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An Oxford Companion to Valentine’s Day

By Daniel Parker


It’s big, it’s red, and it’s here. Valentine’s Day strikes fear into the hearts of men and women around the Western world like nothing else can. But you needn’t run scared of the Hallmark branded teddy bears. Oh no. Follow the sprinkling of rose petals, the sweet aroma of scented candles, and the dulcet tones of Phil Collins up the stairs to the luxury boudoir that is Oxford University Press. Whether you are single or not this Valentine’s Day, let the soothing knowledge in our online products chase your fears away with the following tips…

(1) If food be the food of love, eat on.

It’s a question as old as time: do you eat out for Valentine’s Day or brave the kitchen yourself in a foolhardy attempt to impress your partner? On the one hand, if you dine out, you won’t burn your kitchen down, desperately scraping ashen steak chops off the oven walls as your love weeps into her napkin. On the other hand, you don’t get to use cheesy lines such as: “If the world’s my oyster, then you’re my pearl” as you dish up champagne and oysters. I’m sorry Shakespeare.

However, be careful not to drink your champagne to your oysters on Valentine’s Day as, according to the OED, “to drink to one’s oysters” is to drink to get the worst possible deal. If your partner is a scholar of obsolete English phrases (a very sexy profession) he or she will be most put out.

If you decide to stay at home to cook, possibly inspired by the latest Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson recipe, for either two people or one, then our Food: A Very Short Introduction will provide all the information you need to cram before the big day. And if the food doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped, don’t panic, there’s always the wine

(2) Whisper only the sweetest of sweet nothings.

Tired of the same old cheesy one-liners? If you hear that it must have hurt when you fell from heaven one more time, will you be violently sick? If so, perhaps you should let Oxford Scholarly Editions Online inspire a loftier form of pillow talk. Whether you prefer Donne or Shakespeare, Marlowe or Aston, you could woo your lady the old fashioned way and recite words of romance to her. Warning: this may look odd in a crowded bar. Or maybe you could come up with some lines of your own. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” sounds like a good start to a sonnet.

However, if you haven’t met the partner of your dreams quite yet, maybe it’s best to stick to fantasy on Valentine’s Day, and indulge in the 50 shades of Mills and Boon instead of trawling the local bars. Did you know the founders of Mills and Boon (Gerald Mills and Charles Boon) actually began as educational publishers and only moved to romance fiction after the death of Gerald Mills in 1928? If you wanted to delve deeper and expand your knowledge of romantic fiction, the novelist Barbara Cartland wrote a staggering 723 romantic fiction novels in her lifetime. Best grab a bottle of red, pick up a tub of ice-cream, and pour a bubble bath. It’s going to be a long session.

Valentinesdaytree

(3) Three is sometimes not the magic number.

Thomas Parr (d.1635), known as ‘Old Parr’, was said to have committed adultery at 105 years, and married for the second time at the spritely age of 122 years. There are also three men on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography database that had the nickname ‘Cupid’, including the late Prime Minister Henry John Temple. Temple, despite being married, was known as a “man about town” and “a considerable womanizer”. Most women who met him failed to resist his charm. In fact, so proud was he of his own virility that he recorded his sexual successes and failures in his pocket diary.

If you ever feel bitter towards those in relationships at this time of year, think about the following tale and rejoice in your freedom. The subjects of Georg Matthias Bose, an 18th century German professor, must have wished they were single (or at least left alone) after he was finished with his experiments. Professor Bose wanted to discover the “bridge between experimental and erotic culture” by interfering with other people’s relationships, and his favourite party trick was to persuade the lady in a couple to stand on an insulated stool while a hidden operator charged her body with electricity. Her unsuspecting gentleman partner would then be invited to kiss the lady — and sparks would quite literally fly.

Congratulations! You now know almost as much about celebrating Valentine’s Day as the composer Richard Arnell (1917-2009), who was married a mind-boggling eight times. Good luck out there, brave Lothario, will you be my Valentine?

Daniel Parker is Publicity Assistant for Oxford University Press and does not like the sound of Georg Matthias Bose at all. You can find more about the Oxford resources mentioned in this article in Oxford Reference, Oxford Index, Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Who’s Who, and Oxford Dictionaries.

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Image credit: Tree decorated for Valentine’s Day in San Diego, California. Photo by Johntex. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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