In 1986, Jane Seymour wrote a book. It was called Jane Seymour’s Guide to Romantic Living. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can acquire a copy for mere pennies—which I did. Truly magnificent things lie within.
Long before Seymour secured her place in the pop culture canon with her role as Dr. Quinn, she was best known as the very glamorous Queen of the Miniseries. Today one would capitalize on this sort of fame with a cookbook or apparel startup, but the ‘80s were a different time. What’s more, Seymour had an entire philosophy of life to convey to her fans—that of “Romantic Living.” The caps are hers, by the way. The dedication: “To my husband, David, who inspires me constantly, and my parents, who introduced me to Romantic Living.”
So what’s Romantic Living?
Seymour developed a whole philosophy about Romantic Living. “I’m inspiring people to be more creative with their lives,” Seymour said in a 1986 interview, “to allow their fantasies to become realities, as I have done.” Take it away, Jane:
I think that romance is the creation of that special moment, that a romantic life is full of those creations. I want to share with you my beliefs about romance and its importance in every part of life, and I hope that by doing this I’ll be able to impart the sense that, while it’s important to live a romantic life, it’s also remarkably easy. It takes a heightened awareness of the world around you, being open to the romantic possibilities of a dinner at home, a business lunch, a vacation with your family, a rainy Sunday with your children.
“I’ll show you how simple it is to transform your bedroom into a romantic haven, to bring a sense of romantic adventure to a children’s birthday party, to create a romantic picnic from a local farmers’ market, even to set the stage for a dramatically exciting dinner party,” she promised her reader.
But don’t assume this is merely ‘80s-era Martha Stewart lifestyle guidance with more mauve ruffles. Oh, no. This is about being your best self.
I want you to realize, as I did, that you can be the person you wish to be. I want you to see your dream person and to become that person. Your dream person needn’t remain a figment of your imagination. You can walk right into your dreams and come out a new person.
Most of all, she wants you to consider the possibility that that new person wears veils and adds antique cameo buttons to her mass-produced clothing.
Occasionally, one gets a distinct Meryl-Streep-in-She-Devil vibe: “That’s one reason I wanted to write this book, to remind people not to lose all the old values, not to change roles overnight. Women need men. And men need women,” she says at one point. At another she suggests that, “Women, if they wish to, should allow themselves their femininity, their sense of motherhood, and their drive to accomplish. And men should continue to enjoy the chase, the image of the knight in shining armor. We should all celebrate our differences.” She also talks about bringing romance back to “this century of office blocks and superwomen.”
I’m getting the sense all the mauve and teal and ruffles I associate with the 1980s might have been driven by some deeper anxieties about changing gender roles.
That said, you don’t need to be romantic with a man. You can be romantic for yourself: “It is romantic to want to live in beautiful surroundings, to watch the birds, to keep your mystery. Whether or not you share all this with a husband or lover is hardly relevant to whether you are romantic or not.” Nor does Romantic Living limit you to a life of ruffles, Seymour assures:
“I can be a wild sexy creature but I’m also the Victorian lady who can sit and do needlepoint for hours on end, covered in lace, with my feet on a little cushion. I can also be the eighties woman who loves to work out in a gym and lift weights and sweat and feel the muscles burn.”
But, you know, ruffles are nice.
But “I want practical tips and tricks,” you say.
Well, you’re in luck.
- “Even something as mundane as bathing can be transformed into an exquisite experience. One friend likes to give her husband a facial and a massage in the bath. He loves it. He says: “Wives don’t do this. Only girlfriends or mistresses do this.”
- “If you feel you would like to wear a velvet gown but don’t dare: dare. If you can’t afford one: make it yourself. Learn to sew, and sew beautifully. Nothing is impossible if you want it enough.”
- “Don’t just admire from afar. When you watch television, don’t just dreamily stare at the scene in which a couple make love by the fireside; instead, make love by the fireside.”
- “And wherever I go I take my toe shoes, carefully stuffed with potpourri.”
- “My long hair is one of my best features, so I make the most of it and wash and condition it every day.”
- For working moms: “Dare to have the occasional decadent weekend away with your husband, have the occasional self-indulgent lunch all by yourself in a grand restaurant with a marvelous book, take the children off to beach and watch how well they know how to take pleasure from life.” (She devotes six paragraphs to picking/working with nannies.)
- “I actually believe in an emergency kit: candles, a bottle of fizzy wine or champagne, and some lump-fish roe or caviar should always be kept available to make an occasion of an ordinary day.”
- “Fluttering your eyelashes isn’t good flirting; listening with intelligence and interest is the way that romantic, twentieth-century women flirt.”
- “Veils are especially suitable for romantics. Even just a little veiling over a hat. A veil provides that air of distance, or dreaminess, of perhaps some past grief. It intrigues.”
- “Don’t be too respectably married. Keep an element of mystery, of unpredictability, of danger between you both.”
- While discussing clothes: “Be the witch woman, the temptress, the outdoor girl. Don’t bore him with your down-to-earth approach to sex and love. Don’t bore yourself.”
- “If you always wear classic clothes, why not add an antique lace collar to your plain cardigan.”
- “Hang your collection of straw hats in your hall instead of smart wallpaper.”
- “Always have candles handy.”
- “When life seems a little dull and run-of-the-mill, why not go to the airport, look at the schedule, and catch the first plane to wherever it’s going? Or catch the first bus, or the first train.” If you ever catch Jane Seymour on the Bolt bus to Buffalo, you have your explanation.
- “It is not difficult to hang material from the ceiling to make a draped fabric canopy that falls from the ceiling to make a draped fabric canopy that falls around the bed, giving it the effect of a fourposter.”
- “Make your environment fragrant, have beautiful flowers around, spray fragrance in the bath and on light bulbs so that the heat makes the room full of soft perfume.” What?!?!?!
Best of all:
Change your name, change the color of your hair, change your habits experiment in order to discover who you are. Don’t just think, I am this person who has dark hair and is called such and such and lives at such and such an address. Your real self, who is perhaps waiting for you to discover her, might have blond hair or bright red hair, she might wear glasses or own a pair of frivolous shoes or go out on blind dates. Try something different.
Yes, that’s right: Jane Seymour says maybe you should dye your hair and run off to Monte Carlo. And who’s to say she’s wrong?
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images via Atheneum Book