Bearing the Dead

Bearing the Dead: The British Culture of Mourning from the Enlightenment to Victoria

Esther Schor
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7t0mh
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  • Book Info
    Bearing the Dead
    Book Description:

    Esther Schor tells us about the persistence of the dead, about why they still matter long after we emerge from grief and accept our loss. Mourning as a cultural phenomenon has become opaque to us in the twentieth century, Schor argues. This book is an effort to recover the culture of mourning that thrived in English society from the Enlightenment through the Romantic Age, and to recapture its meaning. Mourning appears here as the social diffusion of grief through sympathy, as a force that constitutes communities and helps us to conceptualize history.

    In the textual and social practices of the British Enlightenment and its early nineteenth-century heirs, Schor uncovers the ways in which mourning mediated between received ideas of virtue, both classical and Christian, and a burgeoning, property-based commercial society. The circulation of sympathies maps the means by which both valued things and values themselves are distributed within a culture. Delving into philosophy, politics, economics, and social history as well as literary texts, Schor traces a shift in the British discourse of mourning in the wake of the French Revolution: What begins as a way to effect a moral consensus in society turns into a means of conceiving and bringing forth history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2148-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-16)

    This is a book about the persistence of the dead; about why they continue to matter long after we have emerged from grief and resigned ourselves to loss. I argue here for a conception of mourning that moves beyond the familiar notion of an individual’s anguish in the immediate wake of bereavement. My methodological premise is that mourning as a cultural rather than psychological phenomenon has become opaque to us in the late twentieth century. A variety of sociological causes, documented in the extensive literature of thanatology, may be cited: the medicalization of death, the rise of the mortuary profession,...

  5. PART I A CENTURY OF TEARS
    • ONE ELEGIA AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT
      (pp. 19-47)

      This chapter interprets the cultural meanings of mourning in the Enlightenment. Since my analysis will invoke disciplines as diverse as literature, philosophy, politics, and economics, it seems a good idea to start by saying what I amnotattempting here. First, although “the elegy” is my point of departure, I do not offer a comprehensive literary history of elegy per se; to show why such a history would miss both the point and the purview of mourning during the Enlightenment is one of the burdens of my argument. Second, while this chapter describes a shift in the representation of mourning...

    • TWO WRITTEN WAILINGS
      (pp. 48-72)

      During the latter half of the eighteenth century, the fortunes of Elegia rose considerably. Gray’sElegy, by evincing both a collective, public object of mourning and a communal mourn-ing persona, garnered a new esteem for literary mourning. In the pages of theAnnual Register, Gray was credited with immeasurably broadening the elegy’s scope:

      Elegy, it must be confessed, has often extended her province. . . . [a]s in the celebrated poem of Mr. Gray, written in a church-yard. For though she is generally the selfish mourner of domestic distress, whether it be upon the loss of a friend, or disappointment...

    • THREE BURKE, PAINE, WORDSWORTH, AND THE POLITICS OF SYMPATHY
      (pp. 73-114)

      InThe Ethics of Romanticism, Laurence Lockridge refers to “the usual understanding that ethics deals with obligation and moral value as they pertain to individuals in their relatedness to themselves and to others; politics deals with larger groups or governments wherein expediency may or may not—depending on which politics is invoked—properly override moral objections.”¹ The logic of Lockridge’s distinction notwithstanding, a sharp distinction between ethics and politics makes no sense at a historical moment at which the relations between governments and persons are themselves radically in question; at which the very institutions through which governments are represented by...

  6. PART II AUTHENTIC EPITAPHS
    • FOUR “THE IMPOTENCE OF GRIEF”: WORDSWORTH’S GENEALOGIES OF MORALS
      (pp. 117-150)

      What givesThe Ruined Cottageits peculiar quality of being unforgettable—to the young man listening by the cottage; to Coleridge, Lamb, and others of Wordsworth’s circle; to readers of our own day who continue to hold it in high esteem¹—is the abyss between Margaret’s deep suffering and the Pedlar’s deeply felt sympathy for her. Students who ask me why the Pedlar “didn’t do more for her” are asking both the right and the wrong question. Surely we need to notice that the Pedlar’s sympathy for Margaret is wholly as inefficacious as Margaret’s anguish for her lost Robert. On...

    • FIVE “THIS PREGNANT SPOT OF GROUND”: BEARING THE DEAD IN THE EXCURSION
      (pp. 151-195)

      Discharging Wordsworth from the clinic of criticism in this review ofThe Excursion, Francis Jeffrey admits him to the hospice of moribund poets—to be sustained, presumably, by more charitable readers than Jeffrey. But Jeffrey’s diagnosis of Wordsworth, in its emphasis on bodily disease, differs strikingly from his pathology ofThe Excursionas “a tissue of moral and devotional ravings.”¹ Wordsworth the poet is figured not as a madman, his insanity a late complication of hypertrophic morals, but rather asphysicallycorrupt; Jeffrey cites the “spreading” of the malady, the “nauseous remedies” of purgation.² As I suggested in chapter 3,...

    • SIX A NATION’S SORROWS, A PEOPLE’S TEARS: THE POLITICS OF MOURNING PRINCESS CHARLOTTE
      (pp. 196-229)

      At 9:00 P.M. on November 5, 1817, after fifty hours of labor, Princess Charlotte Augusta was delivered of a stillborn male infant. The child, had it lived, would have been third in line for the crown after its maternal grandfather, the Prince Regent, and its mother; attempts to “reanimate” the “perfectly formed,” nine-pound infant with mouth-to-mouth insufflation, salt and mustard rubs, chest pressure, and brandy were futile.¹ The exhausted Princess is said to have remarked, “It is the will of God,” taken some nourishment, and tried to sleep. But toward midnight she complained of a ringing in her ears and...

  7. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 230-240)

    Let us compare Eliot’s epigraph above to the 1711 quotation from Richard Steele that stands as an epigraph to chapter 1. Both writers satirize an instance of mourning by raising a question of propriety: when is the connection between mourner and mourned too remote to be worthy of the reader’s (or in Steele’s case, questioner’s) sympathy? Steele ridicules the notion of a tradesman’s wife grieving for an aristocrat; a lower-class origin, it would seem, can disallow the moral dignity implicit in the act of mourning. Foreignness (“one of the house of Austria”) serves here as a metaphor for a social...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 241-280)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 281-290)