Matrimonial Maps

Consider this post a follow-up to last year’s Maps of the Human Heart, the most popular post of my blog so far, by far. I’m not tooting my own horn, but merely acknowledging how very popular maps are in general, and allegorical maps in particular. The other posts I have written about maps have been popular too, but artistic and metaphorical maps much more so than straightforward representations, historic or otherwise. The best allegorical maps fall in the period from the French Revolution to World War One; I think it’s really interesting that once the world was mapped scientifically there was a desire to distort and play with its representation for a variety of purposes, both political and personal.

Matrimonial maps fall right into this period; they are, for the most part, a nineteenth-century phenomenon. While I was searching through the archives of sold lots at Skinner’s site the other day, looking for recent prices fetched by fancy chairs, I came across a matrimonial map that I had not seen before, and that led to today’s post. This watercolor map was apparently painted in 1824, and its $400-$600 estimate was exceeded by a selling price of over $2000. People like maps.

Matrimony Skinner 1824 framed

Matrimony map Skinner

matrimony-map HBCA

The recently-sold Skinner 1824 map in its frame and close-up, and a similar hand-drawn Map of Matrimony from a nineteenth-century Canadian autograph book, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives.

United States of Agitation! Kingdom of Suspense! Land of Expectation and the Isles of Envy and Spinsters: the often-dangerous terrain and waters of matrimony. Let’s compare these early nineteenth-century matrimonial maps with those that came before and after. Everyone seems to agree that the first matrimonial map, or at least the first published matrimonial map was “A New Map of the Land of Matrimony”, dated 1772. The image below is from Katherine Harmon’s great book You are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination (2004), which is a fount of information, imagery and inspiration, but the original map is in the collection of Yale University Library. The matrimonial fan-map was published in London about a decade later: less treacherous waters here, though there is a desert on one border of the “Land of Matrimony”.

A New Map of the Land of Matrimony 1772 Yale

Matrimony Fan

Also from Great Britain is the “Island of Matrimony” charted and published by John Thompson around 1810. I’m not really getting all of the (classical) regional references on this particular map, but the various water bodies have pretty straightforward designations: the Lake Content, Disappointment Harbor, Turbulent Ocean in the south, Ocean of Delights in the north. Everything is measured on the scale of “80 love links to the mile”.

Matrimony Island 1810

A Map of the Island of Matrimony by John Thompson, Edinburgh (?), 1810. Jonathan Potter, Ltd.

Beware of Divorce Island on the undated Matrimonial Map below, which features a “Lake of Contempt” rather then a “Lake of Content”. The routes toward happy and unhappy marriages are indicated on Philadelphia lithographer John Dainty’s novel & interesting game of matrimony, a more original take on cartographical matrimony.

Matrimonial-Map-NLI

Matrimonial Map Dainty 1845

Nineteenth-century Matrimonial Map, National Library of Ireland; The Novel & Interesting Game of Matrimony, lithographed and published by John Dainty of Philadelphia, Library of Congress.

In the later nineteenth century chromolithography is going to make everything more vivid, including matrimonial maps. The “Map of Matrimony” below, published by C.S. Beeching in London about 1870, retains the regions, references and tone of maps from a century earlier: the island of matrimony lies halfway between the Land of Spinsters and the Country of Single Men, surrounded by wavering waters of introduction, admiration, doubt, and felicity.

Victorian Map of Matrimony circa 1870


10 responses to “Matrimonial Maps

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