Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Keeping up appearances a deadly Victorian game

I find Victorian-era society intriguing and Highgate Cemetery is one of the Magnificent Seven Victorian London Cemeteries. It's where Karl Marx, Pre-Raphaelite Rossetties and numerous other notable people are buried and where Charles Dickens wanted to be buried. Post-humus star gazing is of no interest to me, nor is whether or not there is a vampire who lives there.

The Victorians had a fascination with the occult; manifesting itself in social activities such as séances and promenading in cemeteries. Yes, people would literally hang out in the cemetery on Sunday afternoons; as we do the park; so graves and their associated decorations became high stake social symbols.

I can't imagine what it would be like to die and be buried only to to have someone comment on my grave decoration during their Sunday promenade 'ohhhh.... obelisks are so yesterday's tomb!'... Perhaps that's how people started rolling over in their graves, from the social horror of being passé.

Grave ornaments were greatly affected by trends.. covered urns were in, then out.. there was the obelisk and Egyptian phase... neo-classical trends and so on. I don't know if angels wing-spans varied with the times.

For example the largest monument belongs to Julius Beers a man that had felt so ostracized by society while he was alive he built a mausoleum that sits 1000ft above sea level so it lorded over everyone else's and blocked the view of the church.

I find it interesting, vaguely amusing and repulsive.

Anyone who has studied history and symbolism knows that the meanings and stories embedded in apparently simple images can reference incredibly intricate meanings and stories.

Whether they were hip or not at the time, historic symbols are fascinating.

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