Sunday, July 20, 2008

Death and Burial in the Victorian Age: Social Darwinism

Life Expectancy: Golden Age of Funerals

You may realistically ask, "What does life expectancy in the Victorian Era have to do with morality?"

Simple ...
life expectancy = directly related to wealth ... poor die young ... rich lived longer

Remember ... the majority of the rich perceive ...

• it is the fault of the person for being in the working class or poor

• it is wrong for any to be discontent with their condition in life (i.e., working class or poor) because this is where God put them (heaven forbid it would be man! with all his man-made rules and regulations)

• it is a VERY foreign concept for rich Christians to help others around them ... they tend to enjoy the adulation the working class and poor give them and their entourage (i.e., servants, employees, middle class friends, etc.)

Today, many middle class Americans constantly give to others that are starving. As individuals, small groups, and churches, we collect money, have food drives, and more.

This was not really happening to the degree it is today during the Victorian Era. Too many swallowed Herbert Spencer's myth of the survival of the fittest (i.e., sociological darwinism) ...

So what if the wealthy wore a cloak of Christianity while they imported wheat and cotton crops from other nations that put their people out of work (to the tune of only 1/3 of the farmers surviving this in England)?

Common Rationalizations (i.e., excuses) used when applying SOCIAL DARWINISM ...

• it is simply the rules of the economic market ... supply & demand!

• Business is business!

• Since when does Christianity apply to business? You cannot apply the Golden Rule to economics! You apply it to everyone and anything else, but NOT business!

• Of course it is okay to take over other businesses and cause owners to suffer! That's just plain business! (he/she wasn't a good business person anyway, they couldn't do ___________, etc.)

• Who cares how many unemployed may result from the decision to import those things that local farmers used to grow!? It makes more economic sense to go after a buck!

(these are only a few examples, there are TONS of them that were operating during the Victorian Age and, sad to say, these same types of excuses are still used to cloak social darwinism under the thin veneer of "Christianity" and operate today


average life expectancy = 40 years

Mid-Victorian Era life expectancy = Liverpool = 15!!!!

3 out of every 20 babies die before their first birthday

1899 upper class Liverpool = 136 newborns out of 1000 would die before the age of 1

Working class = 274 infant deaths per 1000 births

Impoverished slums = 509 infant deaths per 1000 births

Alexander Finlaison reported = 1/2 of all children of farmers, laborers, artisans, & servants died before 5th birthday compared to 1 in 11 children of the land owning gentry

children suffer = influenza outbreaks, diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles, whooping cough, polio, tetanus, and typhoid

poor sanitary conditions (no piped water, lack of immunizations, etc.) contribute to death rate

All have bad breath because of poor dentistry
(modern research indicates poor dental hygiene has a direct correlation to earlier death rates)

Women ...

• died younger (childbirth, inferior food consumption, tended to nurse sick which led to own sickness, etc.)

• Societal expectations of rich women = delicate, not “ladylike” to exercise or have an appetite

•custom = best food given to boys / men (females suffered)... amazingly, this contradicted the notion of the rich that women were weaker ... obviously, weaker vessels needed to have the best food and not the men ... but folks are never consistent & may never be logical (now or then)

Lower classes ... debilitated by the age of forty due long hours, poor nutrition (frequently malnutrition), and premature full-time employment = early death cause

1840 London’s Whitechapel District = (average rates)
Upper class =45 years
Tradesmen = 27 years
Laborers & servants = 22 years

[Source: Mitchell, Sally. Victorian Britain Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1988.
Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1996]

Coffins are a Familiar Sight

Cholera = pandemic in Europe in 1831-33, 1848-49, 1853-54, 65-67
( London, 53 000 died in one year)

Chicago = malaria rampant cuz built on marsh land

some funerals are lavish and extreme ... professional mourners ('mutes') mournfully walk in the funeral procession

... because there are so many deaths, rituals complete with more rules and regulations pop up ...

Morning stages ... each has own rules... servants and family observe

Stage 1
deep mourning (full mourning) ... curtains drawn, clocks stopped, mirrors covered, guards hired to protect body from grave robbers

Stage 2
half-mourning ... usually begins after body buried

Images associated with death appear ...

draped urns, broken columns, weeping willows appear on tombstones, portraits and embroidered samplers

Again, the Victorian Era has a great deal to answer for ...

It is sad and scary to hear that some of you ladies are saying some folks want to return to a Victorian Era-like timeframe ... it sounds like they have made it into some kind of idealized "Christian" society ... it most definitely was not ...

~ from the notes of Lady Victorian Historian