The next couple of weeks hold, for me:
1) A family funeral,
2) The wedding of a dear friend, and
3) My first meeting with a nephew who was born last year.
Being confronted with Major Life Events always makes me reel, but don’t worry – I’m not going to wax overly philosophical. What struck me this evening is how very Victorian this triad of events is, yet how much our expectations have evolved over a century.
The nineteenth century was an age of high infant mortality, lower life expectancy, contagious diseases, and relatively primitive medical care. As a result, death was a frequent and familiar sort of terror. A Victorian person of my age would likely have known multiple deaths within her family and circle of friends, through both accident and illness. I’m downright insulated in comparison, something I never think of without a shiver of relief.
Marriage is still an important rite of passage but once again, it’s changed so much. Women and men think hard about whether they want to marry, and whom. They create and dissolve contracts as they choose. And the word “spinster” is seldom heard anymore, except in legal documents. Much as we agonize about relationships, they’re so easy now because we have such freedom of choice. In contrast, when a young Victorian woman entered into marriage, she was transferred from the legal power of her father to that of her husband. She couldn’t own property in her own name, until 1882. And if her husband was abusive or negligent, it was extremely difficult for her to obtain a divorce.
Childbirth is incredibly safe, in the year 2010. In affluent countries, maternal death in childbirth is rare. Newborns generally live. And when babies are born ill, our first question is, “How can we heal them?” rather than, “Will they live?” Once born, we expect healthy babies to thrive; the first year is no longer a gamble.
So while I’m feeling bruised by this sudden confluence of turning points, I’ve got nothing on the Victorians.
This week in reviews:
The first blog review for The Body at the Tower is up! Librarian Jennifer Rummel (aka YA Book Nerd) says, “I ADORE this series… I just want MORE (and quickly!).” Body will be published in the US/Canada by Candlewick on August 10, and in the UK by Walker Books on 6 September.