Show & Tell: A Map of Matrimony


Library of Congress // Public Domain

This undated “Map of Matrimony,” held by the Library of Congress, represents itself as a handy guide for "timid lovers," promising to help them navigate "the orbit of affection to the true haven of conjugal happiness.” The map, which was probably published in the 19th century, was one of many popular maps of love published in the United Kingdom and the United States starting in the late 18th century.

These maps translated the fraught journey from the first blush of courtship through matrimony into tangible geographical features. This map features a “Coast of Doubt,” a “Whirlpool of Reflection,” “Shoals of Fickleness,” and (in a nod to the real world) a “Cape of Good Hope.” Acknowledging that lovers would suffer agonies of confusion as they tried to navigate romantic situations, the maps physicalize emotions, recognizing that pity, treachery, jealousy, and prudence could feel as insurmountable as mountains, or as influential as prevailing winds.

While many maps of matrimony, like this group collected by Barron Maps, were intended for wall display, such maps were also occasionally found on Victorian valentines, one type in a class of parody card that was, as Lucinda Matthews-Jones writes, harmlessly fun. Such cards took many forms: “Bank notes from the bank of love, rebus valentines or word puzzles, and fake marriage certificates or telegrams.” Unlike cruel “vinegar valentines,” these humorous cards gently satirized courtship, offering a little social commentary on the common stages and rituals of the process.

Since maps of matrimony were a popular art form practiced across decades and continents, the archive of surviving examples offers interesting points of connection. Here’s one circa-1825 Map of Matrimony, which was professionally printed. Compare it with a hand-drawn example that antiquarian bookseller and author Tim Bryars offers on his blog, and another homemade map of matrimony, this one in an autograph book compiled by a Canadian woman. The two hand-drawn maps echo features found in the printed version—all three offer “Mountains of Delay, inhabited by Lawyers,” a “Land of Spinsters” off to the west, and a “Petticoat Government” to the south—suggesting that people who made homemade love maps may have copied liberally from printed versions.