Fascinating Victorian Traditions We Can't Believe Existed

 The smell of Victorian London

The Victorian era was a time of contradictory ideals: they covered themselves fully but considered the female figure attractive, they were obsessed with cleanliness but practically lived in a sewer, and they placed marriage and family above all things. Gave importance but sold their wives at auction. It's possible that the Victorians couldn't see the forest for the trees, but perhaps they were a generation full of weirdos.

The worst and strangest thing about Victorian London was that it smelled terrible. There was raw sewage in the River Thames, people used the streets as their personal bathrooms, and the air was thick with coal. In 1858, a heat wave unleashed the brown stench of the River Thames throughout London, finally convincing the government to focus on cleaning up the city.

Christmas cards in the Victorian era weren't your standard "weirdly depicted family smiling in front of a fake tree." They featured anthropomorphic food, dead animals, and scenes of pure violence, along with festive greetings to one's friends and neighbors. At a time when winter could mean death for one of your loved ones, some gallows humor was necessary.

Health-conscious Victorians made sure to take care of their teeth with a mixture of coal and honey. Charcoal is thought to have some whitening abilities, but honey just rots your teeth, so it's doubtful those misguided Victorians noticed any beneficial effects on teeth.

Victorian ladies and even skin-care gentlemen kept their faces pillowy-soft with face masks, but not with today's clay and seaweed treatments. Victorians used raw beef or veal to relieve acne, rosacea and dry skin.

Performance-enhancing drugs are much older than Jose Canseco. Not only did athletes show up to compete, they did so even in the most mundane of competitions, especially walking, known as long distance walking. These hikers covered hundreds of miles over the course of a few days, chewing coca leaves and drinking "tonics" that contained strychnine as a main ingredient to stave off fatigue. Sometimes, when their respiratory systems stop, they even give injections to keep them going.

The Victorians loved their parlor games, even more so when they could legitimately kill you. One such game was called "Snap Dragon" and involved putting raisins in a bowl, soaking them in rum and setting them on fire to extract as many raisins as possible and crushing them while they were still burning. Included. Why? You know. Victorian.

How do you digest your food properly? Do you chew it until it reaches a suitable texture to swallow easily? Do you ensure that you get adequate quantity of raw fodder? How about eating in the dark? The Victorians believed that digestion could be best done while sitting in the dark, so they built their dining rooms in basements, the perfect place for blind dinners.

The Victorians were just as obsessed with their bodies as we are, if not more dangerously so. Many women used arsenic, a carcinogenic poison, to fight wrinkles, and men swallowed arsenic pills pre-Pfizer Viagra. It is not clear whether arsenic can actually be used to turn the compass to true north, but it does not seem worth trying.

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