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Cemetery Plots from Victoria to Verdun

Literary Representations of Epitaph and Burial from the 19th Century through the Great War


Heather Kichner

Cemetery Plots from Victoria to Verdun considers the rhetoric of burial reform, cemeterial customs, and epitaphic writing in Great Britain from the mid-nineteenth century through the Great War. The first half of the book studies mid- and late-Victorian responses to death and burial, including epitaph collections, burial reform documents, and fictional representations of burial and epitaph writing, especially in the novels of Charles Dickens. The second half studies the same discourse of burial, mourning, and epitaphs in select fiction, memoirs, diaries, correspondence, and poems produced in response to World War I in order to understand how writing about individual memorialization changed in post-war British literature and culture.


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2. Of Tomes and Tombstones: Altering People and Plots 45


• C H A P T E R T W O • Of Tomes and Tombstones: Altering People and Plots No difficulty stands in the way of improving churchyard literature…because a great deal is expected from it. —Charles Box, Elegies and Epitaphs (1892) Epitaphic Language and the Representation of the Dead hapter One focused on the actual treatment of bodies, and how novelists and social reformers confronted and wrote about cemeterial sanitation issues and the psychological need for individual burial. This part of the study focuses on nineteenth-century epitaph collections and traces the importance of epitaphs in Victorian literature and culture. While there were some epitaph collections published during the eighteenth century, most were concerned with writing for an educated readership and passing on proper models of the form. But in a late eighteenth-century collection like John Bowden’s The Epitaph Writer (1791), we begin to see a new emphasis on the practical uses of epitaphs. Bowden’s collection holds “six hundred original epitaphs…designed for those who write or engrave on tombstones” (i). Bowden is an early example of a collector who was redefining the purpose of the epitaph collection; he emphasizes the distinctiveness of his tome: “If any such book has, of late, been published, it has escaped the knowledge of the author of this” (i). He goes on to explain that previous collections were “fitter for the libraries of the Learned and Curious than for the Use and Purchase of the Artist” (i). After the turn of the century, more...

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