Once again I was a golf widow for the weekend, and as the weather was not particularly enticing I decided to get in two solid days of writing. But it has been a difficult two days. I am writing some sad scenes and so I have been doing a lot of reading about death and mourning. And this is one area in which I have to be super-pedantic about timing.
The Victorians – as eny fule kno – were Big on Death. They went the whole hog, with black clothes (Queen Vic herself wore mourning dress for Prince Albert for forty years – a full thirty-nine years longer than the recommended period for a dear departed spouse), mirrors turned to the wall, black crepe draped everywhere, and big funeral processions (for the wealthy, of course, although even the middle classes would get into enormous debt to put on a good show). And it is very easy, when looking for drama and pathos, to fall into descriptions of these events. But that would be wrong, as in the Regency things were much more restrained (and, actually, much more familiar to our modern eye).
It has also been, well, interesting, to research what they did with all those dead bodies at the start of the nineteenth century. London was overflowing with people, both alive and dead, and cremation was very much not the fashion, so the corpses all had to go somewhere – sometimes several deep, and often (prepare yourself) disturbed (that’s something of a euphemism) during later burials. In fact, some medical men thought that the graveyards and burial grounds were sources of “miasma” that caused all sorts of disease. It turns out that they did cause a lot of sickness – but through polluting the water course and not through spreading “bad air”.
So that’s my Bank Holiday weekend: death, mourning, burial and disease. Hope yours has been a bit cheerier!
Roy McCarthy said:
I read somewhere that one London vicar did a great trade in funerals until someone thought to question where all the thousands of bodies went. Turns out a tributary of the Thames ran under the church and he was merrily chucking them in once the mourners had departed. (Even if untrue it’s a good story.)
Entirely believable, I am afraid. I’ve read some pretty unsavoury stories about disposal of bodies, digging up of (bits of) old ones and so on…