I was in the UK over the Queen’s Jubilee. Specifically, I was in Reading visiting friends who are vehement Republicans. Which, I learned, does not mean that they will be supporting Mitt Romney in the next election, but that she’d like to abolish the monarchy.
Despite their political leanings, my friends very kindly indulged me on the jubilee day, making tea sandwiches and taking me to the celebration in the town square. I think as a Canadian and a Victorianist I’ve always felt a little kindly toward the royal family, though this might not have been the case if I had grown up in the UK. I have fond memories of celebrating Victoria Day with my family, and I one of the first things I remember learning that distinguished Canadians from Americans was having the (colonial) tie to the UK, symbolized by the monarchy. I.e. the Queen is on one side of our quarter, and a moose on the other side. For some reason that never sounds odd until you explain it to foreign friends!
I moved to the UK for a short year almost ten years ago now (!) to do my master’s. Having read a lot of Victorian novels but having never spent a lot of time outside Canada, I was surprised at the number of things that that were not specifically Victorian, but part of contemporary British culture. I thought only Jane Eyre had her hair in plaits, and had rows with Mr. Rochester, but no, plaits might be a little bohemian these days but it’s just braiding your hair, and of course people are still having rows with their boyfriends and girlfriends.
Ten years later, I thought I had it all figured out. But then my Republican friends took me to the town square celebrations for the jubilee, and lo and behold, there was a Punch and Judy show! And a dozen youngsters, ranging in age from about four to ten, delighted at the sight of Punch beating his wife!
Now, if there’s anything that I thought might have been banned since the Victorian era, it’s wife-beating as entertainment. But there was good old Punch, throwing Judy down the stairs, and beating her with a stick because she ate his sausage. Not that Judy doesn’t have her own stick. But then they’re just beating each other!
Other than beating, most of the gags seemed to revolve around a joke with the audience, that there’s a crocodile or a policeman or something in the background that Mr. Punch can’t see, and the children have to shout out “Crocodile!” or “Police!” to alert him. But he never does see what’s right behind him, Mr. Punch. The children LOVED it!
My initial thought was that this was just brought out for the jubilee, a quaint piece of Victoriana like the monarchy itself. But my friends fondly remembered Punch and Judy coming to their elementary schools in the eighties, in Scotland and Wales. Oh dear. Click below to see Punch and Judy for yourself.
Fellow Victorianists, I know you’re reading. Was there anything you thought was Victorian only to be surprised on actually visiting the UK? What are the results of reading too many books with too little outside experience from a young age? Other than having a large vocabulary you can’t pronounce until you go to graduate school!