Sunday, July 07, 2019

The Victorians did not photograph corpses as part of family groups

Embed from Getty Images

One of the themes I return to is that the Victorians were less Victorian than we think.

They did not cover piano legs out of a misplaced sense of modesty - that was a joke they told about the straitlaced Americans - and they were a lot more laid back about male nudity than we were.

Matthew Sweet's Inventing the Victorians is very good on our misunderstanding of the 19th century.

Of late a new myth has been spreading. It is that the Victorians photographed corpses as part of family groups. BBC News did its bit to help it circulate three years ago.

The Victorian Book of the Dead was damning:
The BBC should be ashamed of itself for printing a piece that looks like it had been researched on Buzzfeed or its ilk. 
The article claims as post-mortems photographs of persons who are patently not dead, states that an obvious pre-mortem of a dying woman has had its eyes painted open, does not cite sources except a single mention of an Australian library, and, most damningly, repeats a canard that has been refuted again and again, about the dead being propped in a standing position for a post-mortem photo.
It also points us to a site that debunks the idea of Victorian postmortem photos:
This website is dedicated to discrediting the myth of the stand alone Victorian postmortem photo.  It explores the reasons why so many intelligent people believe that life-like standing postmortem photos exist and it helps answer some questions that many people have about this fascinating subject.

No comments: