Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ten things I love/hate about the Victorian Era

Morning, everyone,

Today is my turn for Tuesday ten. I am, however, sick with yet another cold and my computer died last week. The new one I have has a super-sensitive touch pad that makes writing difficult. Of course I'll have to fix it, but it may take some time. Between those two things, I am not going to be as good a Tuesday-tenner as I would like. No references this time. This is more discussion time than information.

All right, on to ten things I love/hate about the era.

1.)Clothes--I love the clothes, from the beginning to the end of the era, most especially the ones for formal affairs. Silks and satins and velvets. . . .long dresses and lace. People dressed differently for different occasions, unlike today where unless someone specifically says "semi-formal attire" jeans and sandals are acceptable.

2.) Manners--People actually had them. Granted the U.S. has always been a little more, um, we'll call it independent in the manner category. In other words, we tend to dis things that are viewed as "prissy". I'm pretty certain that in the Old West, this occurred a lot more often than in the cities. Still, people said please and thank you, and held doors open and in most cases tried to be more polite.

3.) Furniture--I admit I wouldn't have it in my house, but I still love the furniture of the time, with all the swirls and roses carved in it. In my house though, which is constantly in chaos, it would just get lost in the mess.

4.) Wallpaper--These days our walls are generally painted--it's just easier. But in the Victorian period wallpaper was cheaper and everyone used it. Again, it was pretty intricate and in my chaotic house would just make the mess look messier. But if I could afford someone to clean my house--or could somehow learn to love cleaning it myself--I would have lots of Victorian wallpaper.

5.) Formality--In the Victorian era people said ma'am or sir, and used Mr and Mrs, even when referring to their own spouses. (I recently read something--don't remember where though--in which a woman was berate for not calling her husband Mr.). The only time people these days say Mr. or Mrs is when referring to an old friends' parents. Sometimes that's not even true. In the town we lived in when my kids were born, everyone referred to their friends' parents by their first name. Me, I like the formality. Yes, it does create distance, but it also shows immediately how close people are. I like it.

This may, by the way, be different in other sections of the U.S. (and other countries, of course). I believe people in the South are far more likely to use formalities, but I suspect even there it's relaxing.

6.)Dancing--Yes, we do still dance, but not nearly as much as I believe they did back then. In the Victorian era dancing, specifically the waltz, was the best way for a man to "get close" to a woman. Thus men were far more inclined to want to dance. And dancing was "easier" in that there were set dances, The Cotillion, the Waltz, The Quadrille, etc. You learned the steps, and you could dance. Today, it's mostly free-style, and those of us without rhythm (me!) do not dance. It's far too embarrassing. I would have back then, though!

7.) Food--The Victorians liked to eat. A lot. And, as I have blogged on before (I think) as the era progressed and the eating became more ritual, the fashions changed to allow for extra weight. By the end of the era women who had a good 10-15 extra pounds on them were envied. I have an extra 10 pounds on me. No one envies me for it.

8.)Travel--yes is took much longer, was expensive and often filthy, and uncomfortable for people without a certain financial means. But for others if wasn't--just look at the steamships being built at the time! All manner of luxury! I think slower travel allowed people to see more, and forced them to talk more to each other, to compel people to get to know people from different backgrounds. Today we take cruises for the purposes of vacation, which duplicates Victorian overseas travel to some extent. As for land travel, thought, well it's all about the plane or the car, isn't it? Few people take overnight trains. I think it's a real shame.

Two things I hate:

9.) Corsets--While they sort of "equalized" women, allowing the larger ones to squish their waists so that they too, looked wasp-waisted, I think they did women a great deal of damage. From what I've read women started wearing them in the early teen years, and I suspect they created the same sort of malformation that binding feet did in Chinese women. This sort of malformation would have created, I believe, a great deal if difficulty during child-bearing years. I wonder how many women might not have suffered or died in childbirth if they hadn't been forced by society to wear these things.

10.)Treatement of women--Of course I've discussed this a number of times, and how the laws were so unfair to women, even to the point that were a wife to divorce her husband (assuming she could actually get a divorce) she lost everything, including her children. Even if those children were from another marriage. The laws, though, were not special to the era, they were just more obvious because of the women who fought against them.

Well that's it. What about you? What do you love or hate about the era?


Anonymous said...

Not being an adventurous eater, I can do without the food, but the travel! I'd love to have my maid pack my stuff and hop a steamliner to see the world. And I'm sure there were so many more cool things to see then than there are now.

I could do without the smog and thick pollution, but then they also started a lot of environmental campaigns on this, so I'm sure I'd be right there.

Excellent list, Dee!

Susan Macatee said...

Well, I'm with you on the corsets- what a torture device that must have been-as well as the second-class treatment of women.

But what do I love? I guess encountering people with manners would be nice.

I really don't think I would have made a very good Victorian, though.

Jennifer Ross said...

My number one hate has to be the treatment of women of course, but I'd also hate no instant communications. No 911 in an emergency, waiting weeks to hear of new babies, recovering from an illness, or other family news.

And how would you get your pizza delivered???

Georgie Lee said...

The overwhelming number of nick-knacks and decoration crammed into small rooms is one of the things I dislike about the Victorian era. However, I do love the manners and the sense of elegance.

Jennifer Linforth said...

What do I hate? Beside the fact that I was not born in it...

I love the courtship that could go on--but hated the arranged and forced marriages.

I'd miss a constant supply of hot water too but would love the loss of technology. Call me weird, but I like the idea of talking at night, reading to each other or paying a pianoforte.

Much better than reality TV.


Jeanmarie Hamilton said...

Good points, Dee. Victorian life and manners in the old west. Well, my great grandmother used to travel by train from west Texas to San Antonio every year when the flowers bloomed. She'd take her two children and her canary. When they arrived at their destination, the first thing they wanted was a bath to wash off the dust of travel. There were lots of dances for social gatherings.

As for manners today, here in my west Texas town, people still hold doors for others they don't know. I remember being appalled to discover that people on Long Island didn't hold doors for those behind them, when I traveled with my new husband to Long Island, New York, after we were married many years ago. I remember watching for the reaction from my MIL at such rudeness, but she had no reaction, and eventually I realized that not holding doors for strangers was normal for that part of the country. ;-)

My great grandmother had a silver dish for calling cards. Women would call on each other and leave their card back then. They didn't visit long because that would be rude. I remember when I was young how my grandmother always changed clothes to a more dressy dress before her husband came home from the office. He often brought a business acquaintance home for dinner and she was always prepared for dinner guests. How many of us are so prepared these days?


harritah said...

Ooooooh, you folks have left such INTERESTING comments!

Myself, I happen to belong to a costumed historical events group called "Somewhere in Time Unlimited" based here in Seattle, WA. Our favorite, of course, is the late Victorian/Edwardian period. Before I joined the group, they had done a number of events around this sort of era. In the past 3 years, the Board decided to mix things up so we've included other time frames. However we DID hold a "Strauss's Vienna" last year and many people sewed gorgeous Victorian outfits. Hop out to the site if you want to see pictures.

Yes, we do Victorian Teas which of course many of us enjoy tremendously. We choose different localities and teahouses that don't mind if we show up enmasse with hats and bustles. Even the men of our group enjoy the festivities a lot and look for opportunities to join in. Teas are a lovely way to spend the late afternoon. We spice up ours by having a gift exchange, scavanger hunt or game so it's not just all sipping tea and chatting. The regular events include wonderful music and dancing so everyone has the chance to participate in some form or other.

Either Winter of '08 or Spring of '09, we are hoping to have a "Titanic" event where the women can sew another fabulous costume and build huuuuuuge hats! I can hardly wait!!!! My research has already begun...

This Summer, we have 4 events at a minimum, which are not SITU organized, but are events happening in the community at large and we'll "just happen to show up in costume". Two are in honor of the 100th anniversary of towns or fairgrounds. Another one is a Victorian town's grand parade. The last one is actually being held first (like in May) and it's the annual Victorian Festival of Port Townsend, WA. We are all busily sewing costumes or making hats. Another "I can't wait!"

Speaking of corseture - The type of corsets that were famous way back when are different that the types we have to build for ourselves these days. I, for one, am a bit more of a chunky-monkey having gone into mid-life now and no longer have my 20-year-old figure. Because I want my costumes to fit as acurately as possible, I am having a professional (The Fitting Room - http://members.aol.com/fittingrm/ )create a corset which is slightly modified so that it is not cut so shallowly (more of the breast-matter is actually covered and not left suspended!) and it will allow me to cross over between late Victorian and then Edwardian fashions. Marie is doing an INCREDIBLE job and if you are anywhere in our driving distance and want to have a good fitting corset, hire her. Not terribly expensive and well worth the money.

I find that the actual fit of the corset is very important if you want to wear Victorian garments. Not only does the structure hold and support your back (this is a good thing for us with back problems), but it gives a good line to your garments because you don't have those ugly bulges that are created from wearing bras as we do in contemporary clothing. Today's clothing is far less fitted and therefore it doesn't matter as much. Victorian attire (Edwardian too) have beautiful lines which really honor a woman's shape, large or small, and makes the best of it.

If you'd like to see our website that I created, go to: www.SITUSeattle.com or if it helps to remember: www.CostumingInSeattle.com click on "Past Events" and you can see all the different events' photos that I've loaded including Johann Strauss event. Should you happen to be in our local vicinity and be interested in participating with us at a "Dress-up Opportunity" or actually becoming a member of the group to receive newsletters, you can contact me thru the website.

All the very best sent your way from the lush and green NW corner of these GREAT United States!
Auntie Rita