Victorian death obsession was driven by Queen Victoria's grief over the passing of her beloved husband, Prince Albert. In honor of her husband, she wore black and stark colors until her own passing in 1901. Her devotion to his memory set the standard by which society handled their own mortality. Standards were also driven by the idea that purgatory was nonexistent and the choice for the dying was only between heaven and hell. This change in religious belief gave rise to the concept of "lingering death," where the declining person must prepare for the next world.
Victorian England was driven by the idea of a "good death," an elaborate and strict set of Victorian practices requiring painstaking detail and a small fortune. Failing to properly mourn on a grand scale was considered a societal and moral failure. Considering that there was a high mortality rate at the dawn of the 19th century, especially among children (at around 50%), families found themselves perpetually ensconced in this macabre business during the Victorian era.
Victorian mourning etiquette was especially tough for women. Widows were required to embody grief. They were expected to mourn their husbands for at least two years - cloaked in dark clothing and isolated from society. Every detail of their lives was dictated by social pressure to live in a state of never-ending grief.
There were also Victorian death traditions we might find odd today, but at the time, they made perfect sense. Mirrors were covered to prevent trapping the deceased's soul in their reflection. Family portraits and photos were covered or flipped to prevent the person's spirit from possessing the living. The deceased's hair was put into clothing and jewelry and worn by mourners.
The stringent Victorian traditions waned with Queen Victoria's passing, the advent of national conflict, the flu pandemic, and an increased interest in cremation. As morbid as Victorian mourning etiquette seems, some of these rituals are still around today, in one form or another.
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