Victorian Medievalism & A New Culture of Mourning

Nineteenth-century Victorian England was a time of light and dark, of progress, conquest, change, imagination, nationalism, and rebirth. The monarch of the time, Queen Victoria, came to the throne uncertain and young, and throughout her reign, she witnessed and drove England to the top of a new political order. The world was rapidly changing. England’s dominance overseas had its price, bankrupting the country and causing several uprisings, which brought down British morale. The future seemed uncertain, and the nation was apprehensive. To ease their fears, many turned to fantasy in literature and art as a form of escapism.

Victorian British culture held a long fascination with the currents of medievalism, romanticism, and the Gothic Revival. All of these movements expressed renewed interest in the historic past and tradition. Although a queen held the throne, ideal gendered roles of domesticity were still expected to be followed in the Victorian home. The era was also defined by new mourning practices, ushered in by the death of Prince Albert. After the prince’s death in 1861, Queen Victoria began her forty years of mourning, which continued unabated until her own death in 1901. As Esther Schor notes, “A culture of mourning became a cult of mourning” (11). As death was already a common fact for most Victorians due to poor working conditions, new diseases, and war, the queen’s mourning practices profoundly influenced an already death-obsessed society.

Ref: Schor, Esther. Bearing the Dead: The British Culture of Mourning from the Enlightenment to Victoria. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.