All Hallows Eve: A Victorian Celebration

HALLOWEEN AT BALMORAL The Staffordshire Sentinel, 1874.

“Halloween, the observance of which is fast, fading into neglect in many districts of Scotland, especially in the Lowlands – has been celebrated on a great scale at Balmoral Castle. Preparations have been made days beforehand and the turn-out on Monday night included farmers and others for miles around. In the morning the Queen drove out, attended by the Countess of Erroll, and in the afternoon she again drove with the Marchioness of Ely. When darkness set in the celebration began. Her Majesty and the Princess Beatrice, each having a large torch, drove out in an open phaeton. A procession formed of the tenants and servants on the estates, followed. All carried high torches, lighted. They walked through the grounds and round the castle, and the scene as the procession moved onwards was very weird and striking. Having arrived in front of the castle an immense bonfire, composed of old boxes, packing cases and other materials, kept up during the year for the occasion was set fire to. When flames were at their brightest a figure dressed as a hobgoblin appeared on the scene, drawing a car surrounded by a number of fairies carrying long spears, the car continuing the effigy of a witch. A circle having been formed by the torch-bearers, the presiding elf tossed the figure of the witch into the fire, where it was speedily consumed. The act of cremation over, reels were begun with great vigour to the stirring strains of Willie Roe, her Majesty’s piper. The Queen, Princess Beatrice, and the ladies and gentlemen of the household, remained spectators of the show. It was intended to have closed the evening’s festivities with a dance in the ball-room, but owing; it is said, some of the crowd having behaved in too noisy and manner at the fire this intention was abandoned and all the proceedings were would up in the open air. The bonfire played till a late hour in the night, and the reflection was seen a long distance away.”

Morticia Addams

The real head of the family … low-voiced, incisive and subtle, smiles are rare…ruined beauty … contemptuous and original and with fierce family loyalty … even in disposition, muted, witty, sometimes deadly … given to low-keyed rhapsodies about her garden of deadly nightshade, henbane and dwarf’s hair ..

Morticia Addams is the quintessential matriarch of macabre. A human embodiment of the Gothic, Morticia leads the haunting Addam’s family mansion, a home and museum, which is inhabited by petrifying creatures and artwork, alive and dead. She casts freedom and curiousity to her two kooky children, who dabble with sharp objects, experiment with poisons and raise their array of wild and ferocious pets. 42762729825_0a9f4bd981_b

With glowing paper doll skin, complimented by deep ruby lips, dark raven locks, dead straight, and pointed ghostly features, Morticia is instantly recognisable in any artistic depiction and a popular choice for Halloween attire.

Morticia Addams has had many incarnations; she began as a nameless figure in the original New Yorker cartoons (1938) and gained her “spooky and mysterious” name in response to the 1964 series starring Carolyn Jones. Among various adaptations, animated and live action, the iconic “Morticias” are Carolyn Jones and Anjelica Huston, and both play the character differently yet somehow, perfectly.

Morticia Addams is aloof yet welcoming, she is delicate in frame yet strong in persona, she lives yet she haunts. These qualities are strong in both actresses’ performances. Huston is more frightening and, arguably, more true to the original cartoon while Jones is more level headed, rational and silently deadly. cj76

Although the Addams Family cartoon were initially created as a satirical inversion of the American dream, Morticia Addams is also an inverted blend of the 19th century perception of beauty and the expectation of the 20th century woman. The cultural contrast between these two centuries is sharp which allowed the aristocratic Addams Family to stand out and clash with modern society which in turn, demonstrates a new spin on the Gothic element of clashing and transitioning time periods.

The Make Up

Morticia’s iconic complexion holds onto the 19th century obsession with beauty and death. In one sense, the white of the skin, the black of the hair and red of the lip relate to Humourism: the balance of “perfect” health and beauty in all periods of life, including the decline to death. Morticia silently emulates American developments in make-up and fashion, opting for traditional and natural make-up and recipes of myth. On one occasion her daughter Wednesday states she uses baking powder on her face – possibly to illuminate and treat her pale skin to avoid blemishes.

Morticia’s interest in “deadly nightshade” a toxic plant containing belladonna, suggests a nod to historic desire and ways to achieve beauty as the plant was used to dilute the eyes to appear more attractive. A major theme within the Addams Family was the lustrous relationship and dynamic of Morticia and Gomez, with Morticia being able to catch Gomez’s attention by speaking French, the language of love and beauty.

The Hobble Skirt

Since the cartoon’s incarnation in 1938, Morticia has always worn a slim fitted black hobble dress.  Hobble skirts were a short lived trend, originating in the early 1900s and disappearing by the time of the Great War. Hobble skirts restricted the movement and speed of a woman, an aspect which is exaggerated by Carolyn Jones’ Morticia within the original TV series. While the style of dress was seen as restrictive and in a sense, suppressive, Morticia inverts this stereotype as well rivalling the modern day speed of living. She is never rushed, she handles situations with calmness and freedom, everyone waits for her.

The Green witch

Morticia Addams is claimed to have witchy origins. Her ancestry leads back to the Salem, her daughter Wednesday is obsessed with her great aunt who was burned at the stake in 1706 and her mother is almost always seen cooking with a cauldron…

All adaptations of the Addams Family carry supernatural themes but are rarely discussed onscreen. A prominent witchy theme is Morticia’s love and excellence in gardening; she adores dead heading roses (she keeps the thorny stems) and cares dearly for her medicinal plants. In the first few minutes of the 1968 series Morticia enquires about her hemlock and boasts about her wonderful poisonous oak.

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Spirit/Matter: Transcendental Beauty

“Within the soul is the whole; the wise silence, the universal beauty to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal one.”

This definition of beauty is found in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay, Nature.  It is a concept of beauty with many strands including “purposiveness” and superiority. The overarching idea of this particular definition is the recognition of various factors related to spirit and nature, and their connections with one another. This “holistic” form of beauty allowed the spirit, or as Emerson phrases it, the soul, to recognise and appreciate every feature of the natural and transcendental form. In abiding to this method, American Transcendental thinkers claimed original insights of the world become likely and a form of enlightenment occurs.

However Emerson restricts this notion of holistic, transcendental beauty to be intangible and metaphysical; his focus is purely on spirit and matter is overlooked. A major part of Emerson’s transcendental ideology was the rejection of the physical body, for, he believed, it was “incompatible” with the soul. This mind-set may have originated from Emerson’s battle with Tuberculosis, a disease which also took the lives of many of his family members. Consumed by physical decline, restriction and the memories of demise, it is likely that Emerson became interested and then mesmerised by the transcendental attitudes of nature in order to overcome or distract his thoughts of physical ailment.

Margaret Fuller, a prominent American Transcendental thinker and close friend of Emerson, depicts a similar idea of the holistic spirit throughout her ground breaking 1840 text, Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Fuller is successful in applying the transcendental concept of beauty to a perspective of health. Fuller suffered her entire life with effects of spinal curvature and migraines, yet redefined her ailment as a spiritual awakening, an example of beauty which crafted her transcendental ideology.

“When the intellect and the affections are in harmony; when the electrical consciousness is calm and deep, inspiration will not be confounded with fancy.”

This idea of beauty, a collaboration of understanding and the emotions associated with illness, allowed the agency of spirit to transcend the confounding nature of medical perceptions of female ailments. Fuller’s insight was enabled by the use of Mesmerism, a popular hypnotic practise which was also plagued with claims of quackery and failure. While Fuller was not cured from her physical ailments, she utilised the Mesmeric methods as a way of unlocking and understanding intrinsic beauty of woman; illness was nothing more than an “overcharged” female genius.

Fuller was successful in extending Holistic Transcendental Beauty to the physical form and proved that the spirit and body were a powerful and compatible force. The context of her work may be a nineteenth century account of personal experiences and opinions, yet her transcendental ideology of health and beauty can be extracted. Ultimately every human, their mind and body collectively, is powerful, beautiful and equal.