Death and Afterlife in Modern France

Death and Afterlife in Modern France

Thomas A. Kselman
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 436
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvc7m
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Death and Afterlife in Modern France
    Book Description:

    Although today in France church attendance is minimal, when death occurs many families still cling to religious rites. In exploring this common reaction to one of the most painful aspects of existence, Thomas Kselman turns to nineteenth-century French beliefs about death and the afterlife not only to show how deeply rooted the cult of the dead is in one Western society, but how death and the behavior of mourners have been politicized in the modern world. Drawing on sermons preached in rural and urban parishes, folktales, and accounts of seances, the author vividly re-creates the social and cultural context in which most French people responded to death and dealt with anxieties about the self and its survival. Inspired mainly by Catholicism, beliefs about death provided a social basis for moral order throughout the nineteenth century and were vulnerable to manipulation by public officials and clergy. Kselman shows, however, that by mid-century the increase in urbanization, capitalism, family privacy, and expressed religious differences generated diverse attitudes toward death, causing funerals to evolve from Catholic neighborhood rituals into personalized symbolic events for Catholics and dissenters alike--the civil burial of Victor Hugo being perhaps the greatest symbol of rebellion. Kselman's discussion of the growth of commercial funerals and innovations in cemetery administration illuminates a new struggle for control over funeral arrangements, this time involving businessmen, politicians, families, and clergy. This struggle in turn demonstrates the importance of these events for defining social identity.

    Originally published in 1993.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6298-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. PREFACE
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-12)

    Death and dying have become fashionable topics in recent years. Although most people may not be inclined to discuss their mortal condition in casual conversation, medical and religious professionals, philosophers, and social scientists have dealt at length with the problems of defining death, treating the terminally ill, and understanding grief and mourning.¹ Concern about these issues, however, extends far beyond an audience of professionals and scholars. When the editors ofTimechose “The Right to Die” as a cover story in 1990, they understood the popular interest in a feature on families and doctors who agonized over how to deal...

  7. Part One: Mortality and Mortal Knowledge
    • Chapter One PROGRESS AND ANXIETY IN FRENCH DEMOGRAPHY
      (pp. 15-34)

      In 1855 Achille Guillard, a French educator and engineer, invented the termdémographieto describe the “mathematical knowledge of populations, their general movements, their physical, civil, intellectual, and moral condition.”¹ Guillard was not the first person to interest himself in this field; during the eighteenth century a number of Frenchmen made important contributions to the quantitative study of population.² But it was only during the nineteenth century that accurate national statistics about birth, marriage, and death began to be collected and that demography established itself as a distinct intellectual discipline. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, France was a leader...

  8. Part Two: Folk, Orthodox, and Alternative Cultures
    • Chapter Two FOLK RELIGION: TALES OF THE DEAD
      (pp. 37-64)

      Although French cities grew in the nineteenth century, the shift from a rural to an urban society was nonetheless a gradual process. Only one-quarter of France’s population lived in settlements of 2,000 or more in 1851, and peasants still made up 45 percent of the population in 1900. Those who moved to cities to work as domestics and laborers frequently retained ties to the countryside, establishing links for further emigration and for the transmission of folk beliefs to an urban environment.¹ The folklorist Eugène Polain, from a bourgeois family in Liège, describes how in the 1860s and 1870s nurses from...

    • Chapter Three CATHOLICISM AND THE CULT OF THE DEAD
      (pp. 65-124)

      The dominant symbol of the crucifix places the death of Jesus at the center of Christianity. In the nineteenth century the cross remained a ubiquitous presence in the rituals of death, and it continued to serve as a symbol of grief and hope. A cross stood at the bedside of the dying and was frequently held by them as they received the Last Sacraments. The parish crucifix carried by an altar boy was at the head of the funeral procession from the home to the church and then to the cemetery. A large cross decorated the shroud covering the coffin,...

    • Chapter Four ALTERNATIVE AFTERLIVES IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
      (pp. 125-162)

      During the nineteenth century in France Catholicism was forced to compete with a number of different visions of the afterlife. These alternatives were proposed by philosophers and social theorists who looked back to the eighteenth century and beyond for their inspiration, and despite the innovations that they introduced their debt to the past is generally clear. But unlike in the previous century, criticism and discussion about the afterlife was not limited to an intellectual elite.¹ In the nineteenth century alternative afterlives were part of a public debate that took place in newspapers and journals and on the floor of the...

  9. Part Three: The Material Culture of Death
    • Chapter Five FROM CHURCHYARD TO CEMETERY
      (pp. 165-221)

      Visitors to Paris interested in seeing the most famous sites of the capital generally include Père Lachaise cemetery on their itinerary. Maps are available at shops in the neighborhood for the tourists interested in finding the tombs of Balzac, Michelet, Bizet, and all the other great writers, artists, and musicians who are buried there. Edith Piaf’s tomb remains a popular site, and rock cultists have made Jim Morrison’s grave into a shrine that draws thousands every year. Political as well as cultural history is commemorated in Pere Lachaise; themur des Fédirés, the wall where hundreds of communards were shot...

    • Chapter Six THE ORIGINS OF COMMERCIAL FUNERALS
      (pp. 222-256)

      In January 1986 Lucien Roche, dead at age eighty-one, was brought to the municipal cemetery at Cannes, where his family and friends found that the gates had been locked by city officials to prevent their entry. During the next twenty-four hours his body lay outside the cemetery, watched over by Michel Leclerc, the owner of the undertaking establishment responsible for the funeral arrangements. Finally, after twenty-four hours, the city relented and Roche’s casket was allowed into the cemetery, where it was placed in a temporary grave. But the city continued to refuse burial in the family plot, claiming that such...

    • Chapter Seven THE DIFFUSION AND REFORM OF POMPES FUNÈBRES
      (pp. 257-290)

      Paris was by far the largest city in France, and its symbolic position as trendsetter matched its physical importance. Not all of France, however, took advantage of the Napoleonic legislation and adopted commercial funerals. The results of a government survey in 1894, which confirms the ethnographic evidence presented in chapter 2, show that in the villages of France throughout the nineteenth century neighbors continued to take responsibility for the funeral procession and the burial of the dead.¹ Still, the same laws that were used to create the business of pompes funèbres in Paris were increasingly applied in provincial cities, so...

  10. Epilogue COURBET’S BURIAL AT ORNANS AND THE CULT OF THE DEAD
    (pp. 291-302)

    Since the time when it was presented at the Salon of 1851 Gustave Courbet’sBurial at Ornanshas had a provocative effect on both viewers and critics, who continue to debate its meaning (see illus. 22). The generally hostile reception of the painting at the time focused on the “ugliness” of Courbet’s subjects, and on the absence of the pious atmosphere that generally characterized such genre scenes. Courbet’s few defenders praised the accuracy of his representation and associated the painter’s “realism” with the democratic and socialist ideals that he shared with them.¹ As T. J. Clark has shown, these contemporary...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 303-376)
  12. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 377-400)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 401-413)