Posts Tagged ‘TED talks’

Queen Victoria and her grandchildren by her daughter Princess Alice, mourning their mother and sister Princess Marie.

Yes, this is another Victorian England post. Don’t worry, it’s going to be relevant to horror and to the stories I write, believe me.

During my research into the era, I found that the Victorians really had a thing for mourning. In fact, they made ritualized mourning into something of a fine art or a pseudo-religious practice (hence why I call it a cult). You know how during a funeral, it’s tradition to wear black? Victorians took that to extremes: when someone you know died, you were required to mix black into your clothing, how much depending on your level of closeness to the deceased. A widow would have to wear full black clothes, usually made from crepe fabric; a child would wear black with white cuffs and frills; and servants would wear black bands around their arms (maids could also wear one around their caps or bonnets, or fully black caps and bonnets).

Also depending on the closeness to the deceased would determine the length of the initial mourning period. Yeah, you read that right: initial mourning period. For the Victorians, there were stages of mourning, particularly for close relatives. For widows, for example, the initial mourning stage could last up to two years, during which time they could only wear black clothes and black jewelry; black clothes was hung on mirrors and windows; and they were to refuse all socializing. Any letters they sent out had black borders, and it was encouraged for them to forget the outside world to focus on the deaths of their husband.

Of course, this was slanted very much towards women: men were allowed to wear only a black armband and go out because they were typically breadwinners. They could also remarry or enter the social scene sooner, because men were expected to have wives to take care of them and a mother for any children.

Furthermore, only women from the middle or upper classes took part in the full mourning ritual. Women from the lower classes, while still wearing black, would have to go out to earn a living. If one could be earned, of course; I’m not entirely sure, but I think I read that women could have difficulty finding work during mourning, if they previously weren’t working. In fact, many women and families went into debt or became homeless by observing mourning rituals.

Why did they do all this? Part of the reason may have been Queen Victoria herself: when her husband Albert, Prince Consort, died, she went into lifelong mourning for him, wearing black for the rest of her life and refusing to remarry. For a time, she even retreated from her royal duties. This inspired the cult of mourning and its associated rituals.

Part of it may have also been (and this is just my hypothesis, but I could be onto something) the resurrection men, grave robbers who stole bodies and sold them to medical schools for anatomy lessons. Back then, there was a huge demand for bodies at medical schools, but never enough supply, so resurrection men would step in to meet the demand (as well as be paid handsomely for it).* And because not everyone could afford safeguards to keep their coffins from being raided and stealing a body technically wasn’t a crime yet, all resurrection men had to worry about was getting caught by an angry mob.

Ad for Black Peter Robinson’s Mourning Warehouse, and the image that inspired my current story.

Regardless of what caused it, the cult of mourning existed, and everyone was expected to obey, especially married women. To fail or to opt out was to be accused of never having truly loved or been family with the deceased, or to be cold and cruel.

And where there is devotion, there is money to make off it: while poorer families would dye their clothes black or got them secondhand, those who could bought them from specialized “mourning warehouses,” department stores that sold mourning wear, as well as coffins and items associated with mourning. Some even rented out hearses and horses for their clients! Some of the biggest were the London General Mourning Warehouse, or Jay’s, and the Black Peter Robinson Mourning Warehouse.

But wait, there’s more! Post-mortem photography was also popular during this period. Photography was a lengthy and expensive process, so many families would only get photographs of their loved ones when they’d just passed. They would then be posed and prepared to look like they were sleeping, often next to living family members. Rather than morbid, this was seen as a good way to remember the dead and help with grief.

A post-mortem photograph. Because of course I would include one.

Of course, a lot of this fell out of fashion in the early twentieth century, first among the upper classes and then trickling down to the lower. Cheaper funeral practices became preferred, and post-mortem photography became unnecessary as getting a photograph became easier and more affordable. Today, only characters in books and neo-Victorians still practice any of these (yes, that’s a thing, but for another post).

And yes, resurrection men are largely a thing of the past.

Why do I bring this up? Well, besides being interesting, the story I’m writing now focuses on Victorian mourning to an extent, and doing some further research into Victorian mourning practices made me want to blog about them. So thank you for coming to my TED talk (I love making that joke).

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m sure I’ll be back soon with more to rant or gush about. In the meantime, thanks for enabling my love of the Victorian era. And until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

*H.H. Holmes, one of America’s first recorded serial killers, did this with his victims, which leads me to think he was more interested in making easy money than in killing.

This past week at work, I’ve been taking a class on giving an effective presentation, with and without PowerPoint. As part of that class, we were to give a seven to ten minute presentation on any subject of our choosing. You can guess what I did mine about. That’s right, I did mine on horror. Specifically, on what makes for a good horror story.

Don’t you just love it when life hands you opportunities tailor-made for you?

And while working on my presentation, I realized that I could record it and maybe post it on YouTube. After all, I don’t get many opportunities off the blog to expound on what makes for good horror, and wouldn’t I want to make sure as many people as possible were able to see it? So I gave one of my classmates my phone right before I began, and he started recording. The result is below. The video does cut out before the presentation is finished, but you get the gist of it.

If you’re wondering what my example of a bad horror story was, it was 2016’s The Boy, which I hate. I would’ve used the Friday the 13th remake, but I thought doing an original film would drive the point across better. Afterwards, while the lights were out, I went to the next slide, which was all black, and gave a quote from Kill Creek, the Gothic novel I mentioned in the video (and which I really do recommend):

If I were to lead you into a dark room, and someone were to leap out and shout, “Boo,” you’d be startled for maybe a moment. If, however, I were to lead you to that dark room and tell you that someone died in that room, that their spirit haunts it, and that they sometimes reach out and touch people, and then I left you locked in that room, for hours on end, in the dark…that is horror.

That’s about as exact a quote I can give when I only have my memory of the audio book and no hard copy to look up the quote prior to the presentation.

I finished by thanking everyone for coming to my TED talk (apparently that’s something people say when trying to be academic nowadays, so I thought I’d use it), and wished the all pleasant nightmares before asking if anyone had any questions (someone asked me what my favorite horror movie is. I couldn’t think of one). And after the presentation, I got some really great feedback from my classmates. One or two even told me they’d never thought of horror like that before, and it was really eye-opening.

To which I bowed and said, “My job here is done.”

When I got home, I immediately went to upload the video onto YouTube. Took about an hour, as it was nearly two gigs worth of data, but it’s up there, and it’s not half-bad. So if you do get a chance, I’d really appreciate you checking it out and letting me know what you think. Was my argument convincing? Were there counter-points you’d like to make? And will I get sued by any companies for using their images, specifically Warner Bros. for using footage from the trailer for The Nun? Let’s discuss!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be going to see Glass this weekend, so you should hear from me again then. Until next time, thanks for reading/watching and pleasant nightmares!