An Introduction to Nineteenth Century Thanatopsis
In this finely illustrated and well-researched ebook Professor Curl has rescued much fascinating material from undeserved oblivion, and his work fills a genuine gap. From humble working class exequies to the massive outpourings of grief at the State funerals of Wellington and Queen Victoria herself, The Victorian Celebration of Death covers an immense canvas. It describes the change in sensibility that led to a new tenderness towards the dead; disposal of the dead as part of the great sanitary reforms of the epoch (though given appropriate expression in cemeteries as works of art); the history of the urban cemeteries with their architecture and landscapes; the ephemera of death and dying (including wreaths, mourning-cards and -jewellery, elaborate hearses crowned with ostrich-feather plumes, mourning-dress, and much else) State funerals as national spectacles; and the utilitarian reactions towards the end of the 19th century.
Combining wit with compassion, Curl wears his learning lightly, and his taste for the eerie is delicately balanced by his literary personality. His researches have resurrected many valuable and extremely interesting aspects of nineteenth-century attitudes to death and the disposal of the dead: furthermore, his celebrations of the cemetery in terms of aesthetics and landscape design strike a thrilling note, an outpouring of the great black cornucopia of Victorian agony and the terrific paraphernalia of the last act.
Curl's achievement is as well-ordered as any sumptuous funeral, and is lucid as well as entertaining, with many surprises and associated delights. He proceeds from the elegaic garden (an antidote to the gruesome horrors of the overcrowded, smelly, and insanitary graveyards) to the Elysian fields of the ideal cemetery, and then on to cremation, with scarcely a jolt. His robustly argued and beautifully written reportage makes this unique and elegant ebook an agreeable companion to the non-eternal bedside.
"Written with infinite wisdom about the human condition, this authoritative ebook sheds important new light on attitudes to death. A remarkably broad contribution to cultural history, it spans the worlds of architecture, garden design, poetry, religion, and manners." — David Watkins, Professor of Architectural History, University of Cambridge
"Cemeteries have a history that is worth writing … Curl has been the first to put it into a readable, well-informed book." —Sir Howard Colvin, Architectural Historian, Emeritus Fellow, St. John's College, Oxford
Professor James Stevens Curl has held Chairs in Architectural History at two universities, has twice been Visiting Fellow at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge, is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and of Scotland, a Member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, a Member of the Church Monuments Society, and Joint Patron of the Mausolea & Monuments Trust. He has established an international reputations for impeccable scholarship, lucidity of style and thorough investigations in little-charted waters.