Can I talk about the Victorians? You bet I can.
Writing a series that takes place in an alternate version of Victorian era London (with some jumps into other locales) means I’ve had to do research. Whenever you write about a time you never lived in or cultures you’re not part of, you need to do extensive research. Yes, research can be boring. Different topics are interesting to different people—I’m not the most attentive person when it comes to wars and rebellion or science—but everyone can find that one topic that is just utterly fascinating and makes them jitter like a caffeinated squirrel.
One of my chapters required research on Victorian era funeral practices. I haven’t been to many modern day funerals, but I expected Victorian ones wouldn’t be much different.
It is absolutely delightful how obsessed with death these people were. The Ancient Egyptians applaud their efforts.
There were burial clubs, many of which persuaded people to reach beyond their means for the most expensive funerals possible. Families took morbid photographs alongside their deceased loved ones, propping the corpse up like a doll and painting eyes on the corpse’s eyelids. You could get jewelry made with a strand of hair from your dead loved one. There was mourning attire, and you were expected to wear it. They had periods of mourning and half-mourning, which varied depending on how you were related to the deceased. There were superstations that revolved around death: seeing yourself in a dream meant you would die soon, not stopping a clock in a death room brought bad luck, if you didn’t hold your breath while passing a graveyard you wouldn’t be buried.
Death in the Victorian era is absolutely fascinating, but all of these fails to excite me as much as something I learned about only a few days ago.
In the late Victorian era, especially in Paris, there were places you could go to celebrate death. The Cabaret du Néant (The Cabaret of Nothingness) served drinks named after diseases and customers drank off coffins and caskets.
There were also two of these nightclubs taking cues from Dante, one being the Inferno and the other being Paradiso. The Cabaret de l’Enfer (The Cabaret of the Inferno) was right next to the Cabaret du Ciel (The Cabaret of the Sky). Both these clubs were decorated and had servers and musicians to fit their themes.
I’d have loved to see one of these. It’s fiendishly cool what kinds of things you can uncover with research and what those things will inspire.