‘Designed for no other purpose than to inflict pain’: The violent history of the Victorian Valentine

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk


An invited talk to an AHRC-funded project, ‘Celebrations: Victorian and Edwardian Greeting Cards' at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Often dismissed as insignificant items of mass-produced sentimentality, greetings cards are frequently considered to be banal and predictable objects. This is particularly the case with valentine cards, whose materialisation of romantic love is seen by some cynics as a mawkish commercial culture intervening in matters of the heart. But what of valentine cards that are themselves cynical? What about cards that pillory Valentine’s Day and subvert its traditions and emotions? There is a twenty-first century niche market in comic cards that trade on irony and inversion, but these have sometimes forgotten precursors in Victorian practices, particularly in the form of insulting cards sent on the day of love, which sold in huge quantities between the 1840s and the 1880s and were available in many hundreds of different designs. Victorian ‘mock valentines’ turn all elements of romantic sweetness upside down to result in sour and bitter flavours of feeling. The mood and message of these cards can be surprising to present day viewers, and they were not always warmly received in their own time. This talk will share examples of spiteful cards and reflect on their effects.
Period7 Apr 2022
Degree of RecognitionNational