We had a National Picnic Week which came and went, without incident, or very many picnics I suspect, on 11-19 June. How fitting then to talk about picnicking the glorious Victorian way, a month later, on the 19 July!
Now, these people don’t look like they’re having a wild time, but they were, compared to their everyday strictures – in fact, there’s some positive lounging about going on.
Picnicking is mentioned in the novels of Jane Austen but they still quite an unusual occurrence. By the second half of the century they had really gained in popularity as daily life for most people became increasingly industrialised. As more and more people lived in urban and suburban locations and worked in factories and offices, they began to feel the need to occasionally return to nature and soak up some rustic charm. Many cities began accommodating this phenomenon by setting up picnic groves in parks.
In a way, picnics let people briefly escape the formal expectations of society, however even getting away from it all came under the strict eye of certain writers on etiquette. Mrs Beeton (of yesterday’s post) firmly pontificated on what to eat and how to eat it. The foods eaten and the activities pursued at a Victorian picnic were supposed to illustrate one’s good breeding, so what to wear, what games to play and exactly how much hand holding was allowed for the unmarried couple was all the subject of much spilled ink.
Take a look at Mrs Beeton’s suggested menu above – after wine, champagne, beer washing down a litany of fancy foods including lobster, veal pies, roast fowls and jellies and cream, I can’t imagine anyone still standing on ceremony. Worth revising my desultory tub of houmous, pitta and cucumber sticks.