“Love-a-la-mode or Two dear friends." 1820. London Publish’d by Clinch 24 Princes St.
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This is a card with an engraving dated 1820 titled “Love-a-la-mode or Two dear friends” which exists in multiple copies in various collections. Individual copies may be annotated in handwriting to add further information.
Various versions are circulating online, from different sources and with different handwritten additions. As the engraving is hand-colored, different versions have different color schemes for the clothing. A high-resolution image can be found at: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1868-0808-8501. It is included here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.
The image shows a scene in a garden or park, with trees, bushes, and a lake with a swan in the background. In the foreground, there is a bench on which two women are seated.
The woman on the right is wearing a white, long-sleeved dress and has taken off a large-brimmed bonnet that sits on the bench next to her. The woman on the left is wearing a red, long-sleeved dress and a round turban-like cap with ostrich feathers. She is sitting with her left leg in the lap of the other woman. The woman in white has her right arm around the other woman’s shoulder. The woman in red has her left arm around the other woman’s torso, with her hand visible just under her arm. Their other two hands are clasped together in their laps. They are kissing.
In one of the copies I’ve been able to locate, there is a hand-printed identification below the two women identifying the woman in red as “Lady Warwick” and the woman in white as “Lady Strachan.”
Visible behind a bush near them and somewhat to the right are the torsos of two men. The one on the left is wearing a military uniform with what appears to be a bicorn hat. The man on the right is wearing a brown suit coat and a black top hat.
There are three word balloons, one located somewhat ambiguously over the women, but apparently associated with the woman in white, and one coming from each of the men.
The word-balloons read: [woman] “Little does he imagine that he has a female rival.” [man in military uniform] “What is to be done to put a stop to this disgraceful business?” [Man in top hat] “Take her from Warwick.”
At the right just below the image is printed “London Publish’d by Clinch 24 Princes St.”
Admiral Strachan served in the Royal Navy in action during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He married Louisa Dillon, Marchioness of Salsa in 1812. Given the dates, the Warwicks in the image are presumably Henry Greville, 3rd Earl of Warwick and Sarah Elizabeth whom he married in 1816. In 1820, Lady Warwick would have been 34 and Lady Strachan 37.
What the actual relationship may have been between the two women, or what the purpose of this satirical image was, has left no trace in the Wikipedia records of the individuals but might be retrievable from some more in-depth source.
Between the posture of the women and the commentary in the word-balloons, it’s clear that the women are to be understood to have a romantic and/or erotic relationship with each other. The implication is that their husbands are thought (by the women) to be unaware of this relationship, but that they would be expected to object, and indeed are shown objecting and plotting to put an end to the relationship.
But the image also provides various bits of information about expected or actual behavior. It shows the women engaging in affectionate behavior in a semi-public location. It shows several types of physical interactions that are intended to show the nature of their relationship: kissing, hand-holding, embracing, and entwining the legs. There’s a nod to the reality that certain types of hat would get in the way of kissing.
This image is interesting and useful for more than the implications for the specific people involved. It shows us a non-pornographic (if most likely satirical) vision of what female same-sex courtship in the Regency era might look like. It shows that such relationships were not only part of the public imagination, but were expected to be recognized as possible and meaningful. And the identification of female same-sex erotics as “a-la-mode” provides a counterpoint to the image of the early 19th century as a period when sapphic relationships in England were being erased from public consciousness in favor of the rise of an ideal of domestic morality.
If I turn up any more information about the socio-political meaning of this particular image, I'll add it later. Let me know if you have any leads!
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