Wednesday, June 6, 2012


It's my pleasure to welcome back Donna MacMeans to Over Coffee. I thought it quite interesting to find that there were personal ads for finding companions and mates as early as the 1800's. Precursor to dating sites in our day. A lesson in the more things change the more they stay the same.
One commenter has the opportunity to win an autographed copy of Donna's latest release, The Casanova Code

A few years back, a friend sent me an article about Victorian personal ads:  man seeks woman, woman seeks man...yes, they had those sort of things back then, only they were more eloquent in their phrasing.  Here’s an example:

B.78 Middlesex – Age 25; fair, slight, fond of music, and a lively temperament; would like to make the acquaintance of an educated, refined man not under 30; not necessarily for marriage; wishes to correspond with a gentleman who is cultured and of a sympathetic disposition, either a business or professional man, but must be at least 30, and not more than 50; not a clergyman; a man of broad views and fond of music.July 1898

The ads make perfect sense when you think about it.  The industrial revolution brought people into the cities, expanding the population and changing the methods used to find a life partner.  Personal ads came into being about fifty years after newspapers began to widely circulate, but it wasn’t until the Victorian period that the ads became common.

Which got me thinking...(always a dangerous development)...what if someone knew that a notorious rogue was behind the placement of an ad for a quiet, unassuming female, and what if that someone felt obligated to warn any respondents of the danger they faced.  Thus my group of women determined to save other women from unscrupulous men was born - The Rake Patrol.

I discovered something interesting in my research of personal ads that helped shape the first book in my Rake Patrol series.  Sometimes the personal ads were written in code because the two correspondents didn’t want others “eavesdropping” on their otherwise public conversations. I gave my heroine, Edwina Hargrove, the ability to break code and read some of those secret conversations.  That particular talent gets her in more trouble than she ever imagined possible.


“A refined gentleman, age 25, of wealth and education, seeks the acquaintance, with a view to matrimony, of a high-minded, kind-hearted lady who prefers an evening of quiet conversation to the lively demands of society.”

Edwina Hargrove knows that this “gentleman” was, in fact, Ashton Trewelyn, a rake notorious for seducing the young and naive. In fact, five decent women have already been tricked and bundled off to the continent for scandalous purposes. There was a way to thwart his scheme though—by shadowing this devilishly handsome Casanova and warning his prey.  If only it were that simple.

Wounded and weary, Ashton Trewelyn returns home to London from the King’s Royal Rifles but soon discovers a coded message that has implications for the Crown and his family.  His only hope to unravel the mystery lies in the enigmatic Edwina’s ability to recognize patterns.  Even as he leads her on a path of secret societies and risque temptations, he discovers she arouses his jaded soul with temptations of her own.  Must they risk everything to decipher Casanova’s Code? EXCERPT

Secret Codes, secret societies, sexy heroes - what more could you want in a romance?  I had a great time writing THE CASANOVA CODE and I’m hoping your readers will enjoy it as well.  Someone leaving a comment on the blog today will win an autographed copy.

I suppose the modern equivalent of personal ads are the online dating services.  
  • Have you ever tried one?  Would you ever try one?  What attributes would you advertise for in a partner?  Would you be honest about yourself or take creative license (grin)?  Let’s chat!

(BTW, the first personal ad came from a book called “Classified, The secret history of the personal column”  written by H.G. Cocks, which according to the copyright page, stands for Harry Cocks  - Yup, you read that right.  Poor man!)

Before beginning her writing career in earnest, Donna MacMeans kept books of a different nature. A certified public accountant, she recently abandoned the exciting world of debits and credits to return to her passion: writing witty and sensuous romances. Her debut novel, The Education of Mrs. Brimley, won the 2006 Golden Heart for Best Long Historical. Her second book, The Trouble with Moonlight, won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award for historical love and laughter. Originally from Towson, Maryland, she now resides in central Ohio with my husband, two adult children and her kitty keyboard companion, Shadow.
Visit her website 


~Sia McKye~ said...

This one sounds like a lot of fun, Donna! I like the excerpt.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Wonderful to read,


Donna MacMeans said...

Sia - I had great fun writing this one and I think it shows in the reading. It has a sexy component that isn't mentioned in the blurb - Japanese erotica. Yes, they had that back then too (grin). It all adds for a fun, sexy read.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Yvonne -
Thank you!

aretha zhen said...

Wowww this one is definitely a keeper. What a new idea! A dating ad on regency era. Fascinating !

Jo said...

Sounds like a fun story.

I actually know two or three couples who have come together through dating agencies on line and seem to be happy. Personally I couldn't imagine using such a service, I would be scared of whom I might meet.

L.G.Smith said...

What a fascinating premise! I love the code breaking angle.

Donna MacMeans said...

Aretha - Well it's a bit beyond the Regency era. It's Victorian. I needed to place it at a time when one of the ladies of the Rake Patrol could work at a newspaper and get the inside scoop on who was placing the ads. (But still wear those fabulous clothes and sometimes carry a parasol. The parasol is important :-). In the Regency period, the only women working for a newspaper would be the wives of the owner - think Mrs. Beeton.

But it is different as far as historical romances go but it's all so fun. Hope you give it a try.

Donna MacMeans said...

Jo -

I know what you mean. But I've been to weddings of people who met through those online matching agencies. One wedding resulted when the two computer-matched people didn't exactly click, but the guy said - "I have a friend who would be perfect for you." And he was!

There must be something to it (not that I'd be anxious to give it a try).

Donna MacMeans said...

L.G. -

It is a bit different, isn't it? I originally was planning to have my heroine do crossword puzzles to show she was smart, but crossword puzzles didn't become popular until WWI. As I was bemoaning this fact, a facebook friend suggested cryptograms. I started to research those and then learned that codes were used in Victorian personal ads. I even read some stories of people discovering the code and placing an ad in the same code, responding to the original coded message. Freaked the original senders out. LOL

Anyway, I incorporated this into the story and it just took off.

Oberon Wonch said...

Hi, Donna! I enjoyed your last book and can't wait to read this one. What a clever premise. And that title is to die for!

Vivian A said...

I love this concept Donna. I'm definitely going to read it. I love puzzles of all sorts--my daughter started and then left on holiday right after we spread out a 1500 pieces jigsaw and being the obsessive person I am, I have to finish it.

Re: Online dating
I'd never have the moxy for it. Then again, I watched my brother whore his way through a site so maybe I'm jaded. I prefer introductions from existing friends. That's how I met my husband.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Oberon - waving madly

Great to see you here. I hope you love Casanova Code. It's a lot of fun. Yeah - The title was a gift. Sometimes it works out that way.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Vivian!

I think you'll especially enjoy Casanova Code. Not sure that you'll have to actually solve the secret, but you'll certainly understand different types of codes after reading it.

I might have had the moxy when I was younger. After all, I met my husband of 39 years in a bar many, many moons ago. I certainly wouldn't do that now, so many online dating is a more viable platform...but I'm not so sure. I hope I won't be faced with the need for many more years (grin).

~Sia McKye~ said...

I'm so glad this one is Victorian, Donna. I'm so tired of Regency, to be honest.

There was soooo many exciting things happening in the Victorian era.

I can see where Japanese erotica would very much come into play in this time period. I'm going to have to check this one out and see how you've blended it all together.

Donna MacMeans said...

And the clothes were so cool in the Victorian period!

Compared to the Regency period, Victorian England was much more sexually repressed. All that repression leaked out into these incredibly sexy clothes with bustles to emphasize the derriere, tiny waists and corsets to lift the boobs up to perky status.

The Industrial revolution made it so you didn't have to be a titled lord to have big bucks. In the 1890s women are coming into their own and lobbying for rights. It was a fascinating time.

Johanna Garth said...

Personal ads and sexy heroines. All I could think is the more things change the more they stay the same.

~Sia McKye~ said...

To have big bucks or have a social life. I love the clothes too.

Women were into all sorts of societies that catered to new learning and the newest thoughts on human rights.

Tracy Jo said...

Pick me! Pick me! :-) The book sounds fantastic. That is very interesting about those ads back in the true, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Nice to meet you Donna and great post Sia!

LuAnn McLane said...

Donna, I love the premise! Sounds like a sexy, fun read. I'm adding it to my summer reading list. Congratulations on the new release!

Donna MacMeans said...

Johanna - Ain't it the truth!

Funny how as soon as a new technology is invented, it's harnessed to pair men with women. LOL. Isn't that sort of how Facebook began? College guys wanting to meet college women? Maybe that's why romance is so popular. It's a conflict with which we are all familiar.

Hope you give Casanova Code a try -

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Tracy Jo -

Nice to meet you as well and so glad you find the premise interesting. That's what I love about writing. Sometimes a great book is the result of a bunch of happy accidents. Serendipity. A serious newspaper article leads to a fun, fiction premise. A fan's suggestion changes the course of the story in a different way. Sometimes it feels like someone smarter than me is just pointing the way. Love it!

Donna MacMeans said...

Hey LuAnn - waving madly

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you love Casanova Code. You know where to find me if you don't LOL.

Carol Kilgore said...

I love the sound of this book. I know I'll love reading it. Nice to meet you, Donna.

Waving to Sia :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

What an intriguing idea for a book!

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Carol -

Thank you! I hope you'll give it a try. It really is a fun read.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Diane!

Thanks! It is sort of intriguing. It's sort of the same (as in romance) but different (with a different sort of premise). Crossing my fingers that it's well accepted. Hope you'll give it a try.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

At least the ads weren't as weird back then as they are now!

Donna MacMeans said...


The Victorian ads didn't have all the abbreviations that the modern ones do. In a way the modern ones are in code. LOL

flchen1 said...

Hi, Donna! What a fun post! I've never tried a personal ad, but always found them great story starters :) Looking forward to the Casanova Code!

Donna MacMeans said...

Hey Flchen -

LOL - Well, in my case it certainly was. Oh wait, you mean to get casual conversation going in the current world - yeah - works great for that too. (grin). Hope you give Casanova Code a try!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia and Donna .. what a great sounding book - and such an interesting resource - I had never thought of that side of life before .. how fascinating.

Cheers Hilary

Kat Sheridan said...

Screaming with laughter over "Harry Cocks!" And I'm right in the middle of this book and loving every single second of it! I do love a feisty heroine and the man who can appreciate her!

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Hilary!

It's been sort of an overlooked side of romance. I never really thought about personal ads until my friend sent me that NY TImes article. But, in hindsight, it makes perfect sense that they'd exist. And if it exists - I can exploit it. LOL.

Hope you give it a try Hilary. Casanova Code is a lot of fun.

Donna MacMeans said...

Thanks Kat -

I see Sia put that reference in fine print - which is fine with me. It was just to funny to completely ignore.

Glad you're enjoying Casanova Code.

bn100 said...

I've never tried one. That's funny.