Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Era (02/03/11)
TITLE: The Victorian Era
By Anna Moody
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I always had a romantic view of this era and employment at the mansion fulfilled my infatuation with the formality, privileged lifestyle and beautiful gowns of the Victorian ladies. I could not learn the history of the three generations of the family who resided within this mansion, without also learning the history of the era itself. They were an extremely wealthy family as evidenced by the mansion. The furnishings, artwork, and elegant decorating on the interior are reflective of the status of this family. No expense was spared in any phase of their lives or their home. The latest inventions were apparent everywhere.
I was intrigued by the flowing gowns and elegant parasols. It was not until I donned my costume as a guide that I realized there was more than met the eye. These ladies wore several layers of clothing even before the corset was laced; pantaloons, multiple petticoats, laced high-topped shoes, high-necked blouses with long sleeves and muslin lining. Bare flesh was not allowed to be seen! Likewise, skirts were made of heavy cotton or linen, velvets and silks depending upon the season, and lined with muslin and horsehair. It is no wonder that at parties these ladies seldom made an appearance in the bathroom. They would have needed assistance comparable to the assistance they received when they dressed for the party.
As the dynamics of the family are more intimately explored, we see a family exposed to all of the finer things in life – the New York Worlds Fair – travel throughout Europe and Asia – lavish entertaining with guests from far and wide – Tiffany’s silver and china - stables filled with breeding stock, race horses and carriages. This family was certainly no stranger to privilege.
Evenso the lifestyle of the upper class in the Victorian Era must have been a lonely, perhaps boring existence. Living a life of privilege, indulging in themselves to preserve their privacy must have put limitations on their lives. Always surrounded by a staff of servants catering to their every need, they never experienced doing much for themselves. This family never knew the frustration of the limits of life; never a want for anything. There was always an array of endless choices at their disposal. Bound by ritual and protocol, shrouding the open expression of feelings negated all the elegance I once saw. Being separated from family at early ages and sent away to attend boarding schools for a proper education must have been difficult. The freedom to love just anyone was taken away; waiting for the approval of a respected, worthy suitor who measured up to the expectations of the Victorian Era.
On the other hand, this family was no stranger to suffering, grieving or hardship. The wealth accumulated by the first generation was ultimately exhausted by the end of the third generation. High living and expensive tastes were difficult habits to break and when the wealth was no longer increased, it collapsed under the stress imposed upon it. The family’s resources were soon depleted.
There was a dark side to the Victorian Era that this family was subjected to as well. The losses of the head of the family at the prime of his life, a teenage daughter, an infant daughter, parents, and in-laws wore heavy on this family. Every loss needed to be supported by the appropriate time of mourning as dictated by this era. In addition to the emptiness of the loss on the inside, there was the outward sign of grief that had to be portrayed in the Victorian Era. Specific lengths of time for mourning for specific family members had to be observed. Specific colors were worn to signal onlookers to the progression through the mourning process. Activities were controlled by a code of behavior implemented in the Victorian Era. Throughout all of this, it was obvious the family practiced a strong underlying Christian faith. It was the one thing that kept them together. Wealth, status and privilege failed.
And this family’s story lives on as a prime specimen of the Victorian Era as it was imposed on those who lived it. A fantasy, infatuation, or simply a lesson in history?
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