I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.
Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights

dinsdag 25 november 2014

Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire

I am proud to pronounce to you a quest blogger Annie Lloyd
Anne lives in the United States. I met her through this blog.
She knows a lot about the Bronte Sisters and is currently writing a book about them
In October she visited Haworth.  Later she will sent me information about this trip.
But first she wanted to tell us about her visit tot the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York  

Currently on exhibit from the at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York is a show of thirty ensembles meant to declare the wearer is in mourning. The clothes are organized chronologically  covering the years from 1815 to 1915. The practice, reached its height in the later Victorian era. It came to an end during WW 1 as there were so many suffering bereavement it was thought unwise to have it continue. So grief became a private matter and we haven't looked back

Today we wear black because we like it. In other times there were strict rules over the matter and it was a sign of social status.

Being a Bronte fan, my greatest interest lay in a group of three from the 1840's. 

The two women here seem to be conversing. Of course I love those bonnets, but the beauty of the silk is breath taking. It's marvelous such a complete outfits were persevered. 

There is also a simpler dress from 1848. It shows its owner was coming out of her deepest grief by the thin buff lines in the material.

However here is a marvelous slide show of the whole exhibit. It also has jewelry and prints on display.


By the 1840's a number tailors were devoted solely to the trade of mourning clothes and I believe some were rented out like tuxes are rented today. The custom seemed linked to the rise of industry and the middle class. It  was a matter of status if one could afford a mourning ensemble as well as one's every day clothes. Many had their best dress dyed black to acquire the look.

However those wearing the dresses found at the Met did not have to worry about expense, a good number of the ensembles were made for royalty. Not only is the custom of wearing black because of  grief mostly unknown to us, the beauty of these clothes seem surreal as well. It's a pleasure to see such clothes as these. As a friend once said, " It's not that everything was better long ago, but that only the best survives to our day" 

Much like wedding dresses, these ensembles were worn for a single purpose. When that purpose was done, the outfits were put away. This helped to save the material from wear. If a person was lucky, by the time the clothes were needed again, the attire was out of fashion and that saved it even more as new clothes would have to be bought. This is a boon to us because it promotes the survival of such clothing so we may see them today.

In the 1840's morning clothes were worn for brothers and sisters for  six to eight months. Later in the century rules became stricter and more exacting, particularly after Prince Albert's death in 1861 when Queen Victoria  plunged into 40 years of mourning. It seemed an  Olympic sport in later Victorian times.

Sadly for Charlotte, her sibling's deaths came so swiftly and close together, much of her mourning was concurrent. When Charlotte  finally came out of mourning in 1850,  Anne Thackeray Richie  tells us she wore a green dress.

The exhibition runs through February 1, 2015.

4 opmerkingen:

  1. Thank you Geri! I'm proud to be here too!
    You did a marvelous job with the photos !

  2. I love the idea of mourning as an "Olympic sport"! Very true. Back then mourning was elaborate and weddings were comparitively simple, and less regulated (the mandatory white bridal gown is a modern innovation.) Today we have elaborate weddings (at least in the U.S.) and no mourning customs.

  3. That's interesting what you say about a white bridal gown, because Charlotte at first thought she would not wear white . I believe she felt it was not becoming to an older bride or herself or both. ...of course she was easily convinced to wear white because in truth she wanted all the trimmings . But it shows there was flexibility about the matter then

    Today we have elaborate weddings (at least in the U.S.) and no mourning customs.

    Really often it seems the point of the marriage is the wedding celebration! lol

  4. I wanted to add that today one can see art and such things as the clothes and other objects via online. But one must still go to see them in person if one can...because we go to museums not just to see art, but to be in its presence ..and I'll say even today's technology cannot show art truly,as one will see it for themselves .


The Parlour

The Parlour



Charlotte Bronte

Presently the door opened, and in came a superannuated mastiff, followed by an old gentleman very like Miss Bronte, who shook hands with us, and then went to call his daughter. A long interval, during which we coaxed the old dog, and looked at a picture of Miss Bronte, by Richmond, the solitary ornament of the room, looking strangely out of place on the bare walls, and at the books on the little shelves, most of them evidently the gift of the authors since Miss Bronte's celebrity. Presently she came in, and welcomed us very kindly, and took me upstairs to take off my bonnet, and herself brought me water and towels. The uncarpeted stone stairs and floors, the old drawers propped on wood, were all scrupulously clean and neat. When we went into the parlour again, we began talking very comfortably, when the door opened and Mr. Bronte looked in; seeing his daughter there, I suppose he thought it was all right, and he retreated to his study on the opposite side of the passage; presently emerging again to bring W---- a country newspaper. This was his last appearance till we went. Miss Bronte spoke with the greatest warmth of Miss Martineau, and of the good she had gained from her. Well! we talked about various things; the character of the people, - about her solitude, etc., till she left the room to help about dinner, I suppose, for she did not return for an age. The old dog had vanished; a fat curly-haired dog honoured us with his company for some time, but finally manifested a wish to get out, so we were left alone. At last she returned, followed by the maid and dinner, which made us all more comfortable; and we had some very pleasant conversation, in the midst of which time passed quicker than we supposed, for at last W---- found that it was half-past three, and we had fourteen or fifteen miles before us. So we hurried off, having obtained from her a promise to pay us a visit in the spring... ------------------- "She cannot see well, and does little beside knitting. The way she weakened her eyesight was this: When she was sixteen or seventeen, she wanted much to draw; and she copied nimini-pimini copper-plate engravings out of annuals, ('stippling,' don't the artists call it?) every little point put in, till at the end of six months she had produced an exquisitely faithful copy of the engraving. She wanted to learn to express her ideas by drawing. After she had tried to draw stories, and not succeeded, she took the better mode of writing; but in so small a hand, that it is almost impossible to decipher what she wrote at this time.

I asked her whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, - vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, etc. She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling to sleep, - wondering what it was like, or how it would be, - till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this one point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened. I cannot account for this psychologically; I only am sure that it was so, because she said it. ----------------------She thought much of her duty, and had loftier and clearer notions of it than most people, and held fast to them with more success. It was done, it seems to me, with much more difficulty than people have of stronger nerves, and better fortunes. All her life was but labour and pain; and she never threw down the burden for the sake of present pleasure. I don't know what use you can make of all I have said. I have written it with the strong desire to obtain appreciation for her. Yet, what does it matter? She herself appealed to the world's judgement for her use of some of the faculties she had, - not the best, - but still the only ones she could turn to strangers' benefit. They heartily, greedily enjoyed the fruits of her labours, and then found out she was much to be blamed for possessing such faculties. Why ask for a judgement on her from such a world?" elizabeth gaskell/charlotte bronte

Poem: No coward soul is mine

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the worlds storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heavens glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

O God within my breast.
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life -- that in me has rest,
As I -- Undying Life -- have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move mens hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast Rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou -- Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Emily Bronte

Family tree

The Bronte Family

Grandparents - paternal
Hugh Brunty was born 1755 and died circa 1808. He married Eleanor McClory, known as Alice in 1776.

Grandparents - maternal
Thomas Branwell (born 1746 died 5th April 1808) was married in 1768 to Anne Carne (baptised 27th April 1744 and died 19th December 1809).

Father was Patrick Bronte, the eldest of 10 children born to Hugh Brunty and Eleanor (Alice) McClory. He was born 17th March 1777 and died on 7th June 1861. Mother was Maria Branwell, who was born on 15th April 1783 and died on 15th September 1821.

Maria had a sister, Elizabeth who was known as Aunt Branwell. She was born in 1776 and died on 29th October 1842.

Patrick Bronte married Maria Branwell on 29th December 1812.

The Bronte Children
Patrick and Maria Bronte had six children.
The first child was Maria, who was born in 1814 and died on 6th June 1825.
The second daughter, Elizabeth was born on 8th February 1815 and died shortly after Maria on 15th June 1825. Charlotte was the third daughter, born on 21st April 1816.

Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls (born 1818) on 29th June 1854. Charlotte died on 31st March 1855. Arthur lived until 2nd December 1906.

The first and only son born to Patrick and Maria was Patrick Branwell, who was born on 26th June 1817 and died on 24th September 1848.

Emily Jane, the fourth daughter was born on 30th July 1818 and died on 19th December 1848.

The sixth and last child was Anne, born on 17th January 1820 who died on 28th May 1849.

Top Withens in the snow.

Top Withens in the snow.



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