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Death in Modern Scotland, 1855–1955

Beliefs, Attitudes and Practices


Edited By 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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4. Stevenson and Doyle in the Face of Death


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4.   Stevenson and Doyle in the Face of Death

Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were among the most popular writers of their age. Born a decade apart, Stevenson in 1850 and Conan Doyle in 1859, they nevertheless drew on, and shared, similar attitudes to death; although they have come to be regarded as occupying quite different places in the literary canon. Robert Louis Stevenson has come to be grouped with his friend Henry James, an important early modernist. Conan Doyle, on the other hand, has long been thought of as a writer of sub-literary adventure stories: only belatedly has he come to be seen as more than that. Michael Dirda’s recent study confirms this change, treating him as a major figure of late modern (‘postmodern’) literature. This evaluation is based – justifiably, as I believe – on Conan Doyle’s narrative subtlety.1 In considering Robert Louis Stevenson’s and Conan Doyle’s views of death and dying, it seems at first they must differ to the point of contrast. Robert Louis Stevenson had poor health for much of his life, at least until he settled in Samoa; Conan Doyle was a picture of fitness – robust, athletic, a formidable boxer, but apparently not given much to serious thought. Robert Louis Stevenson seems the patient, Conan Doyle the doctor. But I mean to suggest that if one probes a little deeper, it is not the only contrast their writings disclose.

Stevenson used...

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