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Francesca Beauman: Falling in Love With the History of Personal Ads and Dating in America

Francesca Beauman shares what inspired her most recent history title (Matrimony, Inc.), what section of the newspaper she always turned to first, why writers need to love their subject, and more!

Francesca Beauman grew up in London, studied History at Cambridge, and began her career as the host and writer of numerous British TV shows, including "Show Me The Funny" (Channel 4), "Heroes of History" (Channel 5), and "Bring It On" (BBC1).

Francesca Beauman

Francesca Beauman

(How My Love for a Subject Led to a Book.)

She is the author of six books: How to Wear White, Shapely Ankle Preferr’d, How to Crack an Egg With One Hand, The Woman’s Book, and The Pineapple: King of Fruits. She remains the world’s leading expert on the history of the pineapple and the history of personal ads.

She is a regular chairperson at literary festivals and arts events, a trustee of the Holburne Museum in Bath, and also works part-time at London’s most beautiful bookshop, Persephone Books.

In this post, Beauman shares what inspired her most recent history title, what section of the newspaper she always turned to first, why writers need to love their subject, and more!


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This course guides beginning and intermediate writers through elements of how to write a personal essay, helping them identify values expressed in their stories and bring readers into the experiences described. Writers learn how to avoid the dreaded responses of “so what?" and “I guess you had to be there" by utilizing sensory details, learning to trust their writing intuitions, and developing a skilled internal editor to help with revision.

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Name: Francesca Beauman
Literary agent: Clare Conville at Conville & Walsh
Title: Matrimony, Inc.: from personal ads to dating apps, a story of America looking for love
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Release date: October 6, 2020
Genre: History
Previous titles: The Pineapple: king of fruits (history of the pineapple); Shapely Ankle Preferr'd (history of British personal ads); The Woman's Book; How to Crack an Egg With One Hand; How to Wear White

Elevator pitch for the book: Ever used a dating app or website? Matrimony, Inc. puts them in vivid historical context, starting with America’s first personal ad in 1759.


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What prompted you to write this book?

Ever since I was old enough to appreciate the pleasures of reading the Sunday newspapers, I have always turned to the personal ads first. I can still remember some of my favorites: “Woman who likes pasta seeks man who likes sauce.” “Grumpy, poor, complicated man seeks same but prettier.” Each is its own tiny detective story, asking the reader to unravel the intimate mysteries held within. 

(When Personal Isn't Good Enough.)

A cursory search one rainy Tuesday evening, however, revealed that the history of them was very little known. I quickly discovered that personal ads have been around far longer than most people realize and constitute a huge body of previously-unrevealed evidence about the history of some of our most intimate desires. 

I wrote a book about the history of British personal ads first, then loved the subject so much—and it’s also become ever more relevant with the rise of dating apps like Tinder—that I decided to follow it up with a book about the history of American personal ads. And here we are!

How long did it take to go from idea to publication?

It took about eight long years from idea to publication; blame my three kids. The idea didn’t change much at all during the process, though.


Were there any surprises in the publishing process for this title?

While I’ve written five previous books, this is the first to be published in the U.S., so I’ve had to learn a whole new language of publishing, for example “galley” instead of “proof.” 

Plus, you know, it’s hitting the shelves in the midst of a pandemic, so that’s a surprise to be sure...

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Every single old personal ad I uncovered constituted some sort of surprise, but more specifically what constantly amazed me was the extent to which they could be found in every state in the nation, in almost every local newspaper in the nation in fact, throughout the 19th and sometimes even 18th century. 

(5 Elements That All Good Rom-Coms Should Include.)

There were also huge numbers of ads from women really early on: “Husband Wanted,” etc. So that was exciting to research and write about.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

A brand new perspective on the making of America. A giggle. A weep. A “did-you-know?”

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Writing a book is really lonely and boring, so you’ve got to really, really, REALLY love your subject to make it worth the slog.

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