Welcome to the British Victorian era, where strange and unusual habits and things abound. The Victorian period can be said to have been peaceful and prosperous and filled with people who were stuffy, prudish, and a tad narrow minded. If you’re watching the new miniseries Victoria, then your head is probably filled with terrible hairstyles, gorgeous dresses, and a charming fear of electric lights. But the way to best describe the culture during the 60-some odd years of Queen Victoria’s reign is straight up weird. Here’s a collection of some of the weird shit the Victorians did.
Anthropomorphizing Taxidermied Animals
The Victorians loved taxidermy. But mounting a buck on a plaque was too normal for the Victorians. So, they decided to arrange taxidermied animals doing human things. Perhaps the most famous and creepily creative Victorian taxidermist arranger was Walter Potter. Potter eventually opened a popular museum with his arrangements on display. His most famous anthropomorphic tableaux include “Rabbits Village School,” comprised of 48 baby rabbits as students, and two older rabbits as teachers; “The Kittens Wedding,” made up of 20 dressed-up kittens at a wedding; and “The Upper Ten,” with 18 squirrels set in a social club, sitting at chairs and tables, either reading, drinking, or eating. In case you are interested, a book was recently published with photos of Potter’s work.
Belladonna Eye Drops
The glowing, luster eye look was very in for Victorian women. How did they achieve it by using belladonna eye drops. The snag? Belladonna is poisonous. Sure, it dilates the pupils and gives the eyes a glow, but it also causes blurred vision, a faster heart rate, and over prolonged use, blindness. Italian Renaissance women began using belladonna eye drops to produce a seductive twinkle in their eyes. It must have worked, as the Victorians used it to all become doe-eyed creatures.
Arsenic: The Beauty Product To Die For
Think the belladonna eye drops are bad? Say hello to arsenic. The Victorians loved ivory-fair skin, and fair complexion meant you would marry well. Wearing protective clothing and screens to achieve the beauty standard was an option. But some Victorians felt this wasn’t good enough. Instead, some ingested small amounts of arsenic to achieve a deathly pallor. There were several manufacturers of the complexion wafers, and were called “perfectly safe” to nibble on, despite having arsenic as an ingredient. Yes, not everyone used arsenic, but the fact that some people used it is alarming enough.
Photograhing the Dead
Speaking of death, the Victorians liked to take photographs of their dead relatives posed as if they were still alive. Sometimes, eyes were painted on the eyelids of the deceased to look more lifelike. With a high child mortality rate, it was usual for the parents to have never had the chance to photograph their child. So maybe these photographs are understandable. There are plenty of photographs of deceased babies in cribs looking like they are sleeping. Or photos of a dead child in a chair (clothed and with their hair done, by the way) with their fellow, and still living, siblings surrounding the chair and body. But the practice wasn’t exclusive to kids who never had their photos taken. The relatives of deceased adults arranged their loved one to look life-like (sometimes with the help of a stand designed for this purpose), and snap photos of them. To read more about this practice and to look at eerie photos, go here.
Hiring Garden Hermits
Imagine walking through the expansive gardens of a manor, and suddenly an old man, dressed in Pagan-like clothing, appears out of a tiny hut and just ambles around. Sounds normal, right? If you lived in the early Victorian years, yes this was normal. Large landowners in the 18th and 19th centuries loved the eccentric hermit, and would advertise for their very own live-in hermit. Requirements for the job? To live on the land, grow out their hair and stop bathing, dress like a Druid, do hermit-y things. After several years of living the hermit life, they got paid a sum large enough to live off of for the rest of their lives. The Victorians loved eccentrics, and having a personal hermit was a novelty. Beats out those garden gnome statues, doesn’t it?
Electrocuting Their Own Genitals
Suffering from weakness, impotency, a bad back, or insomnia? Some Victorians of the late 19th century who suffered from these ailments would strap on a belt that hugged their waist and genitals and received a “constant soothing alternating electric current.” Advertised for men, the Heidelberg Electric Belt was used to treat all kinds of ailments, but it was especially known to put a stop on effects caused by masturbating and was even sold by Sears.
Or better known as Mutes, professional mourners were all the rage. Professional mourners are still a thing in Asia, and have actually been around for a long while. Traditionally, they cry and wail, to encourage others to weep. But in the Victorian period, they were called Mutes, as they would usually just stand in their mourning clothes around looking very sad and miserable. Walking around with a big stick, they would follow the hearse and coffin. the number of deaths in the Victorian age was common and the demand for the job was high. Mutes were eventually considered a required presence for even modest Victorian funerals. Charles Dickens included a Mute in Oliver Twist, and he made it clear that he detested the whole idea of them.
Using Cocaine As Dental Care
What better way to take care of teeth than with some cocaine! Cocaine was sometimes used as an ingredient in homemade tooth powders, which were more common than toothpaste. Presumably it was an ingredient because it numbed your gums? More disturbing were the tooth drops that were advertised as for toothaches for young children. These tooth drops were partially or even entirely made of cocaine. That’s right: Cocaine Toothache Drops being used for the little one’s aches and pains were an actual thing. Maybe this is where the stereotype that the British have bad teeth stemmed from.
Frog photograph by: Rama on Wikimedia Commons
Etching of John Bigg, an eccentric hermit source
Victorian women in mourning photograh by: George C. Gillett via Wystan