While the romance between Sebastian Madinger, the Earl of Wriothesly, and Mrs. Leah George is the main focus of my new book, Romancing the Countess, the death of their spouses and subsequent mourning customs of the Victorian era play an important role as well.
As an author who writes in the Victorian era, there are some things that I’ve learned over time in research, and some things that I have to research in detail depending upon the book I’m writing. In Romancing the Countess, the storyline led me to the necessity of researching funeral and mourning habits of the upper class in the mid-Victorian era (circa 1849).
Some of the information that I ran across was familiar: a black armband worn by men, black crepe or bombazine for the women, an estimated expected mourning period for the widow of one to two years—though this time period was not “required,” it was nonetheless a social expectation, and violation of this expectation could cause great scandal.
On the other hand, there were quite a few pieces of information that I learned as a result of my research. For example, in addition to the black armband, men also tied black bands around their hats and wore black gloves. Ladies of the house (which would include the widow or any immediate and sometimes extended relatives of the deceased) did not attend the funeral. In fact, women in general were not usually present.
Since the body would stay inside the home until time for burial, the windows were open and curtains drawn—most likely to relieve the stench.
However, the most interesting custom that I found in my research was the draping of black cloth over every mirror. The most common explanation for this that I found was the belief that mirrors—and indeed, all reflective surfaces—must be covered in order to prevent the souls of the dead from becoming trapped inside.
Finally, I ran across a few superstitions that you might find interesting:
It is bad luck to meet a funeral procession head on. If you see one approaching, turn around. If this is unavoidable, hold on to a button until the procession passes.
If it rains on a funeral procession, the deceased will go to heaven.
If the deceased has lived a good life, flowers will bloom on his grave; but if he has been evil, only weeds will grow.
(Source for superstitions: friendsofoakgrovecemetery.org)
Which Victorian mourning customs or superstitions are you familiar with? Are there any not named above that you’d like to include?
Ashley March, www.ashleymarch.com