Wednesday, 12 September 2018


The mourning rites we customarily think of as being so strict during the Regency era, were actually those imposed by Queen Victoria after the death of her husband, Prince Albert. Victoria was known to wear black for many years and strict forms of comportment during the mourning period. The Georgian Era/Regency held its moments, especially during the country's mourning for King George III and later, King George IV. But the mourning of individuals differed. 

Queen Victoria personified the Victorian obsession with grief
The wealthy might have an open coffin in a drawing room where the deceased could be viewed by the family and others could pay their respects. More than likely, the poor permitted the body to decompose in one of the rooms and later the bones were buried. If a coffin was used, the poor were more likely to "rent" a coffin. The deceased was sewn into a wool shroud. The coffin had an open end and the shrouded body would be tipped into the grave and covered up with dirt. The coffin would be used again for another service. Funeral meats were served at the home of the deceased. 
From, we find: "Funeral baked meats” is famous from Hamlet and I had assumed baked meats referred to roast beef/venison/pork/suckling pig etc.
E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898. 
Baked Meat 
means meat-pie. “The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage table” (Hamlet); i.e. the hot meat-pies (venison pasties) served at the funeral and not eaten, were served cold at the marriage banquet.
"Presumably those pies and pasties were cooked in shortcrust pastry, and such meat (and veg) pies are still popular in the UK and the Antipodes, but not in the States where pies are fruit with a different kind of pastry I believe. (This is true of British fruit pies anyway.)" has:
  /ˈbeɪkˌmit/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [beyk-meet] Show IPA 
–noun Obsolete. 
1.  pastry; pie. 
2.  cooked food, esp. a meat pie. 
Also, baked meat.
1350–1400; ME bake mete, OE bacen mete baked food. See bake, meat
This is reminiscent of the legend of the Sin-Eater. A sin-eater is a person who consumes a ritual meal in order to take on the sins of a person or household. The food was believed to absorb the sins of a recently deceased person, thus absolving the soul of the person. Sin-eaters, as a consequence, carried the sins of all people whose sins they had eaten. A local legend in Shropshire, England, concerns the grave of Richard Munslow, who died in 1906, ["Last 'sin-eater' to be celebrated with church service"BBC News. 19 September 2010.] said to be the last sin-eater of the area:
By eating bread and drinking ale, and by making a short speech at the graveside, the sin-eater took upon themselves the sins of the deceased". The speech was written as: "I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes or in our meadows. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.
Image from Rod Serling's Night Gallery
There is an episode of Rod Sterling's 1970s Night Gallery (Season 2, Episode 59) entitled "The Sins of the Fathers," and starred Richard Thomas of "The Waltons" fame as the sin-eater's son and Geraldine Page as his mother. When I saw it years ago, it creeped me out and the images of it stayed with me all these years. Ethan Renoe tells us something about the episode: "The episode takes place in 13th century Wales, where famine is destroying the country. An old man has just died, so his family is looking for a sin-eater to come and relinquish the man of his sins. The belief is that this person, known as the sin-eater, comes and feasts on fine foods from the chest of the corpse and, once the meal is complete and the proper prayers are recited, the sins of the deceased enter into the soul of the sin-eater. He screams in agony and the family watching knows that the dead man is relieved of his trespasses.
Screenshot from Rod Serling's Night Gallery

(Air date: February 23, 1972)


Teleplay by Halsted Welles • Story by Christianna Brand
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Not for the squeamish is “The Sins of the Fathers,” based on the old Welsh custom of sin-eating: cleansing a man of his sins by feasting in the presence of his corpse.
Geraldine Page as Mrs. Evans
Richard Thomas as Ian Evans
Michael Dunn as the Servant
Barbara Steele as the Widow Craighill
Cyril Delevanti as the First Mourner
Alan Napier as the Second Mourner
Terence Pushman as the Third Mourner
John Barclay as the Fourth Mourner

"If you know anything about Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, you know that creepy and weird is just what lives inside his head. The episode follows a midget as he rides his pony 12 miles to fetch the sin-eater, who, it turns out, has also just died. His wife coerces their son to go instead and eat the sins of the dead man." Obviously, if you read the title above, you know the ironic twist at the end.
In my story, Where There's a FitzWILLiam Darcy, There's a Way, Mr. Bennet has passed and the Bennet family is thrust into mourning. During the Regency, Mrs. Bennet would be expected to mourn her husband for a year, while the daughters were only required to mourn their father for six months. This meant wearing black or dark gray. After six months, Mrs. Bennet would be in half mourning, meaning she should could wear a combination of black and white. After that she could wear black, gray, or lavender until the year was complete. Many women continued to wear mourning long after their husbands had passed.
The "rules of propriety" said a year of mourning for a husband or wife, and six moths for a parent or one's in-laws. Donna Hatch has a full breakdown of how long one must grieve for aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, and the like on her Mourning Customs in Regency England. I know many of you will find the excerpts she quotes quite interesting. 
Geri Walton has a wonderful post entitled "Mourning in the Georgian Era," in which she tells us: 
Mourning rules were also associated with families, relatives, and servants in the Georgian Era. In the Life of Harriot Stuart, written in 1750 by the English poet and authoress, Charlotte Lennox, she noted:
“[The] length of time devoted to mourning, and the apparent intensity with which one mourned, were determined to a large extent by the relationship that … existed between the two people and the ‘public knowledge of that relationship’ … mourning was usually only done for kindred, and … the formal rules that governed mourning, which specified an exact amount of time for each degree of kinship, ‘showed that servants were excluded from family.'”

Regina Jeffers


Where There's a FitzWILLiam Darcy, There's a Way 

ELIZABETH BENNET’s world has turned upon its head. Not only is her family about to be banished to the hedgerows after her father’s sudden death, but Mr. Darcy has appeared upon Longbourn’s threshold, not to renew his proposal, as she first feared, but, rather, to serve as Mr. Collins’s agent in taking an accounting of Longbourn’s “treasures” before her father’s cousin steals away all her memories of the place.
FITZWILLIAM DARCY certainly has no desire to encounter Elizabeth Bennet again so soon after her mordant refusal of his hand in marriage, but when his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, strikes a bargain in which her ladyship agrees to provide his Cousin Anne a London Season if Darcy will become Mr. Collins’s agent in Hertfordshire, Darcy accepts in hopes he can convince Miss Elizabeth to think better of him than she, obviously, does. Yet, how can he persuade the woman to recognize his inherent sense of honor, when his inventory of Longbourn’s entailed land and real properties announces the date she and her family will be homeless?

Excerpt from Chapter Ten of Where There's a FitzWILLiam Darcy, There's a Way.

(In this section, Darcy and Elizabeth have been inspecting the home farms as part of Darcy's duty to Mr. Collins. They stop to enjoy a meal he brought for them.) 
Darcy knew he could never permit such a future for her, but he could not speak promises without the bonds of an engagement, and having such at this time would drive her away, so he swallowed the words on the tip of his tongue. “I, too, find London difficult,” he said lamely.
Again, they sat in quiet contemplation for several minutes, each finishing the food on their plates. It amazed him how those silent moments between them no longer felt awkward, for there was an understood acceptance now.  At length, she returned their plates and silver to the basket. When finished, she turned to him to ask, “I know this will sound personal, and you must not respond, if doing so makes you uncomfortable, but after your father passed, did you ever walk into a room and believe you could feel his presence? Smell the soap he used or the cigar he had just smoked?”
“Often,” he admitted. “My sister claims she has been awakened by his touch on her shoulder, but I have not experienced such an encounter. However, I have repeatedly thought that if I turn my head, I would find George Darcy watching me go about my daily business to the estate.”
“Does such frighten you? This feeling, I mean?” she asked quietly.
Darcy sipped his wine before responding. “No. I find it comforting, especially when I am addressing a pressing or a difficult problem. My father always wished my success; therefore, why should I be frightened?” He took a longer drink of the wine before he asked, “Do you feel Mr. Bennet’s presence?”
She nodded in embarrassment. “More than I would have thought. Even when I was at Hunsford. The last night.” She brought her eyes to meet his. “The night of your—”
“Proposal,” he said softly.
“Yes.” Sunlight filtered through the leaves to slant across her beloved features. “It was as if, for the first time in many years, my father looked upon me with disapproval.”
“I suppose you realize that evening would have been the day of his passing.” A brief breathless moment slid between them, and Darcy reached across the blanket to cover her hand with his.
“I thought of little else upon my return to Longbourn,” she admitted.
He dared not ask what she considered to be the source of her father’s disdain. Did Mr. Bennet disapprove of Darcy’s proposal? Of her refusal? Or the fact his favorite daughter was not at Longbourn so Bennet could speak his farewells?”
“Have you seen him since?” he asked, at last.
“No, but I often feel him—his warm embrace—my nestling into his sturdy body.” With a sigh, she entwined their fingers. “Much as it was with us in the orchard.”
Darcy relished the ease with which she reached for him and the comfort she appeared to take in his touch, but he did not wish to replace her father in her life. He desired her affection.
“It is natural for you to seek the security Mr. Bennet provided your family,” he assured. “You were not at Longbourn when the incident happened, and your life has been full of the repercussions since. You must promise me you will permit yourself time to grieve.”
“Would grieving not mean I accept Mr. Bennet’s loss?” Tears formed in the corner of her eyes.
He caressed her cheek. “Not accepting will not alter what has occurred. It will only delay your healing.”
“I know you speak the truth,” she said on a sob. “But how do I make myself believe my father will never sit at his desk again and enjoy a book from his library?”
“Things will settle once you know the disposition of your father’s will. You are much of the same nature as I in that manner. You are strong and willing to face whatever life delivers to your door. It is the unknown that brings you anxiousness. Such is what has you questioning yourself.”
“Did you question yourself with your father’s passing?”
“I lost my mother when I was but thirteen. My father met his end some five years past. The loss of my mother was devastating. Lady Anne Darcy was my champion, and her passing left a gaping hole in the happiness we all had known at Pemberley. Yet, we knew for months that Lady Anne’s passing was inevitable. We had time to prepare ourselves for the void. But it was my father’s sudden collapse that frightened me to my core. I did not wish to accept that I was now not only Pemberley’s master, with all that entails, but I was also Georgiana’s guardian. It was quite daunting. In many ways, it still is.”
“How old is Miss Darcy?”
Darcy realized Elizabeth had yet to read his letter. “Barely sixteen. Georgiana is twelve years my junior. I treasure her and worry every day if I am serving her well.”
She smiled upon him. “Surely, you have never failed her.”
However, before he could respond, the sound of laughter from some place along the road leading to where they sat had them jerking apart.
“My sisters,” she mouthed.
He leaned close to whisper. “I will circle around to the orchard and pretend to have been examining it.”
She nodded her agreement and stood quickly. “What of the basket and blanket?
“I will think of something.” He gave her a gentle nudge in the direction of her sisters’ approach.
* * *
Elizabeth strolled casually from the woods to encounter her two youngest sisters. “Where are you about?”
Lydia and Kitty pulled up short. “We could ask the same of you,” Lydia said smartly.
Elizabeth gestured to the empty phaeton. “Mr. Darcy wished to walk through the orchard. To observe the condition of the trees or some such nonsense,” she said with what she hoped sounded of boredom.
“What were you doing in the woods?” Lydia taunted. “Please tell me you did not permit Mr. Darcy a kiss.”
“If you must know,” she said in hushed tones. “I was seeing to my personal needs while the gentleman was not about.”
“Were you not ashamed?” Kitty questioned.
Elizabeth gestured to them to keep their voices low. “It is not as if we were within a hundred yards of each other. Besides, sometimes urgency outweighs embarrassment. Now tell me where you were going.” She meant to change the subject before her sisters questioned her too closely.
“Mama said we could walk into Meryton,” Kitty responded before Lydia could warn Kitty with an elbow to their sister’s ribs.
“It is too soon,” Elizabeth protested. “It has been but twelve days since our father’s passing, even less since his burial. You cannot go about in society as if Mr. Bennet meant nothing to us.”
“But there is little to entertain us at Longbourn,” Lydia protested.
Elizabeth shook her head in denial. “It is not a time for entertainment. Surely you cannot mean to insist we go about our days as if nothing of importance has occurred in our lives. Our father is dead, and we all will be soon at the mercy of charitable relations.”
“But the militia means to go to Brighton soon,” Lydia reasoned. “What if Denny and Mr. Wickham and the others leave without our speaking our farewells?”
“Lydia, you must accept the fact we no longer hold the exalted position we once did in the neighborhood. Mr. Collins is now Longbourn’s master, and, within a month, we will be vacating our home forever. The militia has no place in our future.”
“But Mrs. Forster has asked me to go to Brighton with her. Harriet says we will have  a jolly good time,” Lydia argued.
Elizabeth said in strict tones. “Mrs. Forster’s invitation was extended prior to Mr. Bennet’s death. We are all in mourning. You cannot leave on a holiday.”
“But Mama said—”
“Mrs. Bennet had no right to make such promises. Even if we were not newly in mourning, neither Uncle Gardiner or Uncle Philips can afford to send you off on a holiday. We will each be farmed out to relatives or be expected to work for our keep. Our days of socializing and enjoying balls are over.” She glanced behind her to note Mr. Darcy’s approach from the far side of the orchard. “Now no more arguing, especially before Mr. Darcy,” she warned.
As he came near, Elizabeth said, “I am pleased you have returned, sir. If you will pardon me, I mean to walk back to Longbourn with my sisters.”
“I do not want—” Lydia began, but Elizabeth shot her sister a glare of fury.
“I said we would walk back together,” she hissed.
“Certainly,” Mr. Darcy was quick to say. “I will finish my examination of the orchard and then rejoin you at Longbourn.” He bowed to them. Thankfully, the gentleman understood her need to accompany her sisters’ return to the manor, and he protected her reputation. Elizabeth was determined not to permit her sisters to continue to embarrass the family and their father’s good name.


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Vesper said...

I am a bit more than concerned about 'permitted the body to decompose in one of the rooms and later the bones...' Surely that was unhealthy, and the inconvenience of using a room for that purpose

Regina Jeffers said...

Two hundred years ago, people did not think of death and dying in the same manner as they nowadays, Vesper.

Lauren Gilbert said...

Having a deceased love one laid out in the parlor was not uncommon right up into the late 1800's. Funeral homes evolved after the Civil War in the US. Excellent post, Regina!

Regina Jeffers said...

I am glad you liked this one, Lauren. I used to teach an essay from Jessica Mitford called "Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain." If you have the stomach for it, you could read it here: The class was my AP Language class where we studied word choice, etc. The piece is a real eye opener: The body is first laid out in the undertaker's morgue-or rather, Mr. Jones is reposing in the preparation room-to be readied to bid the world farewell.

darcybennett said...

Interesting post. I used to watch Night Gallery but do not recall this episode. Enjoyed the excerpt, especially the part where Mr. Darcy helps Elizabeth with her grief.

Eva said...

Thank you for the excerpt. Propose again and accept, Elizabeth!

Regina Jeffers said...

DarcyBennett, I absolutely loved Night Gallery. The episode I mentioned above has stayed with me all these years.

Regina Jeffers said...

Elizabeth cannot accept because of the stipulations of Eugenia Gardiner's bequest, Eva.

Leah Pruett said...

I read this book. I confess I bought it immediately upon release. I'd love to get my hands on another copy for a friend, though!

dstoutholcomb said...

In some parts of the US, handheld meat pies are popular.

Loved the featured excerpt.


Regina Jeffers said...

Leah, I wish you luck in the drawing.

Regina Jeffers said...

I have heard of boomerang pies in the U.S., Denise. The Philadelphia 76ers sell a meat pie based on the Australian ones. Their coach used to coach in Australia.

Glynis said...

Having a decomposing body in the house must have been dreadful as the poor rarely had enough room to live as it is. I also wouldn’t fancy having to take on someone else’s sins (I have enough of my own!)
Good for Elizabeth taking control of Kitty and Lydia. Perhaps she should lock them in their room until the militia leave.
Now she needs to read Darcy’s letter to better understand him (although she seems to think better of him now anyway) and to learn how dangerous Wickham is.

Daniela Quadros said...

Very interesting, Regina. Here in Brazil it is not uncommon for the deceased to be laid out in the house parlor. It has become gradually less common over the years but it still happens. Thank you for the excerpt. I love your books and am looking forward to reading this one.

Jen Red said...

Loved the info about mourning. Since I have the book, there's no need to enter me in the contest. I had a chance to finish and loved the story from beginning to end. Thanks Regina for a great read!

Regina Jeffers said...

Glynis, I always like the story better when Elizabeth comes to a better understanding of Darcy, without the "nudge" of his letter. Reading the letter does not really show her growth as a character. She is ashamed for herself for having acted so poorly. She has not addressed how she can make amends to him.

Regina Jeffers said...

Daniela, growing up in the Appalachian mountain region, when I was young, it was not unusual for a deceased person to be laid out in some relative's home.

Regina Jeffers said...

I am so pleased you loved the book, Jennifer. I count myself fortunate to claim your patronage.

Anji said...

Fascinating post, Regina. I think that TV episode you refer to would have been a bit too creepy for me! I also didn't realise that meat pies are relatively unfamiliar in the USA. Is it the same for Cornish Pasties and sausage rolls, too? I've only been to the US twice and can't remember if I ever saw any meat and pastry items on sale or on menus anywhere. Pasties, in particular, were a handy food for workers like farm labourers and miners, as the meat and vegetable content is completely enclosed and can be held in the hand to eat. No need for plates or cutlery.

Regina Jeffers said...

Anji, where I live we have two restaurants/pubs that cater to British-style foods, but I imagine if I spoke of a meat pie, most would think of what we in the South call a "pot pie." One could not eat a pot pie by holding it in his hands. There is too much gravy. It would spill all over a person. I grew up in a rural community where we had the German version of meat pies. It was not until I traveled to England that I partook of the British version. As I mentioned above, I have heard of boomerang pies in the U.S., Denise. The Philadelphia 76ers sell a meat pie based on the Australian ones. Their coach used to coach in Australia.

Randi said...

The information and links about mourning are of great interest to me because the story that I HOPE will be my debut novel involves the death of a Bennet family member, so I need to figure out what customs the family must observe. Maybe you can answer a question. I realize of course that a wedding would not take place during full mourning, but could a betrothal occur if it was handled quietly?

I have entered the drawing and would love to win this book! 😊

Lúthien84 said...

I've not heard of sin-eaters before, Regina. I presume that you will elaborate on the Regency customs but it just takes up a small portion of the post. The enticing excerpt more than make up for it. Does the scene takes place before Darcy learn of Eugenia Gardiner's bequest to her female relatives of her family?

Btw, what's with the second part of title (There's a Way) missing from the cover? I've been meaning to ask you this but I forgot.

Regina Jeffers said...

Randi, a betrothal could occur, but the gentleman would be accepting the responsibility for not only his betrothed's future, but also her family. In my story, if Elizabeth had accepted Darcy's proposal before she learned of her father's passing, Darcy would be obligated to see to her family's future.

You might look at Mourning Customs in Regency England from Donna Hatch.

Historical Hussies: Regency Mourning Practices

Mourning Becomes Her: Regency Mourning Dress & Customs

Mourning in the Georgian Era

Regina Jeffers said...

In this picnic scene, Darcy is aware of the Bennets searching for Mr. Bennet's will and something of Eugenia Gardiner's bequest, but as Cornwall is a 5 days or more journey, he has yet to receive any information on the stipulations of Eugenia's will. I wished the scene to show Elizabeth's growing dependence upon his good sense, as well as Darcy's being the only one to realize she has yet to have permitted herself the truth of her father's passing.

As to the title, "There's a Way" was meant to be the subtitle; therefore, it does not appear on the cover. However, as Amazon is claiming that the print copy (which of yet is not available) has infringed on the copyright of the eBook version, I may need to change the cover and squeeze in "There's a Way." [Imagine the craziness of the situation, I am infringing upon my own copyright. The trouble is I cannot get a real person to see the foolishness of the situation. I am losing sales because the print book is still under "Review."]