7 Odd Victorian Hobbies
‘‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’’
- Victorian Saying
In their leisure-time, victorian biologists used to arrange diatoms (single-celled algae) on glass slides in order to create elaborate kaleidoscopes of natural beauty. These microscopic slides combined thousands of individual components, limited only by the scientist’s imagination.
And like this, is how science and art converge…
When it came to the victorian taxidermy, not a single creature was granted with a dignified afterlife. During this era people seemed to be obsessed with stuffed animals in overly-cute human scenarios. Soon, however, the Edwardian viewers began to criticize this kind of art as an abuse towards household animals and an act of “grotesquery.”
Dead People’s Hair Jewelry
This form of art dates back thousands of years, all the way to ancient Egypt - when the Victorians found out about it they were captivated and began harvesting snippets of hair from both living and dead loved ones to wove them into necklaces, pins, rings, watch chains, and other unique pieces of ornamentation.
Pteridomania is the given name to the fern fever which caught England in the 19th century. The mass phenomenon begun in 1829 when a British botanist named Nathaniel Bagshaw started cultivating the plants in glass cases. Almost immediately, multitudes around the country ran into the forests, hunting for such ferns to grow in their own glass cases.
The hobby was preeminently beloved among women, this possibly because it presented them with a socially acceptable motive to leave their homes unsupervised.
Throughout the Victorian era, séances were major events. At the time, obscure arts focused on contacting the dead were extravagantly popular. Families used to seek for mediums and host with them intimate spiritual parties at home. These mediums were experts in the illusionist skills of breaking glasses, moving ouija boards, make tables levitate, and cough up ectoplasm - all of this without rising the lightest suspicion of trickery… (maybe it wasn’t trickery?)
SENDING SECRET CODES WITH FLOWERS
For Victorians there was nothing more discourteous and impolite than to reveal, in whatever fashion, the nature of one’s emotions or thoughts. As consequence, young people begun to communicate a vast range of messages through bouquets of flowers. Different flowers became attached to different meanings which anyone with a dictionary of floriography could decipher. (Oscar Wilde sported green carnations, a signal worn by gay men).
As a child I used to be so enchanted with this discipline that I remember sending pink Lilies (‘‘I will never forget you’’) to my loved ones and Aconites (‘‘beware with my hatred towards you’’) to my enemies… Even though, unfortunately, neither of them understood what in the world I was doing...
In my culture cemetery picnics are still a rather common sight, especially around Día de Muertos; we like to share our moments of joy with those who have left us. However for those Victorian creatures of the United States, cemetery picnics were less about sharing time with their deceased family members and more a result of the lack of parks, gardens and museums in their cities. For most people graveyards were the closest thing they had to a public park.
Cemeteries became such heavily-trafficked destinations that guidebooks were distributed to visitors at some of the most famous graveyards of each city, how to find it and at what times to go to. Wouldn’t it be delightful to recover this tradition?