Familiarity breeds contentment

Charles 3 Comments

The so-called traditional or Victorian funeral derives from a time when they did death differently, when people grieved differently.

It was characterised by hush and awe, ostentatious gloom and social pretension. It was an invention of the Gothic Revival and claimed, spuriously, descent from the medieval guild funerals devised and superintended by the College of Arms. 

And that Victorian schtick (lite) is still, amazingly or not, what people want. Formality, military precision, archaic fancy-dress, steroidal motorcars, the whole aesthetic. Even though many people no longer dress themselves up particularly for funerals, not like they used. 

Yet they still like things to be done ‘properly’, most people, even though the tenor of funerals these days tends to be celebratory and no longer magnificently sad. They still like to have a priest presiding, too, even if the theology they spout is just so much blather. 

To those bien-pensant middle class freethinking liberals who mostly comprise the funeral reform movement it is a matter of some bewilderment that the new age of more meaningful funerals and a more contemporary aesthetic hasn’t got here sooner. 

What’s the holdup? 


  1. Charles

    I’d guess the holdup is that, in the shock that we feel even when we expected a death, and when reality starts bending alarmingly, there is some rationality in conforming with the safety of so-called normality.

    If normality had happened to be unrecognisably different from the faux-Victorian version you describe, Charles – say, oh I don’t know, say a nudist parade – that’s what everyone would be insisting is the proper way. There is certainly nothing about the modern funeral that is in itself what people want, other than that it is already established. So when undetakers say people want the traditional funeral, I don’t believe them. Want is the wrong verb.

    1. Charles

      Spot on, I’d say. ‘Want’ is indeed a hopelessly misguided verb in this context.

      And yet it can be hard to work out what one actually does ‘want’ when organising a funeral, given the likely shortfall in thinking about it in advance and the addling effects of grief.

      FDs, do tell us: how do you frame open questions to discover what arrangements might make real sense to the bereaved? Getting past the stuffy default position into a domain of real choice must be very challenging.

  2. Charles

    Yes, it’s a big and very complex question. Answers please in 10,000 words. If there were no norm, it would be interesting to see what people now, starting with a blank sheet of paper, would come up with. They’d almost certainly want ceremonial which creates an appropriate sense of occasion and, probably, a procession of some short. It’s possible it might not be much different from the way we do it now…

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