I’ve been working on a piece of artwork for a Victorian chapter in a modern finishing-school manual. After a few versions I’m still working on it, for I decided to try to capture the heart of a moment between a young lady of the Victorian era coming face-to-face with one from our modern times. The picture is about attitudes, I decided, trying to imagine the modern sentiments of the Victorian lady and a nostalgic modern gal.
The Victorian young lady was much concerned about image and how her circles and perhaps those within Society, itself, viewed her any grand schemes. Although ever conscious, it would’ve disgraced her to be very self-absorbed. As a result her social skills and understanding were a priority.
It behooved the young miss to understand the mores and manners of the elder generations, but also to be able to keep up with the rapid changes in her direct circles. Her grandmother’s tightly guarded social circles permitted entrance to very few. In the Victorian age, however, a young lady was able to explore more types of acquaintances. Poets and writers used to decorate every social parlor in her grandmother’s day, for example, but they were becoming usurped by artists and musicians for the modernized Victorian lady.
Because church-sponsored charities were expected to be actively supported by all, daily visits to a charity were practically required. It seemed that charitable societies were everywhere. They allowed people from all proverbial walks of life to socialize, as a result. Connections to good people to know were immediately acceptable if sharing the same charity.
One of the reasons I’ve tailored a couple of manuscripts, now, set in this era to the inspirational-market is due to the extreme focus on religions by most people, then. In addition to religion, some of the trends included allusions, similarly, to the mystical and mythical, all of which were socially allowable in items such as jewelry and stories.
Ambitions were becoming admirable. For both genders, the support of new trades and skills as higher goals became pursuits to converse about in parlors. The men who mixed well, especially, “did something.”
Adventures were permissible if not too frequent. They could be used to entertain at social gatherings. Modern techniques of conversational training for finishing-school students includes the use of adventurism, still. Victorians gained as much social success from failed adventures as from those won. Tales of the unusual were prized and didn’t have to be completed all in one telling.
Although the Victorian family aspired to entertain or visit hostesses as often as possible, they still retired to bed early in the more respectable echelons. Not necessarily for the sake of resting, but because the end of a proper social day included reading together or pursuits we’d classify as hobbies in our times. Perhaps a good hour per evening as social intimates all enjoying the same pastime together is the easiest way to picture how the Victorian ended a day.
Another way to understand the Victorian is in that their daily schedules often began in solo pursuits or work, then as the hours progressed, they became more social. Work was done as early as possible. On better evenings, her household would attempt to entertain in the modern style. By the time entertainments began, a Victorian’s home was often quite warm and inviting. Picture all the ovens being used and the heat being utilized to warm the most frequented rooms. This is partly why the evening attire all year around was typically ultra thin and even sheer. Latest in the day, while the Victorian lady was sitting around a fireplace in the evening with other women of her family, her grandmother or the senior matrons (in-residence or as guests) would regale her with stories and advice.
With so many lovely layers beneath attire to entrap warmth from the environment, the Victorian usually made a show of having a wrap or of buttoning a jacket with only one button. Shawls were fashionably hung at the elbows rather than used to cover the shoulders and necklines. And although cleaning up outer layers proved a challenge to the Victorian, appearing in the same proper attire frequently in a row was allowed. Under-layers were the ones changed often and in great part that is why Victorians wore so many layers. And, if one couldn’t do a weekly bath, it was socially acceptable to grumble and even complain about one‘s difficulty in achieving this. So it is perhaps a partial explanation for why publicly displayed affection and closeness was unheard of in most parts. Except in Great Britain where the upper echelon of society was allowing more familial affections in public settings as the era wore on, even among married couples who traditionally had ignored one another in public.
As I’m putting finishing touches on yet another canvas, then, for the manual, I’m busy working in allusions that were meaningful to a young lady in the 19th Century. And coming to understand her better, myself.