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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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5. ‘To Die Will be an Awfully Big Adventure’: Death and J.M. Barrie


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5.   ‘To Die Will be an Awfully Big Adventure’: Death and J.M. Barrie

My title comes from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Peter’s cry from the lagoon as the water rises beneath him remains one of the most famous literary comments on the subject of death. All very well, some might say, but what right has a children’s fairy tale-cum-pantomime to claim further academic attention? Death is a serious concern after all – if not for Peter – for the rest of us. But in fact Peter Pan is much more than a children’s play. It is a complex work which works on different levels, counterpoints one mode against another and has a mythic hero whose tale Barrie tells in ten different literary forms.1 I shall look in detail at Peter’s definition of death but will first contextualise the play, which was produced in 1904, with Barrie’s earlier and varied treatment of death in his prose from 1888 until 1900.

This implies beginning with the two episodic novels concerned with Thrums: the Auld Licht Idylls of 1888 and A Window in Thrums in the following year. As Thomas Moult points out both of these were ‘harvested from’ his earlier contributions to periodicals.2 As the Calvinist Kirk with its hellfire and damnation sermons stood at the centre of village activity, a strong line in ‘funereal’ humour characterises both of the early collections. In Auld Licht Idylls, for example, Chapter V’s epic...

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