The Amorous Mr Swain and His Mourning Ring: 1897

1896 mourning ring.

“The late lamented ” has been a favourite subject of comedy and farce and the lighter fiction from time immemorial. Second marriages are not an uncommon thing, but, oddly enough, they are usually looked at askance by the, people who have no opportunities of making one. Widows who abandon their widowhood are designing females–(Mr Weller, senior, only gave concrete expression to a popular belief)–widowers who do likewise are disposed of with a shrug and the remark, “No fool like an old fool.” And possibly the widows and the widowers have often themselves to blame for this common but it is to be hoped mistaken feeling. The dead hand in questions of property is not infrequently a serious inconvenience; in matters matrimonial it sometimes becomes a positive cruelty. Persons marrying a second time do so presumably without any abatement of respect for their former partners, but the judicious man or woman may be expected to have the good taste and the discretion to allude as seldom as possible to the past. When the new partner is reminded that “the late Mr__ was always at home before ten,” or that “the late Mrs __ would never have dreamt of asking so frequently for a new bonnet,” the domestic atmosphere is pretty certain to become electrical.

A certain Mr Swain–name of amatory omen–has just realised in what a delicate position a man is placed who chances to meet a second ‘”twin soul” a few months after the first one has left this lower sphere. Mr Swain’s experience as a sorrowing widower was of the slightest, when he happened to go up to London on business from Leicester, where he resides. He there met Miss Minnie Wright, a teacher, of some personal attractions, and “became much struck with her.” So much had he been struck indeed that within a month in May of last year he took to writing letters of “an amorous nature,” to which the young lady responded with equal warmth. Mr Swain felt that Miss Wright had a “loving soul which is in sympathy with mine.” He had secured “the love of the one’ woman whom it is to be my fond endeavour to live for.” No wonder, then, that he found himself “living in a new atmosphere,” and that he “soliloquised many times,” the text of his soliloquy being, “I have a living soul in sympathy with mine, one who will always be ready to speed me onward with letters and words of encouragement.”

But, though Mr Swain had a new atmosphere thus turned on, he had a strange hankering after the atmosphere of his past life. He had, it is true, abandoned the trappings and the suits, of woe when he became engaged to Miss Wright, and, lest the public of Leicester should fail to realise that he had left off wearing mourning, he sported white ties, showing a delicate desire to keep his neighbours up to date on his affairs which did him honour. That was all very well so far, but Miss Wright discovered that her lover wore a mourning ring in memory of Mrs Swain No. 1. She asked him to lay this sad emblem away; but Mr Swain was firm. He had taken the crape off his hat, he had hung up his sable suit, but he declined peremptorily to part with his ring. Little wonder, then, that the mourning ring caused, as the learned counsel happily expressed it, “a little rift in the lute,” and ultimately became “a bone of contention.”

But worse remained behind. Miss Wright honoured her lover with a visit at his lodgings, and what did she find? She saw the walls covered with a dozen photographs of what–? No, not of ladies of the ballet–that might have been forgiveable–but of the late Mrs Swain!

“Really,” exclaimed the young lady, with much emotion, “I think Mr Swain’s conduct heartless in the extreme.”

And so these loving hearts have been sundered. Miss Wright carries with her into her retirement £75, which a sympathetic jury awarded as a salve to her wounded soul.

Mr Swain will probably resume his mourning suit, and fill up any blanks on his walls with more photographs of “the late lamented.” Should he ever again meet a “twin soul,” his recent experience will probably have convinced him that it will be well to keep the dead hand out of the contract.

Glasgow [Glasgow, Scotland] Herald 26 April 1897: p 6

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead and on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead. 

The Widowed Mrs Lawrence Has the Most Heavenly Time: 1914

I wish I could be a widow. I can’t think of anything more fascinating or independent. Jack, who was seeing me home from saying goodby to Mrs. Lawrence, who was going to Europe, evidently didn’t think I showed a true womanly spirit in expressing such a desire.

Mrs. Lawrence has been a widow for a year, and has the most heavenly time. She never has to think about a chaperon, though she looks and acts as though she needed one; has handsome young men proposing all over her house: in fact. she had to send for a policeman to remove one the other day, because he became so insistent and threatened to shoot her. She has a million dollars, and does just as she likes from morning until night.

You never hear much about poor widows somehow. They generally lose interest in life, not being able to afford the most becoming mourning, and go around with swollen noses and children.

But Kitty Lawrence doesn’t do anything like that. She has an apartment in Paris and the most adorable little black Pomeranian named after her husband. She says, in spite of her grief, she thought of everything at the time Joseph died, and ordered the dog immediately and gave away her Boston bull. She says she’s always going to wear mourning for Joseph. Even if she remarried she will always dress in black, as it’s the most becoming color she can put on.

When Kitty married Joseph I felt sure he would not live long. He was awfully old and unsteady, and it was perfectly absurd for her to insist on his taking her for long horseback rides and walking trips. I told her it was the worst thing possible for his health and that Dr. Billings had said so when he was with me one day and she had gone tearing by on horseback with Joseph after her. A little while after that Kitty had a race course built on the place, also a large gymnasium. Six months after that Joseph died, and Kitty, after a fearful row with his relatives over the tombstone, went to Paris in order to get the proper mourning.

She even spent some time in Russia getting black furs. and now is going to London to get a set of black pearls. Joseph’s sisters said something about it being extravagant, but she told them it was Joseph’s money, and she considered it proper that as much as possible should be spent on his memory.

The eldest sister, who has never married and is always asking you to contribute to her Sunshine Society and diet kitchens, suggested that she go abroad with Kitty and help select the pearls, but Kitty said she wouldn’t dream of taking her away from her home and her charities and boring her with her poor little fads and fancies.

She was going to take Mr. Norton, Joseph’s secretary. She said she felt sorry for the poor young man, he had worked so hard. settling up the estate, he was quite worn out. She said common decency suggested he should have a holiday.

It was quite touching to see the anxiety she showed for fear she had overworked poor Norton. He’s about six feet two and built like a Samson, and it was very attractive to see how careful he was of her welfare, too.

She looked perfectly lovely in a little new black bonnet and white polo coat. We said goodby and told her not to overwork Mr. Norton selecting pearls. She said she’d try not to, as the trip was for his health, and she was also going to find him a rich wife.

If I were a widow I believe I’d stay one for a while.

The Herald [New Orleans LA] 26 February 1914: p. 5

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

A Fad for Widows’ Rings: 1903, 1915

widow's rings cropped


Western Idea Will Afford Novelty for Two Varieties of Widows–at Least During Heated Season

The latest jewelry fad–special rings for the genuine, grass, and alimonied varieties of widows–is causing excitement in the hearts of jewelers all over the country as well as in the breasts of the bereaved ones who will thus be enabled to advertise their true condition to the world.

The real widow’s ring is to be a circlet of gold with a black enamel band running through the center; the grass widow will wear one with a streak of green enamel; and the weeping Rachels with alimony will display diamonds in a continuous circle through the gold band. The rings are expected to prove highly popular with two varieties at least–for their novelty, if nothing else.

Patriot  [Harrisburg, PA] 25 June 1915: p. 1

Mourning rings had another advantage: they told of the wearer’s marital status without making a vulgar announcement:

“Some young widows who find it difficult to indicate their bereavement when indoors, with hat and flowing veil removed, take advantage of the ring to announce to susceptible young men that they have returned to the matrimonial market. They need not look melancholy. A turn of the finger and the sad news is told.

“Do men use them?”

“Most assuredly. Widowers have no way of announcing their loss except by the band on their hats. With a mourning ring all embarrassing inquiries regarding the deceased wife may be avoided and knowledge of the widower’s restored eligibility quickly and neatly imparted.” Watertown [NY] Daily Times 11 February 1888: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mourning rings have been in and out of vogue at least since the 16th century. Here is a description of the “revival” of such rings, from 1903

Mourning Rings.

Widows have revived the fashion of wearing mourning rings, and a design that is finding great favour in the eyes of the wealthy consists of a large single black pearl, sunk in a rim of what is known as tarnished silver. Then, too, there are cameo rings, bearing the likness of the the woman’s late husband, and set in a circlet of gold covered with black enamel.

All mourning rings are large and heavy, and must be worn above the wedding circlet.

According to jewellers, the fashion for wearing rings is on the increase. Indeed, the thumb is the only digit that you may not adorn in these days; marquise rings being first favorites for wearing on the index finger. We owe to this fashion the new finger tip squeeze, for one really cannot describe such a proceeding as anything else; and a handshake would indeed be exquisitely painful to those who have rings on every finger, the gems in which would cut into the flesh if pressed in a hearty grip.

The Star [Reynoldsville PA] 25 March 1903: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil is shocked at the notion of a widow wearing a gold ring, even adorned with black enamel, in the first stages of widowhood when, according to all of the rules of mourning, nothing lustrous may be worn. However, much mourning jewellery is set in gold and the widow’s ring may be designed for the second year of mourning, when glossy silks and polished jet are resumed. And, to be frank, in 1915, mourning observances were not followed as assiduously as in the halcyon days of Queen Victoria. The horrific casualties of the Great War took a good deal of the pleasure out of mourning.

“Grass widow” is a term with several possible meanings. She might be a woman whose husband was away on business. She might be “a woman who is separated, divorced, or lives apart from her husband,” as defined by a 19th-century dictionary. Or she might be a female living irregularly with a man already equipped with a wife. The phrase “grass widow” may also carry a suggestion of illicit trysts on the grass, alas. The “alimonied” widow, however, is no widow, but a divorcee. One wonders why diamonds are used to mark the failure of a marriage: was it a case of the former husband paying handsomely for his guilty conscience or the wages of sin?


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Several articles on mourning jewellery will be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead.