May 10, 2013 by Victorian Body Parts Conference
This week’s Parts Party post comes to you courtesy of the Wellcome’s glorious image archive. It is (brace yourselves)…a Victorian mourning ear trumpet!
Yes, that’s right. Many hard-of-hearing Victorians (apparently) wondered how they could show respect for their deceased relatives whilst still remaining abreast of what was going on around them, but they needn’t have fretted. This handy device was made and decorated in black silk and lace, so they could be respectful and hear things SIMULTANEOUSLY.
Joking aside, though, I think this little device gives us a fascinating insight into how pervasive the Victorian culture of mourning could be, and how intrinsically performative it was. This is by no means a subtle device; indeed, when compared with a modern (barely discernible) hearing aid, it looks rather ludicrously ostentatious. It’s also an interesting comparison when you think about other Victorian prosthetic body parts which were similarly quite obviously not-of-the-body (I’m thinking of wooden legs, hook hands and so on). Have we become more squeamish about body/object hybrids in modern times, seeking to make these devices appear more ‘bodily’? Or is it just that the technology is now available to us to be able to do so? Let me know your thoughts, Parts Partygoers!