Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Language of the Fan

A few years ago, my mother gave me a beautiful hand-painted fan with an ivory handle and tassel which dates back to the late 1800's. It had been in her father's family and was brought to the U.S. from Spain when my grandfather immigrated to New Orleans at the turn of the century. It is a treasure from the past, and I often wonder who may have used this lovely fan (his mother? a sister?) and how pretty she must have looked with this accessory, especially if she was wearing a lace mantilla. In researching Victorian courtship etiquette for creative writing that I enjoy, I came across the charming language of the fan -- a secret and subtle way for ladies and gentlemen to communicate with each other when in public. I wonder if the owner of my fan ever placed it over her heart or let the fan touch her right cheek?

The Language of the Fan:

A closed fan touching the right eye: "When may I be allowed to see you?"
The fan placed near the heart: "You have won my love"
The number of sticks shown answered the question: "At what hour?"
Threatening movements with a fan closed: "Do not be so imprudent"
Half-opened fan pressed to the lips: "You may kiss me"
Hands clasped together holding an open fan: "Forgive me"
Covering the left ear with an open fan: "Do not betray our secret"
Hiding the eyes behind an open fan: "I love you"
Shutting a fully opened fan slowly: "I promise to marry you"
Drawing the fan across the eyes: "I am sorry"
Touching the finger to the tip of the fan: "I wish to speak with you"
Letting the fan rest on the right cheek: "Yes"
Letting the fan rest on the left cheek: "No"
Opening and closing the fan several times: "You are cruel"
Dropping the fan: "We will be friends"
Fanning slowly: "I am married"
Fanning quickly: "I am engaged"
Putting the fan handle to the lips: "Kiss me"
Opening a fan wide: "Wait for me"
Placing the fan behind the head: "Do not forget me"
Placing the fan behind the head with finger extended: "Goodbye"
Fan in right hand in front of face: "Follow me"
Fan in left hand in front of face: "I am desirous of your acquaintance"
Fan held over left ear: "I wish to get rid of you"
Drawing the fan across the forehead: "You have changed"
Twirling the fan in the left hand: "We are being watched"
Twirling the fan I the right hand: "I love another"
Carrying the open fan in the right hand: "You are too willing"
Carrying the open fan in the left hand: "Come and talk to me"
Drawing the fan through the hand: "I hate you!"
Drawing the fan across the cheek: "I love you!"
Presenting the fan shut: "Do you love me?"
This list was compiled by Micki Gaffney

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A Light on the Veranda
The Queen's Vow: A Novel Of Isabella Of Castile
The Edwardians
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Howards End
Lady's Maid
Instruments Of Darkness
When Maidens Mourn
Where Shadows Dance
What Remains of Heaven
Where Serpents Sleep
Why Mermaids Sing
When Gods Die
Before Ever After
The Sugar Queen
Garden Spells
After the Night

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