Some Fascinating Facts About the Victorian Era
The Victorian era has long been considered an era of contrasts. We have the ideal image, the one they all attempted to show, and then the reality. They were so contrasting that unless you knew otherwise you may not even know they were in the same time frame. Here are some interesting facts about the Victorian era you may not have know.
– They were obsessed with Egypt. This obsession led to the unwrapping or unrolling of mummies. They attended public lectures and exhibitions. There they would see “experts” cut into mummies. There was also a huge influx of travelers to Egypt and often mummies would be brought home from those as well.
– They were professional mourners. I mean they took mourning very very seriously. Poor sanitation, awful personal hygiene, tainted water, contagious diseases, tainted food, and unsanitary living conditions meant that Victorian life was rife with danger. Basically, these people attended A LOT of funerals. There were entire industries devoted to nothing more than the mourning rituals. Mourning clothes, mourning stationary, funeral wreaths, funeral biscuits, and other macabre fascinations were the rule of the day. Often women wore mourning rings, a ring often made of onyx or jet and featured a hair from the deceased, or they would bottle their mourning tears. Women were often hired, blond young women, to stand by the grave site of a bachelor and cry inconsolably, so that he had seemed properly adored.
– They fully believed in hypnotism, divination, and spiritualism. They would attend many public events where they would be hypnotized, speak to dead loved ones, or have the future read in tea leaves. This was big money but as you would suspect most of the “professionals” were just very gifted actors.
– Collecting was a major part of their lives. Most would specialize in one subject but there were some that were indiscriminate to ridiculous proportions. Their collections often contained “curiosities” such as zoological, botanical, geological, or archaeological finds. Shrunken heads, seashells, antique weapons, clockworks, mermaids, etc. It didn’t matter, if they felt it was odd they loved it. They devoted entire cabinets to the collection. The cabinet would often be an entire room of their homes devoted to their curiosities. Most towns and villages also had a curiosity shop, which would sell anything odd. Now, it should surprise no one that often these curiosity purveyors were nothing more than frauds who were creative!
– Victorians loved pornography. Nineteenth century gentleman had a pretty big appetite for hard-core erotic literature and photographs. They were often sold under the counter by agents in secret. The authors of erotica, usually Anonymous, gave their audiences a wide range of topics, some that would make Christian Grey blush!
– Taxidermy was all the rage. Victorians didn’t practice the art of taxidermy themselves but they did love to collect it. Most notably the world of Walter Potter. His taxidermy included guinea pigs playing cricket, cute kittens getting married, or a kitten tea party. They were adorable until you realize they are all dead, which is kind of creepy. Allegedly they all died of natural causes but I think we can all agree that twelve kittens dying at once is a little shady. However you look at it, though, Potters museum attracted huge crowds and definitely popularized this disgusting craze!
– Indoor water closets were in most fine houses by at least 1870, however these were still very primitive in deed. They were designed by a man named Thomas J. Crapper, you can now tell exactly where toilets got their nickname! Tubs, however, were still the old bucket up the stairs situation. This meant that by the time the maid got the hot water all the way to the tub, it was cold. This was an era when most people still believed that exposure to cold would mean certain illness and possible death. So needless to say, sponge baths and perfumes were really how people stopped the body odors, lovely isn’t it?
– Ever wonder why the Victorians wore mostly black? Well, besides the whole mourning thing, there was a very practical reason for it. Pollution. Yep, the Victorians had to worry about pollution as well. Their pollution was from the burning of coal, which left a nasty thick cloud over most industrialized cities. This meant that women who wore light colors would come home to find a graying of their dresses. It also meant that walls had to be cleaned in the spring to get off the black soot all over the walls from burning coal all winter, hence the term spring cleaning. It also turned most ceilings black!
– They were confused sexually. There have been entire books devoted to this subject, so I will not even pretend to be an expert. Here’s what I do know. It was not proper for a woman to enjoy sex, therefore most men were quite frustrated. Homosexuality was a nearly accepted practice. Technically it was illegal but it was a quietly accepted practice. If any man joined a Greek fraternity, they were generally involved in homosexual behavior. It’s actually a very intriguing study and worth reading into.