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Thursday, June 11, 2015
FAN FLIRTING by Karla Stover
The morning after her coming-out ball, a young debutant sits in the family drawing room pretending to read while her mother writes letters and a parlor maid feeds the fire. When the doorbell rings, the debutant looks up, hope written on her face. After a few long moments, a footman appears carrying a silver tray on which rests a nosegay of deep red carnations tied with a piece of blue plaid wool. “Who are they from?” asks the mother. “There’s no note,” says the girl. But she caresses the ribbon and smiles. Surely this is the Napier plaid, she thinks, remembering the Scotsman with whom she’d danced the previous night. And surely he knows red carnations mean, ‘Alas for my poor heart’ in the language of flowers. And so she plans her fan flirting for the next dance.
The fan’s subtle language is now dead, but in the days when women were less bold, knowing that looking at a man while carrying an open fan in the left hand meant, “Come talk to me.” And that perhaps later, after seeing her mother frown, the girl is smart enough to twirl the fan in her left hand, letting the man know, “We are being watched.” The Victorian woman carried on entire conversations with her fan.
At the next ball, the debutant sees the Scotsman and holds her fan in her right hand in front of her face, “Follow me,” and then, oh so subtly, touches it with the tip of her finger, “I wish to speak with you.”
But wait! What is her would-be suitor doing? In agitation, the deb passes her fan from hand to hand—“I see that you are looking at another woman.” The Scotsman half-smiles and nods in her direction, but in vain. The slow-moving fan cooling the girl’s flushed cheeks speaks as loudly as words: “Don’t waste your time. I don’t care about you.” He appears at her side but she uses the fan to tap her ear, “I wish to get rid of you.”
The hour grows late; the debutant’s mother beckons but the young man refuses to leave her side. She rests the fan on her lips for a moment with her little finger extended: “I don’t trust you. Goodbye.”
And then, at the door, she half-turns, and uses the fan to move a wisp of hair off her forehead: “Don’t forget me.”
In 1923, Agnes Miller wrote Linger-nots and the Mystery House, a young adult mystery. In the book, the Linger-nots discover a secret room containing war artifacts by interpreting clues left in the flowers a young seamstress used when making her sampler—the language of flowers. In the animated opening of Mystery on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theatre”, a lady is seen holding a fan in front of her face—fan language.
You never know what will pop up and where.
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