7 Ways to Flirt Like a Victorian

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Victorian era could be a frustrating time to be young and in love, since the rigid constraints of social convention often meant that your every move was checked by a chaperone. Polite conversation about the weather can only get you so far, so many young (and not-so-young) lovers came up with ingenious ways to pursue their love affairs. If you're looking for a way to spice up your own romance, you might take a cue from these 19th century sweethearts—just make sure the object of your admiration has the same etiquette guide.

1. WRITE A POLITE LETTER …

The Victorians were avid letter-writers, with some areas of London having the mail delivered up to seven times a day, meaning that a note could be written, mailed, and delivered within the space of a few hours. A letter could be the perfect way of approaching the object of your desire, but the vagaries of Victorian manners often made the correct approach difficult to master. As a result, numerous manuals were published that provided template letters for first-time correspondents. The following example from The New Letter Writer for Lovers is a template for a man seeking to instigate a courtship after having met a woman only once:

Madam,

I scarcely can find courage to address you, and particularly as I cannot flatter myself that you have noticed me in any way. But, at the risk of incurring your displeasure, I feel compelled to express, with all deference, the anxiety I feel to become better acquainted with you, and to confess that you have inspired feelings warmer than those a mere acquaintance might warrant.

The book also offered templates for a woman to respond, whether it was encouragingly or not. Those wishing to end such flirtation could respond as follows:

Miss— presents her compliments to Mr— and while she is unwilling to consider his letter an insult, she trusts that in future should she meet Mr— he will see the necessity for abstaining from addressing her under any circumstances whatever.

2. … BUT BE CAREFUL WHERE YOU PUT THE STAMP.

It was sometimes difficult for 19th century lovers to keep their letters private, as notes could be read aloud for the amusement of the whole family. To bypass this, some reportedly began to use the positioning of the stamp on the envelope to reveal a secret message. The exact meaning of the various positionings likely varied between couples, and it's not entirely clear to what extent the system was used, but over time a number of writers attempted to codify the system. One such example reveals the following meanings:

Upside down, placed diagonally on the left side of the envelope: “Your love delights me.”

On its side in the middle of the envelope: “When shall I see you?”

Upside down on the right side of the envelope: “I am not free.”

Right way up on the left side: “I love you.”

Eventually, postal administrators decreed that stamps had to be placed in the upper right corner of envelopes—thus ruining the system.

3. USE A FAN ...

iStock

Dances and balls were a good opportunity for young lovers to meet, enjoying some polite chit-chat and a chaste dance or two. But this sedate style of romance wasn't everyone’s taste, and certain young women reportedly began using their fans to transmit a rather racier message to their beaus. A number of 19th-century fan makers were quick to produce pamphlets detailing a "fan code" and advertising their fans at the same time, although the idea of a full-fledged fan semaphore was probably more advertising gimmick than reality. One such example was luxury Parisian fan maker Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy, who outlined the following meanings:

Carrying in left hand, open: “Come and talk to me.”

Fanning slowly: “I am married.”

Fanning quickly: “I am engaged.”

Open and shut: “You are cruel.”

4. ... OR A HANDKERCHIEF.

Fans were not the only accessory supposedly employed in the quest for love; the handkerchief was also rumored as a simple way to send a message across a crowded room. In his marvelous tome The Mystery of Love, Courtship and Marriage Explained (1890), Henry J. Wehman provided a crib sheet for handkerchief flirters:

Drawing across the lips: “Desirous of an acquaintance.”

Twirling in both hands: “Indifference.”

Dropping: “We will be friends.”

Twirling in the left hand: “I wish to be rid of you.”

5. SAY IT WITH FLOWERS.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Perhaps the most famous method of flirting among the Victorians was the language of flowers. A number of guides were published detailing the complexities of the code, in which each bloom held a meaning, and even the color of the ribbon they were tied with and the angle at which they were handed over could hold significance. The Etiquette of Flowers (1852) offered this bafflingly complex piece of advice: “If the flower, or plant, is intended to be preceded by the pronoun I, it must be presented in a position inclined towards the left hand. If it is to express thee or you it should incline to the right.”

Many of the meanings derived from traditional English folklore, but some of the more exotic items were given invented significance by the imaginative Victorian etiquette writers. According to The Etiquette of Flowers, a red rose meant “beauty,” a striped carnation “refusal," a yellow iris “passion,” and, charmingly, the gift of a pineapple meant “keep your promises."

The degree to which Victorians actually used the language of flowers to communicate is debated. In The Language of Flowers: A History, historian Beverly Seaton says that the many books about flower meanings were primarily intended to "entertain a genteel female reader for a few dull afternoons," and there's scant evidence they were used in the day-to-day life of lovers. Nevertheless, the popular association between Victorians, flowers, and romance means a coded bouquet could be just the thing to send to your history-buff paramour.

6. SLIP THEM YOUR CARD.

Flirtation cards, sometimes called escort or acquaintance cards, were cheeky slips of pre-printed paper used by American singles in the late Victorian era to break the ice. They could be direct ("I very much desire to make your acquaintance"), abbreviated (“May I. C. U. Home?”), and even slightly scandalous ("Not Married and Out for A Good Time”). They were often accompanied by illustrations that sometimes spelled out part of the message in rebus code. Most were light-hearted, and parodied the etiquette around the more formal calling cards Victorians used to introduce themselves, announce a visit, express condolences, or note that they had tried to visit someone while they were out. The cards were also another excellent way to avoid chaperones, since an interested party could slip one to their intended relatively discreetly, and the latter could then hide it behind a glove or fan.

7. IF ALL ELSE FAILS, TRY THE CLASSIFIED ADS.

iStock

Newspaper classified ads often provided a safe space for Victorian romance. Dr. Alun Withey, a historian at the University of Exeter, examined the classified ads in the London newspaper the Evening Standard between the 1870s and 1890s and found what he called a “hotbed of sexual tensions”—and some natty nicknames to boot. One example ran: "CAD: utterly miserable and brokenhearted. I must see you my darling. Please write and fix time and place, at all risks. Can pass house if necessary unseen, in close carriage.” Another read: “KITTEN, I hope you are happy. I am most miserable. Do write to our house before Wednesday next; I cannot bear a year. Pray let me see you for old love, which is still stronger.”

These traces of illicit affairs and broken hearts are especially poignant since we often don't know how the story ended; we have no way of knowing if “Kitten” or any other recipient ever read the messages or responded. However, the public nature of these coded messages suggests a level of desperation, and perhaps a last-ditch attempt to rekindle a dying flame, such as in this heartfelt plea: “ALWAYS AT ELEVEN: Dearest, I have obeyed your letter. Have mercy, you are breaking my heart. Never to see you, never hear—save to bid me ‘not come.’ For God’s sake dear love, end this one way or the other. I cannot, cannot bear it. You are too cruel.”

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Sony

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- Apple MacBook Air 13 inches with 256 GB; $899 (save $100)

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250) 

- Samsung Chromebook 4 Chrome OS 11.6 inches with 32 GB; $210 (save $20) 

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $179 (save $20) 

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $169 (save $50)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

- MACTREM LED Ring Light 6" with Tripod Stand; $16 (save $3)

- Anker Soundcore Upgraded Bluetooth Speaker; $22 (save $8)

- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

25 Excellent Facts About Keanu Reeves

Jason Merritt, Getty Images
Jason Merritt, Getty Images

Keanu Reeves has been a Hollywood fixture since the mid-1980s, shifting from early dramatic turns in films like River’s Edge (1986) to action thrillers like Speed (1994), The Matrix (1999), and John Wick (2014) and an indelible performance as Theodore “Ted” Logan in the Bill & Ted franchise.

For more on the actor, including why he believed he was sent to “movie jail” for a decade, read on.

1. Despite—or perhaps because of—his multicultural background, Keanu Reeves has never become an American citizen.

Sebastian Willnow, AFP/Getty Images

Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1964, Reeves moved to Sydney, Australia and then New York City and (eventually) Toronto, following his mother Patricia’s wedding to her second husband. Born of Chinese, English, Irish, Native Hawaiian, and Portuguese descent, Reeves maintained a connection to the Canadian city where he spent the most time as a child before obtaining a green card through his American stepfather. To this day, and despite his success in America, Reeves maintains his Canadian citizenship.

2. Hockey kept Keanu Reeves busy as a kid.

In Toronto, Reeves became swept up in the appeal of ice hockey. He played throughout school and even co-coached a hockey club. While there, Reeves had an opportunity to try out for the Windsor Spitfires, a hockey team in the Ontario Hockey League. Reeves turned it down, believing his future was in performing. Later, he would portray a hockey pro alongside Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe in 1986’s Youngblood.

3. When Keanu Reeves was a kid, Alice Cooper used to hang out at his house.

Reeves’s mother was a costume designer, which likely contributed to his interest in the performing arts. He told Us magazine in 1995 that she made him some elaborate Halloween costumes—Dracula, Batman, Cousin Itt—and often had some of her clients over to the house. Among them: Alice Cooper. “I remember he brought fake vomit and dog poo to terrorize the housekeeper,” Reeves said. “He’d hang out, a regular dude.”

4. One of Keanu Reeves’s earliest roles was in a Coca-Cola commercial.

After getting parts on stage and Canadian television, Reeves landed a part as a cyclist in a Coke commercial in the 1980s. In 2018, The Late Late Show host James Corden asked the actor about the gig; Reeves remembered shooting over a three-day period, during which he drank “so many Coca-Colas.” In full commitment to the role, he also shaved his legs to look more believable as a cyclist.

5. Keanu Reeves almost renamed himself “Chuck Spadina.”

When Reeves came out to Los Angeles in the 1980s, he found that some casting agents were resistant to having him come in for auditions because his first name (which means “cool breeze over the mountains”) was hard to pronounce and seemingly too exotic. In order to combat this hurdle, Reeves began using “K.C. Reeves,” “Chuck Spadina,” and “Page Templeton III” instead. Reeves eventually abandoned the practice because he would go to auditions and tell them his real name anyway.

6. Keanu Reeves has a deep love for motorcycles.

Caroline Bonarde Ucci, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Reeves first learned to ride a motorcycle while shooting a film in Germany, and purchased one for himself the moment he returned to the U.S. His favorite bike is the 1973 Norton Commando. He also bankrolled a custom motorcycle dealership, Arch Motorcycle Company.

7. Keanu Reeves also has an extensive history of motorcycle-related injuries.

If Reeves doesn’t ride his bike as fast (or often) as he used to, it’s because he’s been in a number of serious accidents while riding them. He has lost teeth, broken his ankle, gotten road rash, and ruptured his spleen, amongst other injuries.

8. In addition to his performances in River’s Edge, Dangerous Liaisons, and Parenthood, Keanu Reeves moonlighted in a music video.

In the same year Reeves appeared in Lawrence Kasdan’s I Love You to Death, he also appeared in the music video for Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush,” the lead single from her sophomore album of the same name. Directed by Stefan Wurnitzer, the clip recreates moments from Rebel Without a Cause using locations from the original film, with Reeves playing the James Dean role opposite Abdul as Natalie Wood’s.

9. Keanu Reeves has been willing to defer his salary to get other actors in his movies.

Reeves has worked with an impressive list of actors in his career, including Al Pacino (1997’s The Devil’s Advocate), Gene Hackman (2000’s The Replacements), and Jack Nicholson (2003’s Something’s Gotta Give). In at least the first two instances, Reeves willingly deferred his compensation in order for the productions to free up some of their budget to be able to afford the actors.

"Is that all I have to do?" he recalled asking producers. "Sure! What else do I have to do? ‘Cause I’ll do it!"

10. Keanu Reeves’s commercial success has resulted in him subsidizing more than just a few high-profile casting choices.

Beyond deferring paychecks to work alongside the likes of Pacino and Nicholson, Reeves has earned more than enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life with a net worth reportedly along the lines of $360 million. But he gave away a portion of his salary for The Matrix sequels to provide more money for the visual effects and costume departments. And as a reward for those same stunt teams, Reeves recognized their great work by gifting them with Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

11. Keanu Reeves’s friendship with River Phoenix led to them co-starring in My Own Private Idaho.

Reeves and River Phoenix first became best friends on the set of I Love You to Death. Writer-director Gus Van Sant had written the script for My Own Private Idaho decades earlier, but continually found difficulty obtaining funding for it. However, after sending the script to Reeves, the young actor was so struck by it that he drove more than 1000 miles on his motorcycle to hand-deliver a copy to Phoenix. The two men agreed to star in the film on each other’s behalf, and history was made.

12. Keanu Reeves has been injured or sidelined by illness multiple times during shooting.

Reeves is known to be a trouper when it comes to shooting through pain, disability, and sickness, and his dedication to his colleagues is legendary. Several of his co-stars on The Matrix were injured during the wire work sequences on the film, and Reeves dealt with a spinal injury during filming when two of the discs in his back began to fuse together. He also suffered a neck injury which required fight coordinator Yuen Woo-Ping to create sequences that didn’t involve as much kicking. Later, he fought through an ankle injury before filming even began on The Matrix Reloaded. And during an extended sequence in the first John Wick movie, a scene in which Reeves's character battles several dozen adversaries in a nightclub, he finished his work despite a 103 degree fever.

13. Keanu Reeves says turning down Speed 2 put him in “movie jail” for 10 years.

After the success of 1994’s Speed, where Reeves portrayed a cop trying to save the lives of people trapped on a bus rigged to explode if it dips below 50 miles an hour, the studio was understandably eager for a sequel. At the time he was shown the script, Reeves was shooting the 1996 action film Chain Reaction and was growing wary of roles where he was “running and jumping” for little to no reason. He turned Speed 2 down, a move that he believed led to a decade of “movie jail” where he was offered no other roles by Fox. Ultimately, the sequel was made; Reeves was replaced by Jason Patric, who co-starred with Sandra Bullock in 1997’s Speed 2: Cruise Control. The film was not well-received, and Reeves appears to have no regrets about saying no to it. At the time he turned it down, he recalled telling director Jan de Bont, “You know, boats aren’t that fast.”

14. Keanu Reeves only became a part of Keanu at the last minute.

John Wick and the 2014 action-comedy Keanu were developed independently from one another, and early reporting about the latter film indicated it was a parody of the former. Consequently, Reeves’s management turned down an offer to appear in the second film without notifying their client. But when Reeves saw the initial trailers for Keanu, he reached out to filmmaker Peter Atencio and got involved, leading to the cameo in which he provides the voice of the eponymous kitten.

15. It’s possible that Keanu Reeves accidentally married Winona Ryder.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

While shooting 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Reeves and Winona Ryder—who played Jonathan and Mina Harker, respectively—appear in a scene in which their characters get married. Ryder later pointed out that director Francis Ford Coppola used a real priest in the scene and that both actors said their vows, meaning they might actually be married. Coppola agreed with this theory, although it’s not known whether the priest used their character names or the actors' real names during shooting.

16. Without Keanu Reeves, Weezer might not exist.

Reeves began the music project Dogstar after a chance encounter at a grocery store with drummer/ percussionist Robert Mailhouse in 1991. The band’s success was decidedly muted at best, but Reeves’s celebrity drove fans to the band and they toured successfully for several years in addition to recording several albums. Among the bands that performed with them on tour was Weezer, who played their first ever gig in 1992 as an opener for Dogstar.

17. Keanu Reeves has been booed offstage.

Reeves infamously toured with his band, Dogstar, in the 1990s, which played what he once described as “like, folk music,” or “folk thrash.” When they were invited to play Metalfest in Milwaukee, the band stood out in sharp contrast to the heavier acts on the bill. Reeves recalled that the crowd “threw beer at us and told us to f*** off and yelled, ‘You suck!’ It was beautiful. It made me laugh.”

18. Keanu Reeves was tricked into appearing in The Watcher.

Keanu Reeves in 2008.Mike Flokis, Getty Images

In 2000’s The Watcher, Reeves plays against his typical onscreen affability as a serial killer in a cat-and-mouse game with a detective (James Spader). According to Reeves, he was actually tricked into appearing in the film when a (presumably former) friend forged his signature on the contract. Daunted by the prospect of trying to prove it was a forgery, he decided to go ahead and do the movie. “I couldn’t prove he did and I didn’t want to get sued, so I had no other choice but to do the film,” he said.

19. Keanu Reeves supports several charitable causes.

After his sister was diagnosed with leukemia, Reeves founded a private cancer foundation—not in his own name—to provide research and assist children’s hospitals. He additionally supported Stand Up to Cancer and SickKids Foundations with generous contributions, to facilitate pediatric research.

20. Keanu Reeves has a recurring role on a tv show you've probably never heard of.

It’s not unusual for film actors to take roles in one of the many prestige television series airing on streaming and premium networks. Reeves, however, seems to have taken a low-key approach to television, opting for a small recurring role in Swedish Dicks, a U.S. and Scandinavian co-production about two private detectives from Sweden trying to earn a living in Los Angeles. Reeves’s friend, actor Peter Stormare, is one of the stars. The comedy airs on the Pop TV channel in the U.S.

21. Keanu Reeves has published books of his own poetry.

In 2011, Reeves collaborated with artist Alexandra Grant for Ode to Happiness, a limited-run book featuring a poem written by Reeves and accompanied by Grant’s illustrations for each line. The composition (“I draw a hot sorrow bath”) is self-aware in its overwrought approach that Grant likened to a “grown-up children’s book.” The two have since gone on to work on 2016’s Shadows, a similar poem and art project featuring photos of Reeves, and are now pursuing their own publishing imprint, X Artists’ Books, to showcase titles with a visual aesthetic that are sold via art stores or an online subscription.

22. Keanu Reeves has always actively participated in the physical preparation required for his roles.

Gearing up for Point Break, Reeves spent weeks and weeks learning how to surf, and developed the sport as a hobby. When Reeves was cast in Speed, the actor spent several months gaining muscle for the role. By the time it came to shoot the scene in which his character Jack Traven jumps from a moving car onto the bus, Jan De Bont was convinced that a stunt man would be required, but Reeves has practiced in private and was able to wow the director with his preparation and skill in pulling off the stunt. And just for the scene where Neo emerges from his pod inside The Matrix, Reeves shaved his entire body and lost 15 pounds for what amounted to just a few short minutes of screen time.

23. Keanu Reeves’s passion for—and recognition of—other storytellers’ passion—has led to many of his iconic roles.

Pop TV

As described above multiple times, Keanu took a part or played a role because of an actor ot storyteller’s dedication to a project. Always Be My Maybe was no exception. Casting him in the film was considered a “pipe dream” by director Nahnatchka Khan, but the actor was a longtime fan of comedian and star Ali Wong, so when the opportunity arose, he reworked his schedule to accommodate the film. He even ended up contributing a handful of ideas that expanded his character (at his own expense), like wearing glasses that had no lenses.

24. The John Wick franchise might not exist without The Matrix.

Niko Tavernise, Lionsgate

Reeves signed to star in the film, originally titled Scorn, after Thunder Road Pictures acquired Derek Kolstad’s script. He subsequently reached out to Chad Stahelski and David Leitch to see if they were interested in choreographing or directing the action of the film, after Stahelski performed as Reeves’s stunt double in The Matrix, and he and Leitch later helped choreograph action in the sequels. It was their vision for the film that inspired Reeves to back them not just as stunt coordinators but co-directors for the film.

25. Without John Wick, there might not have been a Bill & Ted Face the Music.

Reeves hadn’t seriously thought about reprising the role of Theodore “Ted” Logan until 2005 when a red carper reporter asked him about returning to the character. It took another five years before Alex Winter had created an idea that everyone felt was substantial or worthy enough to explore for another film. The project spent another several years languishing in development thanks to the commercial prospects of the stars, but the success of John Wick rekindled studio interest in making a third film. That franchise’s success generated heat for all of the films he was attached to, and Bill & Ted 3 picked up steam from there.