Victorians at the Seashore

Is it wrong to make fun of an entire era? Say the Victorian era?

If it’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

There is going to be a lot of Victorian bashing here on spartanholiday. The subtitle of this site could be: “In Which the Author Ignorantly, Repeatedly, and Unjustly Ridicules Several Generations of The Queen’s Subjects.”

But look at them. They went swimming in frocks, and pantaloons, and hats. They had a funny way of talking, walking (as evidenced by the above picture), and fainting (from hysterics). They were stiff, starched, yet perishingly dainty–not all of them of course, but the funniest ones. I don’t think there is any one era I would rather mock out than the Victorians. Maybe the ancient Egyptians…

So, Victorians. I could start with their drafty parlors.  I could start with cultural artifacts like Waterloo teeth (early dentures made from the teeth of convicts, war dead, raided corpses, etc). We have the Victorians sugar cane empire to thank for our everlasting mania for sweets. Jam on their toast, sugar in their tea, cookies at every clock chime. Surprise–their teeth rotted out. Let’s go borrow some teeth from our criminal friends… But I think, instead, I’ll start with a particular oceanic belief of the Victorians, as told to me by Simon Winchester, author of Atlantic.

Like its subject, Atlantic is vast, and billowing, and epic, and kind of smoky blue in color. There are pictures—all manner of boats, and lighthouses, and seaside precipices. Printed across the inside cover is a photo of great steam ships coming into port—thick hawser ropes in the foreground, tinny water, onlookers in their rain slickers and porkpie hats—that sort of thing, which is the sort of thing I like.

Simon Winchester finds Victorians hilarious too, citing their belief that at great depth, water compresses…so that as you descend through the ocean, the water becomes more viscous, moving from light and splashy water, to syrup, to marmalade, to sludge, to plaster until the ocean’s bottom where the water is impenetrable, thick as concrete. The heavier the object, the deeper it can sink. This meant that there were different strata of sunken objects of different weights–a sunken object parfait, if you will. Like this:


So there you have it, the first in a repeating series about fanciful Victorian notions. It’s okay to laugh, we here in the information age know pretty much everything about everything. That is the truth to which we modestly cling. Okay, we don’t know what happens to the energy and mass sucked into a black hole, but we have some pretty good hunches. Or at least I do. And we know to swing our arms normally, casually, when we stroll on the beach.

Hence our magnificent confidence.

Note: The HMS Victoria was accidentally rammed by another British battleship and sunk off the coast of Tripoli. This happened for no good reason at all. Just Victorians being funny.


4 thoughts on “Victorians at the Seashore

  1. Sunken-object parfait! I’ll have to work that into something.
    Hard, because the oceans (unfortunately!) do not work that way.

    I enjoyed chatting with you on the plane some week ago.
    You may remember me by the master volume of The Worst-Case Scenario Handbook and my enthusiasm for listening to music for the sensation of it.
    Odd way to sum up a conversation, but that’ll have to do.

  2. And stealth bombers and giant convection funnels in the desert… Definitely one of the better plane conversations I had. Thanks, Andrew…hope you had a memorable birthday.

    I’m going to try to find you when a jackal is chewing off my leg. Or after anyway, and you can tell me what I did wrong.

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