Bizarre Victorian manners are a fascinating study for most people. While many niceties of the era (holding the door open for others, offering one's seat to the elderly) are universally good ideas that endure to this day, there are other strange customs whose common observance has gone the way of the dodo. These bits of weird Victorian etiquette range from the mostly harmless to the straight-up appalling. (Like swallowing tapeworm larvae to stay in shape and donning used ... but "like-new" ... corpse teeth, for example). Read on to explore more strange customs from the Victorian era, and to find out just how far those zany Brits were willing to go in the name of decorum.
In the 19th century, cornflakes (not just any brand, but Kellogg's Corn Flakes, specifically) were a must-eat item when it came to curtailing libidinous energy. Indeed, it was John Harvey Kellogg himself who described his famously wholesome breakfast cereal as a "healthy, ready to eat anti-masturbatory morning meal," which meant that it was good form for any well-bred gentleman to be seen consuming it.
The theory was that lascivious foods bred lascivious habits. What, exactly, is a "lascivious food," you might ask? Basically anything spicy or excessively rich or flavorful (see: delicious), which meant that things like curry, heavy French sauces, and presumably Bloody Marys (had they been invented at that point) were out. (Kellogg's advice to young girls, namely that they douse their clitorises with carbolic acid to "burn off" desire, was equally problematic).
Though voluptuous women with curves were generally celebrated in the Victorian era, the well bred and fashion-conscious lady still made a modestly "respectable" effort to maintain her figure. And what better way to do that than to let a giant tapeworm devour your fat from the inside out? This quote explaining the procedure ought to serve to remind us that inserting Lovecraftian monsters into one's system generally isn't the way to go:
"You take a pill containing a tapeworm egg. Once hatched, the parasite grows inside of the host, ingesting part of whatever the host eats. In theory, this enables the dieter to simultaneously lose weight and eat without worrying about calorie intake."
That's not all, though: larvae also helped women to cultivate proper table manners, ostensibly because "a woman would never rise hungry from the table, yet she would continue losing weight." It really makes going to the gym seem not so bad after all.
A beautiful smile is often the hallmark of a civilized individual, but so are resourcefulness and ingenuity. And what could be more resourceful than harvesting perfectly beautiful (and usable) pearly whites from a corpse? Apparently, back in the day, no well-bred (and toothless) Victorian would have been caught dead without a fine set of dentures made from the teeth of the dear departed. But these secondhand chompers weren't without their drawbacks, especially when they came from questionable donors:
"Teeth were frequently acquired from executed criminals, exhumed bodies, dentists’ patients, and even animals, and were consequently often rotten, worn down, or loaded with syphilis. The prospect of an overabundance of young, healthy teeth to be readily pillaged from the battlefield must have been a dentist’s dream."
A dentist's dream, perhaps, and but a regular person's nightmare.
There were always options for ugly children in the Victorian era (keeping them discretely stored in the basement; putting them to work as eye-averting servants), but an ounce of prevention was still worth a pound (ahem) of cure. See, listless, passionless sex and loveless marriage weren't just inadvisable because they were bound to lead to emotional unhappiness. As the Daily Mail put it:
"Crucially, any union without true love... would bring forth ‘ill-looking, sour and spiritless offspring,' while those hoping for good-looking children should remember that sex must not be ‘faintly or drowsily performed.'"
Sex on the stairs was also a bad idea, as a child "that was begat upon a set of stair is most likely to be born with a crooked back, and given in no small way to the fault of staring." Moral of the story: if you want catalog-model kids who don't keep their eyes fixed on anyone for longer than five seconds, do it with vigor and élan.