A culture of death


Death is an ever present reality for us today and yet it remains at a distance because of the huge amount of coverage on television, the internet and various other media outlets.

The Victorians had death close up and personal so much so it created a ‘death culture’, a way to deal coping with death and the pain of grief.

How did the Victorians understand death, well they were surrounded by it. The Population in England is 53 million but back in 1851 it was 16.8 million but by the end of that century it more or less doubled. You could expect to live to the grand age of around 40 years and in 1871 the average woman was having 5.5 children with three out of every ten babies died before their first birthday. That’s a lot of death grief and pain for a nation.

The chances are you were more likely to die in a hospital than be cured, all in all people died regularly and they died in the home where everyone got to see the (some time) torment and pain of passing.

And the grieve…where might one look for an example but to your ruling monarch Queen Victorian who grieved for her beloved Prince Albert who died at the young age of 42, she mourned her deep loss and sadness for over 40 years and wore black the queen wore black at all times. This set a trend which in the end became etiquette all over the empire and world as the British Empire expanded.

STL31GRAVES_333766kThe example was set so women would follow with specially made black mourning attire for up to two years and spent much of that time alone, no entertainment, no joy just misery, and a visible misery for all to see. If you had visited, that is if you were able too you would’ve found mirrors, doorknobs. anything that could give levity like a piano or harpsichord covered in black mourning cloth.

Then after the appropriate time and this would really depend on whom had died shades of mourning would change from purple to grey, from grey to white and then to slowly show oneself back in society proper. Men of course just got on with the business of the day being stoic, straight backed and stiff upper lip.

Like now Victorians would have keep sakes remember their loved ones by but some and this seems quite gruesome to me, might even going to the extent of taking photos of dead propped up to look like they are alive.

In many ways maybe a show of grief would be good in our culture today, I feel that death is too hidden, for instance (and sadly) one in four women who get pregnant will experience a miscarriage and yet I know of very few women who have suffered this and suffer they do…in silence.

Maybe we could learn a little from our forebears.


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