Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Strolling to Church in the Victorian Era

Thanks to my fellow-blogger, Dee, the topic of transportation modes during the Victorian era has been discussed within one of our writing clubs. The topic brought to mind the traditions around walking, particularly for the gentility. The mode of walking to a destination was still very much part of a Victorian’s lifestyle. The natural locomotion was still a mode of 'transportation.'

Transportation evolved quickly and even dramatically during the Victorian era. Still, walking, for many a Victorian, followed traditions and rules about how and where to walk.

A quaint tradition that lasted well past the implementation of public transportation was a tradition of walking to church. Among the elite, who had every luxury at their fingertips, the contemplative mode of strolling to church, or synagogue, helped to prepare them for the messages of the religious service. Such public self-effacement was a popular posture within Society’s line of sight.

The Princess Royal of Great Britain, Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise, “Vicky,” was known for walking to church as was customary with many of her ilk. However, she set tongues to wagging by walking with her husband, the Prince Frederick William of Prussia, “Fritz.” Not only was their side-by-side strolling unusual, it also caused shockwaves among Society due to their natural affection for one another. Their adoration wasn’t an affectation. Vicky had met Fritz when she was a child, and they’d corresponded during his years of military service. By the time they married, they were close friends who enjoyed each other’s company. In today’s world, this type of friendship in a marriage would be an expectation. But, not during the Victorian era which held other expectations of higher import. Again, not scandalous, but the royal couple's affection was cause for comment. Other couples were not seen in public together walking to church as a general rule. Nor were they even seen arriving at the same time in carriages, for example, for the most part.
[Crowned in a Far Country: Portrains of Eight Royal Brides, by HRH Princess Michael of Kent]

The tradition of walking was not limited to the Christian sects. The Rothschilds, who rose to power in England during the Victorian era, were also known to walk to synagogue along with the rest of their social circle. Although Lionel and Charlotte Rothschild were not known to frequent synagogue (some accounts say they didn't attend), they nevertheless put on a good front for Society. Their published journals explain that walking to synagogue was expected in the society they entered, partly for religious reasons.
[Charlotte and Lionel: A Rothschild Love Story, by Stanley Weintraub]

Not everyone adhered to traditions of walking to church services, by some indications. Populations were moving about, and new traditions were being formed. In some parts of the Western world, it was considered socially acceptable for a proper lady to walk or arrive at church in the company of a male, and possibly even for the sake of romance.

For the historical author, allowing a fictional character to carry on a walking tradition can provide a welcome contrast to the hullabaloo caused by the newly available modes of modern transportation. At the same time, it can possibly set the scene for a scandalous or shocking romantic interlude.



Anonymous said...

This is great, Kristen-Marie, very interesting. Do you know if this is where taking an evening constitutional came from? Their desire to walk rather than ride? Or am I making connections that aren't there?

Anne Whitfield - author said...

Interesting post.

I collect diaries written by Victorian women (mainly Aistralian) and I read how much they walk. They walk everywhere.

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