The Victorian celebration of death can’t help but catch our imagination; images of widows in trailing black veils, huge monuments to death, plumed horses and impossibly expensive mourning jewels offer a morbid beauty our contemporary existence lacks. Illustrated with a wide personal collection of mourning wear and ephemera, this talk attempts to cover the vast scope of British Victorian mourning etiquette from death, to burial and beyond.
In modern society, we are taught that funerals need to be quick affairs, that mourning is excessive and that dwelling on one’s grief is morbid. However, the latter part of the 19th century begged to differ. The era of Victorian death practice was an excess like no other.
For many Victorians, death was as much a part of everyday life as life itself – from investments in burial clubs to wearing the hair of the deceased, one’s expiration was intertwined within all areas of life. Following the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria’s elaborate performance of grief set the tone for social conventions and expectations thereafter. Newspapers nationwide advertised the latest mourning fashions alongside adverts for tonics and black-framed stationary while ladies’ magazines laid out strict rules for funeral behaviour and which brooches would best convey one’s suffering. This all-encompassing death business has been unrivalled since, but may well have something to teach us today about death acceptance and celebration.
Kate Cherrell is a PhD candidate at the University of Lincoln specialising in Gothic Literature and Victorian Mediumship. From this, her research has expanded through to 19th century women in death care, celebration and mourning practice. Her thesis focuses on the role of young, unmarried women within 19th Century Spiritualism and the wider influence of their written experiences on modern literature and genre fiction.
She holds a keen interest in cemeteries, memorials and supernatural folklore which she explores within her blog www.burialsandbeyond.com
Image courtesy of Austin Williams’ collection. Wade & Sons tradecard.
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