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Famous map of a woman’s heart tells only half the story

One of the best-known allegorical depictions of love has a rather pessimistic male twin.

Credit: Boston Rare Maps / Public domain

A map of the Open Country of Woman's Heart (left); its more obscure companion piece, the Fortified Country of Man's Heart (right).
Key Takeaways
  • Early 19th century heart-shaped map remains a popular allegory of love.
  • Looking beyond its shape, the map shows the social restrictions of its time.
  • Its lesser known male twin reveals an even more pessimistic take on love.

“Kiss me quick”: a humorous take on the social minefield that had to be navigated in early 19th century courtships. Credit: Currier & Ives, New York City (ca. 1840) / Public domain

Times and attitudes change, but love is love. We recognize its joys and perils even as it manifests itself in other ages and under different constraints. That may explain the enduring popularity of this decidedly antique allegory of love. It is entitled A Map of the Open Country of Woman’s Heart.

The map continues the centuries-old conceit that the various aspects of love (and marriage) can be represented as an actual landscape and that a map can serve as a guide into their interrelatedness — a road map of love, so to speak. The map’s title indeed goes on to specify that it “exhibit[s the heart’s] internal communications and the facilities and dangers to Travellers therein.”

Other famous amorous topographies include George Skaife Beeching’s Map of Matrimony (ca. 1880) and the Carte de Tendre (1654), a double-entendre invented for Madame de Scudéry’s historical novel Clélie (see Strange Maps #245). But what sets this map apart, and what may explain its continuing appeal, is that it presents the landscape of love not as random continents but in the very shape of a heart — not the actual organ but the stylized one we still associate with tender feelings (and playing cards).

By its recognizable form, sentimental topic, and visible antiquity, Woman’s Heart has become a staple of graphic design to this day. However, a closer examination reveals its contents to be more era-specific than its sympathetic shape suggests.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an eligible young woman looking for true love must be in want of a map.Credit: Boston Rare Maps / Public domain

The map is anonymous (“by a lady”) and undated, but thanks to a reference to its lithographer (D.W. Kellogg & Co. in Hartford, Connecticut), it can reliably be dated to 1833-1842. In other words, the map shows how women were supposed to feel about relationships, love, and marriage in mid-19th century New England. In short, love is an “open country” with many choices — all bad, dangerous, and detrimental except for one. Starting from top right:

  • The Land of Love of Display is washed by the Sea of Wealth and contains the towns of Belles-maisons and Mavoiture (fancy houses and carriages?), a Bay of Establishment, a Jewelry Inlet, an Opal Isle, and a Promontory of Golden Fetters. We did not fail to notice Old Man’s Darling Bay (sugardaddyism has some pedigree).
  • The Pyramids of Fashion dominate the Land of Love of Dress, home to the towns of Cashmere and Tambourton (?) and such natural features as the Satin Plains, Bonnet Ridge, Feather Hill, and the rivers Drain the Purse and Wilful Waste.
  • The region of Sentimentality is a particularly dangerous one with its Ego Mountains, the Plain of Susceptibility, its rivers of Novel Reading (vade retro, Jane Austen!), Pensive Musings, and the town of Dandy’s Rest.
  • How much safer is the region of Sentiment, dominated by Platonic Affection, Friendship, Hope, Enthusiasm, Good Sense, Discrimination (not that kind), and Prudence. This area is crisscrossed by the Patience Canal and the River of Consciousness. Did it really need to be underlined that these lead straight to the Country of Solid Worth?
  • Oh, but so narrow is the part of righteous love. Right next door is the Land of Selfishness, home to the City of Moi-Même, District No. 1, and the Indulgence River. In the region of Fickleness, you can visit Caprice, the Town of Lady’s Privilege, and the road of False Hopes. Obviously, the next stop is the Land of Oblivion.
  • North of there, we find the Land of Love of Admiration, with its districts of Vanity and Affectation, its Lake of Self Conceit, and the Flattery River; and the Land of Coquetry, almost bare except for the Tenting Ground of Uncertainty.
  • The northern borders of Coquetry and Love of Fashion are the High Grounds of Matrimonial Speculations with the Country of Eligibleness just beyond. But look out for the Valley of Mothers’ Artifice and the Province of Deception.

Dear heavens, there are so many ways the voyage out of the City and District of Love, at the center of the heart, can go wrong. Love’s saving grace is that it naturally borders and easily connects to Sentiment, the one and only pathway toward Esteem.

Clearly, love in 1830s Connecticut had to fit into a strict corset of social mores, ultimately dictated by religious piety. While this map showed that the true course was clear, it also demonstrated that the potential pitfalls were several — but many are no longer recognized as such in today’s consumerist society. (Few people still seem to worry about the corrupting nature of satin.)

So, Woman’s Heart is more out of step with today’s relationship goals than a superficial glance suggests. But there is more. The map is only one half of a long-forgotten pair, which together paint a decidedly pessimistic picture of love.

A map for the lesser half

A man’s heart is his fortress. Pity the woman wanting to conquer the citadel.Credit: Boston Rare Maps / Public domain

Boston Rare Maps recently sold only the second known pair of those maps. The other map shows the Fortified Country of Man’s Heart. This is a decidedly less “open” place than Woman’s Heart: the map shows its defences, and modes of exposure to attack.

Again, various regions are presented, only one of which leads to matrimonial bliss. Starting from top right:

  • The Lands of Better Judgment and Love of Ease both border a region where Irresolution reigns, feeding the Frozen Lakes of Indifference via the Trop de Trouble river. In the south, a Cigar Grove leads to a Morass of Indolence. Silence and Reflection are walled off from the outside world by a Wall of dread of a woman’s tongue.
  • Is all well in the land of Romance? It’s unclear: there is a river of Day Dreams (surely not a good thing) and one of Novel Reading (judged too Sentimental for women) and a Forest of Fancy. Nevertheless, this is the only part of Man’s Heart that is not walled off. An Angel Gate corresponds with an Avenue of Beauty.
  • To the west is the significantly larger Land of Love of Money, where we find Lakes Pocket Book and Bank Stock, a Sell Soul Market, Whisker Prairie, and the Corner Towers of Suspicion.
  • Northward, we enter the lands of Love of Eating (featuring Gingerbread Palace), Economy (with the River of Hard Earnings), and Love of Power (dominated in the south by the Mountains of Pride and in the north by the Inner Breast-work of Fears of Petticoat Government).

At the center of it all is the virtually impenetrable Citadel of Selflove. But for the breach along the Land of Romance, Man’s Heart is entirely surrounded by fortifications with only a handful of avenues communicating with a woman’s Good Sense, Housewifery, Fortune, and Good Temper.

Faced first with the difficulty of mastering her own heart, the eligible young woman of mid-19th century New England was then tasked with conquering that of an eligible young man. As this map shows, that heart was a citadel, designed to deflect virtually all amorous intentions. And no matter how well she prepared, the only surefire avenue into the undefended portion of his heart was one beyond anyone’s control: beauty.

How disheartening (no pun intended). Perhaps it is not surprising that the second of this pair of hearts has mostly gotten lost over time.

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