Stretched Out on Her Grave: Pathological Attitudes Toward Death in British Fiction 1788-1909

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Description:

Nineteenth-century British fiction is often dismissed as necrophillic or obsessed with death. While the label of necrophilia is an apt description of the fetishistic representations of dead women prevalent at the end of the century, it is too narrow to fit literature produced earlier in the century. This is not to say that abnormal attitudes toward death are only a feature of the late nineteenth century. In fact, pathological attitudes toward death abound in the literature, but the relationship between the deceased and the survivor is not always sexual in nature. Rather, there is a clear shift in attitudes, from the chaste death fantasy, or attraction to the idea of death, prevalent in Gothic works, to the destructive, stagnant mourning visible in mid-century texts, and culminating in the perverse sexualization of dead women at the turn of the century. This literary shift is most likely attributable to the concurrent changes in attitudes toward sex and death. As sex became more acceptable, more public, via the channels of scientific discourse, death became a less acceptable idea. This “denial of death” is a direct reaction to the religious uncertainties brought about by industrialization. As scientists and industrialists uncovered increasing evidence against a literal interpretation of the Bible, more people began to doubt the nature of God and the existence of an afterlife. If there was no God, then there was no heaven, which raised questions about what happened to the soul after death. With the certainty of an afterlife gone, death became mysterious, something to fear, and the passing of loved ones was doubly-mourned as their fate was now uncertain.

Creator(s): Angel-Cann, Lauryn
Creation Date: August 2003
Partner(s):
UNT Libraries
Collection(s):
UNT Theses and Dissertations
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Total Uses: 84
Past 30 days: 5
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Publisher Info:
Publisher Name: University of North Texas
Place of Publication: Denton, Texas
Date(s):
  • Creation: August 2003
  • Digitized: August 6, 2003
Description:

Nineteenth-century British fiction is often dismissed as necrophillic or obsessed with death. While the label of necrophilia is an apt description of the fetishistic representations of dead women prevalent at the end of the century, it is too narrow to fit literature produced earlier in the century. This is not to say that abnormal attitudes toward death are only a feature of the late nineteenth century. In fact, pathological attitudes toward death abound in the literature, but the relationship between the deceased and the survivor is not always sexual in nature. Rather, there is a clear shift in attitudes, from the chaste death fantasy, or attraction to the idea of death, prevalent in Gothic works, to the destructive, stagnant mourning visible in mid-century texts, and culminating in the perverse sexualization of dead women at the turn of the century. This literary shift is most likely attributable to the concurrent changes in attitudes toward sex and death. As sex became more acceptable, more public, via the channels of scientific discourse, death became a less acceptable idea. This “denial of death” is a direct reaction to the religious uncertainties brought about by industrialization. As scientists and industrialists uncovered increasing evidence against a literal interpretation of the Bible, more people began to doubt the nature of God and the existence of an afterlife. If there was no God, then there was no heaven, which raised questions about what happened to the soul after death. With the certainty of an afterlife gone, death became mysterious, something to fear, and the passing of loved ones was doubly-mourned as their fate was now uncertain.

Degree:
Level: Doctoral
Discipline: English
Language(s):
Subject(s):
Keyword(s): Necrophilia | British literature | death | Brontë | Shelley | Scott | Dickens | Collins | Stoker | Wollstonecraft
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Partner:
UNT Libraries
Collection:
UNT Theses and Dissertations
Identifier:
  • OCLC: 53378274 |
  • ARK: ark:/67531/metadc4271
Resource Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Format: Text
Rights:
Access: Use restricted to UNT Community
License: Copyright
Holder: Angel-Cann, Lauryn
Statement: Copyright is held by the author, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.