Death in the Victorian Family

Death in the Victorian Family

Death in the Victorian Family

Death in the Victorian Family

Synopsis

This engrossing book explores family experiences of dying, death, grieving, and mourning in the years between 1830 and 1920. So many Victorian letters, diaries, and death memorials reveal a deep preoccupation with death which is both fascinating and enlightening. Pat Jalland has examined the correspondence, diaries, and death memorials of fifty-five families to show us deathbed scenes of the time, good and bad deaths, the roles of medicine and religion, children's deaths, funerals and cremations, widowhood, and mourning rituals.

Excerpt

Death is an inevitable experience for us all, but the manner of dying varies greatly, as do individual and family responses to death and their mourning rituals. As a leading French historian Michel Vovellehas observed about death, 'in the human adventure it stands as an ideal and essential constant. It is a constant which is quite relative, moreover, since people's relationships with death have changed, as have the ways in which it strikes them. . . Pierre Chaunu was right when he said that every society gauges and assesses itself in some way by its system of death.' The study of death and bereavement in the past helps us to understand the present, especially in the context of the modern tendency to avoid the subject of death and to minimize the public expression of grief. Scholars in the social sciences and humanities have recognized the need to study death and grief in contemporary society, but historians of modern Britain have been relatively slow to contribute to this important field. David Cannadine noted in 1981 that 'we still know quite extraordinarily little about attitudes towards death in the nineteenth century. At all levels of society. . . much more research needs to be done.' This remains largely true today.

My book aims to expand our knowledge of the experiences of dying and death, grief and mourning among the middle and upper classes in nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuryBritain. It is concerned with the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour of the educated and literate part of the population, in the hope that other scholars will examine working-class families. My research supports Ruth Richardson's argument about 'the existence of distinct class-bound death cultures in Victorian Britain'. The material and cultural gulf between rich and poor affected most aspects of life, including death. There were enormous differences between the upper and lower classes in attitudes and customs relating to death and in the management of the dying. We should beware of assuming that the behaviour and beliefs about death of the middle and upper classes automatically filtered down to the working classes.

My exploration of the world of Victorian and Edwardian experience began with Women, Marriage and Politics 1860-1914, first published in 1986.

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