second language. He didn’t even know any English—the language of his literary composition—until age 21.

2. HEART OF DARKNESS BEGINS AND ENDS IN THE UK.

Though it recounts Marlow's voyage through Belgian Congo in search of Kurtz and is forever linked to the African continent, Conrad’s novella begins and ends in England. At the story’s conclusion, the “tranquil waterway” that “seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” is none other than the River Thames.

3. THE PROTAGONIST MARLOW IS CONRAD.

The well-traveled Marlow—who appears in other Conrad works, such as Lord Jim—is based on his equally well-traveled creator. In 1890, 32-year-old Conrad sailed the Congo River while serving as second-in-command on a Belgian trading company steamboat. As a career seaman, Conrad explored not only the African continent but also ventured to places ranging from Australia to India to South America.

4. LIKE KURTZ AND MARLOW, CONRAD GOT SICK ON HIS VOYAGE.

Illness claimed Kurtz, an ivory trader who has gone mysteriously insane. It nearly claimed Marlow. And these two characters almost never existed, owing to their creator’s health troubles. Conrad came down with dysentery and malaria in Belgian Congo, and afterwards had to recuperate in the German Hospital, London, before heading to Geneva, Switzerland, to undergo hydrotherapy. Though he survived, Conrad suffered from poor health for many years afterward.

5. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ALLEGED KURTZES IN REAL LIFE.

The identity of the person on whom Conrad based the story’s antagonist has aroused many a conjecture. Among those suggested as the real Kurtz include a French agent who died on board Conrad’s steamship, a Belgian colonial officer, and Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

6. COLONIZING WAS ALL THE RAGE WHEN HEART OF DARKNESS APPEARED.

Imperialism—now viewed as misguided, oppressive, and ruthless—was much in vogue when Conrad’s novella hit shelves. The "Scramble for Africa" had seen European powers stake their claims on the majority of the continent. Britain’s Queen Victoria was even portrayed as the colonies' "great white mother." And writing in The New Review in 1897, adventurer Charles de Thierry (who tried and failed to establish his own colony in New Zealand) echoed the imperialistic exuberance of many with his declaration: “Since the wise men saw the star in the East, Christianity has found no nobler expression.”

7. CHINUA ACHEBE WAS NOT A FAN OF THE BOOK.

Even though Conrad was no champion of colonialism, Chinua Achebe—the Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart and other novels—delivered a 1975 lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” that described Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist” and his ubiquitous short classic as “an offensive and deplorable book.” However, even Achebe credited Conrad for having “condemned the evil of imperial exploitation.” And others have recognized Heart of Darkness as an indictment of the unfairness and barbarity of the colonial system.

8. THE BOOK WASN’T SUCH A BIG DEAL—AT FIRST.

In 1902, three years after its initial serialization in a magazine, Heart of Darkness appeared in a volume with two other Conrad stories. It received the least notice of the three. In fact, not even Conrad himself considered it a major work. And during his lifetime, the story “received no special attention either from readers or from Conrad himself,” writes Gene M. Moore in the introduction to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. But Heart of Darkness managed to ascend to immense prominence in the 1950s, after the planet had witnessed “the horror”—Kurtz's last words in the book—of WWII and the ramifications of influential men who so thoroughly indulged their basest instincts.

9. T.S. ELIOT BORROWED AN IMPORTANT LINE.

Though Heart of Darkness wasn’t an immediate sensation, it evidently was on the radar of some in the literary community. The famous line announcing the antagonist’s demise, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead,” serves as the epigraph to the 1925 T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men.”

10. THE STORY INSPIRED APOCALYPSE NOW.

Eighty years after Conrad’s novella debuted, the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now hit the big screen. Though heavily influenced by Heart of Darkness, the movie’s setting is not Belgian Congo, but the Vietnam War. And though the antagonist (played by Marlon Brando) is named Kurtz, this particular Kurtz is no ivory trader, but a U.S. military officer who has become mentally unhinged.

11. HEART OF DARKNESS HAS BEEN MADE INTO AN OPERA.

Tarik O'Regan’s Heart of Darkness, an opera in one act, opened in 2011. Premiering at London’s Royal Opera House, it was reportedly the first operatic adaptation of Conrad’s story and heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now.

12. THE BOOK ALSO SPARKED A VIDEO GAME.

In a development not even Conrad’s imagination could have produced, his classic inspired a video game, Spec Ops: The Line, which was released in 2012.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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