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The Final Crossing

Death and Dying in Literature


Edited By John J. Han and Clark C. Triplett

Since ancient times, writers and poets have grappled with death, dying, grief, and mourning in their works. The Final Crossing: Death and Dying in Literature compiles fifteen in-depth, scholarly, and original essays on death and dying in literature from around the globe and from different time periods. Written from a variety of critical perspectives, the essays target both scholars and serious students. Death and dying is an important area of study for a variety of disciplines, including psychology, psychiatry, sociology, gerontology, medical ethics, healthcare science, health law, and literary studies. The Final Crossing is a landmark compendium of academic essays on death and dying in literary texts, such as the Iliad, Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, Hamlet, The Secret Garden, and The Grapes of Wrath. This collection of essays not only brings an international flavor, but also a unique angularity to the discourse on thanatology. The novelty of perspectives reflects the diverse cultural and intellectual backgrounds of the contributors. This diversity opens up a fresh conversation on a number of age-old questions related to «the final crossing.» In this volume, readers will find an intriguing array of topics for further reflection and research.
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Chapter Seven: How Men Grieve: A Contemporary Allegory of the Grieving Process in Sir Orfeo


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How Men Grieve

A Contemporary Allegory of the Grieving Process in Sir Orfeo


Perhaps nowhere in medieval literature is the process of grief more beautifully rendered than in the Breton lay Sir Orfeo (ca. 1300). In this tale, Orfeo’s wife, Heurodis, is abducted by fairies, leading Orfeo to engage in actions that parallel the stages of grief established by both the attachment theory of John Bowlby in his volume Loss: Sadness and Depression (1980) and by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in On Death and Dying (1969). This essay argues that the story of Sir Orfeo can be read as an allegory for the process of grief by using the trappings of medieval romance to provide a literal context through which we might read both Bowlby’s and Kübler-Ross’s stages at the allegorical level. That is, the elements of this fourteenth-century story parallel the stages established by twentieth-century scholars of loss and grief. Mapping Kübler-Ross and Bowlby onto Sir Orfeo provides a compelling perspective on how medieval peoples similarly represent responses to loss, suggesting the timelessness of modes of grief. Furthermore, this mapping serves as a comforting reminder that grief does eventually subside and that life begins anew.

At the literal level, the events of the tale begin with the abduction of Queen Heurodis by the Fairy King with the warning that she must be prepared to go with the fairies...

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