The “Secret” Language of Fans

One of the things I absolutely love about the Victorian period is their fashion accessories, especially the fan and the parasol.  Consequently, you’ll find that I mention both of these items frequently in my books.  While the parasol was necessary as a sunshade, its size prohibited further use beyond that of style (unless, of course, it was used in extreme circumstances as a weapon ).  A fan, however, due to its compact structure and frequent deployment due to uneven temperatures or even olfactory issues, served many purposes.  In some instances, a fan could be decorated with jewels much like a necklace, in others it could be a means to make a simple political statement.  In THE SEDUCTION OF A DUKE, fans were used to communicate unspoken sentiments across a room.

Here’s my question – if there truly existed an unspoken language based on the positioning of the fan on one’s person that was understood by both the sender of the message and the receiver – could it be a secret language?  Wouldn’t both men and women have to be knowledgeable of the meanings?  And if these signals were flashed in a public venue, wouldn’t all and sundry know what’s up? And, quite honestly, wouldn’t some of these gestures look a little ridiculous?

I think the “secret” language of fans is really a matter of understanding and interpreting body language and gestures.  Just like a skilled poker player learns a person’s “tells”, so can an astute observer interpret another’s use of the fan to discover underlying intent or emotion.

But that’s no fun!   I’m reproducing here the secret language of fans that I uncovered in researching my scene in THE SEDUCTION OF A DUKE whereby the heroine and her rival participate in a silent battle of fan gestures to tell the other to back off.  This is compiled from multiple sources, thus you’ll note that several gestures are interpreted differently – adding to the fan language confusion.

See if you can determine what was “really” said in that unspoken battle in THE SEDUCTION OF A DUKE.

The fan placed near the heart:  “You have won my love.”
Resting the fan on the heart.  “My love for you is breaking my heart.”
A closed fan touched to the right eye:  “When may I be allowed to see you?
Letting the fan rest on the right cheek:  “Yes.
Letting the fan rest on the left cheek:  “No.
Fan held over left ear:  “I wish to get rid of you.”
Covering the left ear with an open fan:  “Do not betray our secret.
Fan opened wide:  “Wait for me.
Touching the finger to the tip of the fan:  “I wish to speak with you.”
Half-opened fan pressed to the lips:  “You may kiss me.
Putting the fan handle to the lips:  “Kiss me.
Resting the fan on her lips:  “I don’t trust you.
Opening and closing the fan rapidly:  “You are cruel
Quickly and impetuously closing the fan:  “I’m jealous.
Drawing the fan through the hand:  “I hate you!
Fanning slowly:  “I am married.
Fanning quickly.  “I am engaged.
Hands clasped together holding an open fan:  “Forgive me.”
Hiding the eyes behind an open fan:  “I love you.
Drawing the fan across the cheek:  “I love you.
Hitting her hand’s palm:  “Love me.”
Hitting any object:  “I’m impatient.”
Dropping the fan:  “We will be friends.”
Dropping the fan:  “I belong to you.”
Half-opening the fan over the face:  “We are being watched.
Twirling the fan in the left hand:  “We are being watched.”
Twirling the fan in the right hand:  “I love another.”
Passing the fan from hand to hand:  “I see that you are looking at another woman.

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