Thursday, 1 March 2012

Will You Marry Me?

I was informed yesterday that it was inappropriate for me to greet people with ‘Happy Leap Day, will you marry me?’, not least because I am already married to the long-suffering, media-celebrity, Mr Walker (He’s the one talking about Evelyn de Morgan on Antiques Roadtrip recently).  Look, here is proof of said marriage...

Mr Walker says now there is somewhat less of me than he married, he wants a refund...
Poor Mr Walker, but then he only has himself to blame.  Anyway, this got me thinking about weddings…

Happy is the Bride (1890) James Hayllar
I think my father would have worn a smock, given half the chance.  In my investigations into Victorian weddings I was struck by a couple of things.  Number one was how many of the brides weren’t wearing white, like the bride here in rosy pink.  Obviously it’s a fairly recent thing for brides to wear white, started by Queen Victoria, who chose a simple white dress for her wedding gown, with no jewels or furs.  I think it’s funny that a popular book from a decade after Vic and Bert’s wedding commented  "Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one", which is nonsense as people preferred colours, or just to wear their best frock.  The choice of white was seen as dull and conservative when Queen Vic got married but then became a fashionable choice for the wealthy (or those wishing to appear wealthy) as a white dress is the least practical thing in the world, and says to everyone ‘I can afford to have a special dress for just one day, and I can afford to get it washed!’

I digress…here we have the main ingredients of a wedding picture:  The blushing bride…

…the hesitant groom…

…and all the jolly well-wishers…

God, don’t they all look miserable?  Another major ingredient of Victorian weddings is that most people look like they sucked on lemons before the picture was done.  I’m guessing the man on the right in the picture above has the ‘happy’ task of marry the ‘happy’ couple.  Lordy, I hope they have picked some cheery hymns.  I wonder if the unhappiness has anything to do with the girl in grey, just sighted at the back of the church behind the bride and groom?  Maybe she is the one the groom should be marrying?  Maybe she is a ghost?  Oh, sorry, I’m back with Millais and the ghostly groom… moving on.

The Wedding Morning (1892) John Henry Frederick Bacon
Ah, now this is nice and cheery.  The village girls all look on as a crone attempts to squash a virgin into an impossibly small dress while she practises the moves to ‘YMCA’.  Mr Walker once commented that weddings are very female-focused and he’s not wrong.  Many pictures of weddings are particularly directed at the bride, what’s she’s wearing, what she’s feeling.  I wonder if it was because society didn’t really expect men to enter that church as virgins (I suspect Society either didn’t care or would think that possibly you were a little odd) but virginity being such a prized state for a Victorian maiden, this was the day when she would move on to her next level, that of ‘imminent motherhood’.  Unless you were Effie Ruskin.

The Wedding Dress Frederick Daniel Hardy
To start with I thought this was just a picture of a group of friends sewing the dress for the woman in red, but looking closer I don’t have a clue what’s going on here.  Possibly the bride (in red) is feeling for a pulse of her matron of honour, and finding none, says to the woman on the far left ‘Betsy, you’re now Chief Bridesmaid, Jane seems to have dropped dead.  Slacker.’  The sewing box on the far right, looks awfully like a coffin and that big white frock is looking awfully like a shroud…maybe I should move on to something more cheery…

The Bride of Lammermore J E Millais
Ah, I do love a nice cheery Victorian novel.  The Bride of Lammermoor is an upbeat tale of how the young lady in the picture marries a handsome, wealthy man and stabs him to death on their wedding night, then gets tormented into madness and her own death.  See, Effie, you don’t have the premium on bad wedding nights…

The Bride of Lammermoor W P Frith
Even more Lammermoor

Old William Powell Frith loved The Bride of Lammermoor and it is very tragic/romantic.  Maybe we should invent a new word for such things, like ‘Tromance’.  So, the plot of this ‘tromance’ by Sir Walter Scott is that Lucy Ashton and Edgar Ravenswood (great name) are in love, but the Ashtons and the Ravenswoods don’t get on and the Ravenswoods have no money, so Lucy’s scheming mum gets her married off to the Laird of Bucklaw.  Que wedding night slaughter. Both Millais and Frith chose to show Lucy out walking with Edgar Ravenswood (ah, the doomed love).  I rather like Edgar’s boots in the Millais, but then I’m a sucker for a man in boots.  Look how evil the mum is in the other Frith!  Worst Mother-in-Law ever.

Health of the Bride (1889) Stanhope Alexander Forbes
This has to be the image that seems to crop up time and again on wedding cards, and it is packed with Newlyn goodness, however I think the Bride looks utterly miserable.  Maybe she just felt a rib go, for such are the dangers of tight corsets.  Maybe she’s thinking ‘I’m not going to be able to eat any of that cake…’

Health to the Bride Walter Dendy Sadler
Maybe if anyone proposes a toast, you have a duty to look as miserable as sin.  Mind you, I see a symbolic piece of furniture.  That knocked over stool is obviously a sign of coming trouble, or possibly that the guests are already drunk.  That’s never going to end well…

The Wedding Dress (1911) Frederick Elwell
This is more my kind of thing.  Haven’t we learnt by now that we never look in the chest of memories.  Slumping and sobbing invariably follow and neither is very dignified.  Are we going with ‘young widow’?  She is wearing black which possibly signifies that she made it down the aisle before her husband popped off (I bet he forgot his coat and it rained).

The Bride in DeathThomas Barker
There she goes, snuffing out with her marble boobs aloft.  Did she just make it back from the church before having a bit of a cough and dying?  No wonder her husband is sad, he’s not even made it to the reception yet and it would seem a little tactless to pop down and get some cake before it all goes.

Well, I ought to finish on a pleasant picture before I get accused of being morbid.  Here’s something nice and cheery…

Wedding Bells James Hayllar
I come over all 'Thomas Hardy' when I look at this.  It might be about a wedding, but our focus is on the community and the church.  Our five men ring the bells, which symbolise the main events in a persons life.  Bells are rung for baptism, marriage and death.  The two children at the front of the picture symbolise the first peal and I suppose the old man beside them symbolises the last (sorry, old man, I’m sure you look very healthy indeed).  It looks like the little girl is saying ‘By the way, we’re getting married too.  I’m eight now and not getting any younger…’

Actually, I suspect she’s saying ‘I’ll give you a shilling if you manage to stamp mud into her train.  That’ll learn her to be all flash and wear white…’

Back at the weekend, when we shall examine our Souls....


  1. I love the Bacon picture it looks like everyone is getting ready to ooh and ahh!

  2. My thoughts on marriage will never be the same! LOL! Again, you are a born storyteller. I was thinking of you being kind until you mentioned Thomas Hardy!!!!!!!!!!!

    I wore pink on my wedding day. My mother had a fit and everyone thought it silly. I'll post a pic of it soon. A simple dress, made by a friend.

  3. I have been married 3 times ,the latest encumbant is going to be the last! .I have never really enjoyed the act of getting married even the first which was a childhood folly was grueling.Number 2 decided I was a pain and went and number 3 is managing to stick it out!!!! Seriously its a great post,you always make me smile.

  4. "Wedding Bells" reminds me of the Dorothy L. Sayers mystery, "The Five Red Herrings" I think it's all about ringing bells and murder and such. Alas no weddings.

    Wonderful photos and wish you and Mr. Walker joyous and happy lives together.

  5. Great post some fantastic paintings.

  6. Many thanks for the comments, chaps. I think the Victorians couldn't resist a bit of naughty subversion when it came to pictures of 'happy' weddings. Bad Victorians! My favourite has to be Elwell's Wedding Dress as I just want to know more, especially if it's nice and gothic.

  7. Good one, Kirsty! Provided me with a much needed chuckle tonight, as I nurse my G&T and try to avoid eye contact with the freshly delivered D.I.V.O.R.C.E papers, from my previous 'Tromance'. Meh! x

  8. Oh Amy, tonight you are my Tromantic Heroine! Have a large G&T with me. Glad I cheered you up.


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx