|The flogging punishment of a garotter|
Strange as it may seem if you're going to understand a time period you need to now what was acceptable in society and what was not. This seemingly gracious time frame had such amazing contrasts. I mean, this was the setting for the Jack the Ripper crimes! And evidently thieves used garotting to render their marks not only helpless, but in many cases, losing their lives with crushed windpipes.
Ooh, not a nice subject. But the gap between the poor and the wealthy was dreadful. The backstreets were havens for murderers, cutthroats, petty thieves, prostitutes, and everything in between. Destitute women were placed in workhouses and orphaned children in foundling institutions. Genuine kindness was rare except for those compassionate Christians like George Mueller who relied on the Lord to support his well-run orphanages. And this was also the time Sunday Schools came into being through like-minded Christians.
On the other side of the impasse the genteel closed their eyes to the need and enjoyed their high teas, their balls, presenting their visiting cards, and shopping trips galore. Besides that it was a time for great inventions.
Death was everywhere on the streets. Horses routinely fell and died as they pulled carriages, coaches and buses, and special companies existed to dash out and collect their carcasses. But people also died on the streets, usually of starvation. Even among the prosperous, signs of death in the streets were important. When someone died, house-blinds were drawn, and funeral drapery, swags of black (or white for girls and children) wool, velvet, or even silver embroidery, were hung across the ground-floor façade of the house. For those who could afford it, 'mutes', men wearing black and holding long staffs with drapery hanging off them, stood outside the door of the deceased on the day of the funeral.
An fascinating era indeed. It revealed the darker side of human nature, but also one of the Light shining in its midst. Oh yes, despite its problems I'm relieved to live in the twenty first century ... but can't help delving into the past for my novels.
* Rita Stella Galieh is a scriptwriter and co-presenter on Vantage Point, a 5 minute program broadcast throughout Australia. She is now with the Living Word Literary Agency. As a contributor to several US Anthologies by Adams Media, she has two Historical Romances published. Each year she and her husband minister in Buddhist Government schools, prisons, hospitals, shopping malls, and churches in Thailand.
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