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Death in Modern Scotland, 1855–1955

Beliefs, Attitudes and Practices


Susan Buckham, Peter C. Jupp and Julie Rugg

The period 1855 to 1955 was pivotal for modern Scottish death culture. Within art and literature death was a familiar companion, with its imagined presence charting the fears and expectations behind the public face of mortality. Framing new concepts of the afterlife became a task for both theologians and literary figures, both before and after the Great War. At the same time, medical and legal developments began to shift mortality into the realms of regulation and control. This interdisciplinary collection draws from the fields of art, literature, social history, religion, demography, legal history and architectural and landscape history. The essays employ a range of methodologies and materials – visual, statistical, archival and literary – to illustrate the richness of the primary sources for studying death in Scotland. They highlight a number of intersecting themes, including spirituality and the afterlife, the impact of war, materiality and the disposal of the body, providing new perspectives on how attitudes towards death have affected human behaviour on both personal and public levels, and throwing into relief some of the unique features of Scottish society.
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1. Phoebe Anna Traquair: Angels and Changing Concepts of the Supernatural in fin-de-siècle Scotland


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1.   Phoebe Anna Traquair: Angels and Changing Concepts of the Supernatural in fin-de-siècle Scotland

In 1889 the Aberdeen-born theologian and former Congregational minister Peter Taylor Forsyth (1848–1921) commented on the ‘role of the Christian spirit’ in enabling ‘the present age to go back and find unsuspected spiritual treasures in the old mythology […]. [I]t is the sympathy, the largeness, the flexibility of the spirit dominating the Bible, which have given us the eye to see, and the soul to feel her own infancy in imaginative antiquity’.1 In the work of artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, George Frederick Watts, and William Holman Hunt and the composer Richard Wagner, Taylor located a beauty and morality which was at once Christian and classical. In a culture then rediscovering the art of the Italian Renaissance, Christianity was seen by Forsyth as a key which could unlock the spirituality of antiquity. He wrote that the work of Burne-Jones, for example, may be ‘distinguished by two great imaginative features – the power of mythic interpretation or the fine treatment of the soul, and the power of poetic beauty or the fine treatment of nature […] he depicts the nature within nature, and the soul’s ethereal soul’.2

Forsyth’s words would have appealed to the Edinburgh artist Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852–1936). She was deeply committed to the craft philosophy of the Arts & Crafts movement but in her work she drew from ← 11 | 12...

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