Highgate Cemetery

High Gate

I was a little nervous before our trip to Highgate Cemetery. The idea of having a dress code made me think that I would be entering a space that was super strict. It turns out I was nervous for nothing. The experience was truly wonderful, and our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly.

Being in the space was nothing like I had imagined. I was not expecting the overgrown gravestones in such close proximity to each other. Before I left for our trip I frequently went on walks around Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester. I think in my mind I was expecting something more like that, manicured lawns with gravestones spread out a uniform distance from the closest one next to it. That is what I pictured when I read Tracy Chevalier’s novel Falling Angels.

Tracy Chevalier has a whole segment about the inspiration for her novel on her website. She stated, “What interested me most is the transitional period between the Victorian era, with its strict social codes and elaborate commemoration of the dead, and the modern world where religion has lost its value and death is no longer celebrated. This change began in Britain during the reign of King Edward VII- the Edwardian period. Falling Angels thus begins on the day after Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 and ends right before King Edward’s funeral in 1910.” Chevalier’s intent for this novel was to explore the changing social customs during this time. One of these social norms related to death that Chevalier explored was the idea of mourning cloths. In the novel Lavinia dedicates a page to how you are supposed to dress and for how long if a family member passes away. The Victorian Era was held to strict standards on what was appropriate for dress. According to the passage on mourning on Tracy Chevalier’s website, men had it easy when it came to mourning because they wore their typical dark suits. Women on the other hand  were held to higher standards. These high standards for women are reflected in other areas of the novel where Kitty tired of wearing the typical constricting skirts causes a scene when she appears at the WSPU rally in “a short green tunic belted in the middle…She’s got bare legs, from her ankles up to—well, up high…everyone’s staring at Kitty Coleman’s legs”

Kitty is the character in the novel who reflects the changing times after the Victorian Era. With in the first couple pages of the novel Kitty wears a blue dress for the morning of Queen Victoria, defying the social norms for typical mourning dress. These changes are what Tracy Chevalier was looking to explore in her novel Falling Angels.

http://www.tchevalier.com/fallingangels/bckgrnd/mourning/

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