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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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3. Cemeterial Déjà vu: War Writing and the New Cemetery Problem 79


• C H A P T E R T H R E E • Cemeterial Déjà vu: War Writing and the New Cemetery Problem Let my carcass rot where it falls. —Byron (1822) And now look here the sun’s begun to set. A nice mass-grave is all that I shall get. —Alfred Lichtenstein, “Leaving for the Front” (1914) he first two chapters of this project examined how nineteenth-century epitaphs in collections and fictional epitaphs in novels negotiated tensions about proper commemoration and mass burial, and how novelists and sanitation officials produced writing to respond to burial reform and a growing concern for individual remembrance. Moving from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth, Chapter Three discusses the resurgence of burial themes and anxieties in writings generated by World War I. It argues that as English civilians and combatants experienced the erasure of identity in death, writing emerged that accounted for—and even attempted to replace—absent bodies. The war erased an entire generation of young men whose identities were not fully formed and produced severe cultural trauma for their loved ones and survivors. War poets, memoirists, and novelists struggled to define what it meant to “survive” war and to explain their own experiences of loss and mourning in the face of severe trauma. Often dissociating themselves from their own potential deaths, they provided fleeting but heartfelt written tributes to comrades rather than actual epitaphs, and articulated their interior struggles to retain individuality. Like nineteenth- century civilians, World War I combatants...

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