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Image of valentine

Follies of February

Malcolm Warrington

Is it not time to acknowledge the Victorian comic valentine? A genre of British comic art, seemingly tackling the lower class themes of morality, intemperance, fashion and vainness amongst others, that makes an easy bedfellow with the vulgar and absurd.

George Buday observes in his much admired work "The History of the Christmas Card": The true, expensive and elaborate love-bearing valentine would be sent only to the queen of the sender's heart but a punning joke, a toy-like trick valentine or a design with comic figures in it would be suitable to many amongst everyone's friends and acquaintances. They would amuse young and old and thus the comic valentine could be and was sent to a number of people simultaneously - to friends and to those of whom the sender wished to make fun.

From the early 19th century engravings, etchings, hand-coloured lithographs and woodcuts were produced by the comic valentine makers that were light-hearted and amusing, lampooning the fashion of the day or poking fun at cooks, parlour-maids, policeman, wheelwrights and other workers in everyday occupations of the Victorian era.

The Shop Slave, image of comic valentine

However, lurking beneath this cheery good humour were a class of sneaky, sinister valentines that were disturbing, printed crudely on thin poor quality paper, bearing tasteless and offensive imagery accompanied by an equally disagreeable few lines of verse. The festering hostility and pent-up frustrations of the anonymous sender are manifested in these works of hatred and cruelty.

Two valentines of this type are illustrated below and each, in a small way, gives a glimpse into the social history of the period. First, there is a depiction of the common practice of emptying the chamber pot - usually straight out of the window into the street! The nagging, scolding, shrewish wife threatens her poor henpecked husband with a poker while the hapless soul does her bidding.

Image of Victorian comic valentine

This creature is just fitted for the job
You see him doing - and so help me Bob!
Before I'd marry such a soul-less thing,
I'd hang myself with my own apron string!

Secondly, an unattractive feature of Victorian family life, where domestic violence is perceived to be acceptable. The wretched drunken husband, "his most Mighty Majesty" coarse and brutish, rules his kingdom with an iron fist. "The Monarch of the Brutes" - a cowardly creature who vents his anger at home is impervious to pleas and shows no mercy to wife or child.

Image of comic valentine

A perfect picture here you see,
With all his noble attributes,
Of his most Mighty Majesty,
"Gorilla - Monarch of the Brutes!"

Concluding on a more cheerful note what could not be more delightful than this caricature of a dapper young man all dressed up for the summer season. Ladies with hand on your heart, I ask you, would you not say this is the man of your dreams?

Image of comic valentine

What pretty young maiden could resist this snappy dresser with the distinctive monocle, magnificent mutton-chop whiskers and jaunty straw hat adding the finishing touch to his costume? He would surely capture the affections of the most respectable of young ladies of good family and fortune.

 

Ephemera - minor transient documents of every day life