Wednesday, February 9, 2011

From afar, I love the Victorian era.

I thought I would precede my next assessment with the phrase "from afar" before going any further.  What does "from afar" mean in this subject? It means that while I can appreciate some of the history, the advances, the architecture, the ideas of the Victorian era in history, I don't think I'd enjoy living IN the Victorian era.

For example, I wouldn't want to be chastised for showing my ankles in my dress.  I wouldn't want to don a full-body bathing suit in a dressing cart on the beach (black, please.)  I wouldn't want to be in Victorian London prior to the revamping of the sewage system (see "The Great Stink") or The Burials Act of 1851.

Uh - the what?

The Burials Act of 1851.  With the influx of cholera issues plaguing London, The Burials Act of 1851 was established to prevent burials from taking place in, what boils down to, highly-populated areas.  You see, what was happening, was more people were dying in London than London had room for.  Graves were being dug on top of existing graves, small areas of 4,000 sq feet was being populated by 65,000 corpses or so, etc.  You get the idea...not a pleasant picture.  There's a saying that has gone around that says, "by the smell alone, you could tell if you were approaching a cemetery or the Thames."

Of course, that's not something you read about all too often, is it?  What about the revamping of the sewage system?  Yay! Sewers!  History tells us that "sewer systems" had been around since Roman times.  That's all well and good, but "sewer systems" and "sewer systems that work effectively" are two different things, and let's just say that London didn't fall under the "that work effectively" section.  "Rivers of raw sewage" should come to mind.  And let's not forget the previously aforementioned "you could tell if you were approaching...the Thames [River.]"  Sewers?  River? You draw the map.

I can only appreciate the Victorian era from afar because I love reading literature written during and during and about the Victorian era.  Dickens? Yes, please though I know of at least one friend who would disagree.  I'm a Victorian nerd.  While friends are reading fiction books on vampires (NOT Twilight!) you're more likely to catch me reading sanitary reports from 1860: London or child labor in Victorian London.

Some people call the Victorian era "creepy," but what they decide is creepy, I think of as unique and honorable.  Okay so Queen Victoria's husband, Albert, died while she was reigning.  She became a die-hard-to-the-end widow (complete with black taffeta and widow bonnet versus crown.)  The death of a loved one is sad.

On the other hand, we have the commoners celebrating life even upon death.  We have the mentality that cemeteries shouldn't be a location to fear and dread.  They should be treated like a "public park" and enjoyed by the living.  Photography was still pretty darn expensive in the Victorian era, and sure, you can find wedding portraits, but the primary event photographed for commoners was death.  Yeah, some of the photos are creepy (such as the child posing, "asleep," with its teddy bear while the child's living sibling stands beside them or the photographs in which eyeballs were drawn on the photograph to make it appear as though the child's corpse was a living child.) 

I can appreciate that some folks in the Victorian era had the outlook on life of, "well, shit.  I might as well try to do something. It can't get much worse, can it?"

I can love the Victorian era from afar because even though there was such tragedy during it (including child labor, unsanitary living conditions, etc.)  by bringing these issues to light, we, speaking in the general sense of "people," were able to identify and attempt to rectify these issues.

It's sad that in some parts of the world they're stuck on "identify" with no hopes of "rectify."


Laura L. said...

You make me laugh, lady! Still, I get where you are coming from. I prefer the Regency Era before the strict limitations of the Victorian Era came into play. Interestingly enough the Victorian Era had the highest rate of patents for certain adult devices until the 20th century. They just didn't dare talk about such things. ;)

Jack said...

@Laura: Porn 101 taught us all about those "certain adult devices." Now that I know how they were marketed, seeing those "antique muscle massagers" on display in Victorian homes in NJ makes me say, "ewwww!" and then snicker ("if they only knew.")

Jack said...

P.S. "Porn 101" is a television show.