Dissertation Samples

Victorian Death – Dissertation Sample

Table of contents

    ‘Death is swallowed up in victory

    O death, where is thy victory?

    O death, where is thy sting?’

    (1Corinthians 54-55)

    ‘Truly, a beautiful secret has been proclaimed by the blessed Gods! Mortality is not a curse, but death is a blessing’

    (Eleusinian Mysteries, Source Unknown)

    When I die I shall be content to vanish into

    nothingness…. No show, however good, could

    conceivably be good forever…. I do not believe in

    immortality, and have no desire for it.

    (H.L. Mencken)

    The literatures of all the peoples that have ever stood under the sun confirm a single inevitability: death. Where these literatures differ is in the meaning they attribute to that death, to the nature of the afterlife that they speculate succeeds it, and to the nature of its attendant rites and rituals by which passage to that life is assured. Frescos of girls dancing on the graves of loved ones from the walls of the palace of Miocene suggest to us that the ancient Cretans welcomed and celebrated death; the above words of the Eleusinians and ancient Israelites tell that felt they knew how to conquer death; whereas rationalists since the Enlightenment speak of death as absolute cessation. Where then in this spectrum of death do the representations of Victorian literature fall, and what are their unique and peculiar features?

    On hearing the phrase ‘Victorian death’ most people’s immediate associations probably call up some of cemeteries, morbidity, scenes from a Dickens novel, long processional funerals. And these images have some truth in them. This essay seeks to refine these images as clearly as possible and so to present an analysis of the five main stages or ‘rites’ of Victorian literature: death, funeral, burial, mourning and judgment. This essay seeks to make these representations as broad as possible: examining death amongst poor and rich, women and men, old and young. The first section of this essay looks at two moments of death itself: Jude’s famous deathbed scene in Jude the Obscure and Emile Bronte’s poem Last Lines.

    ‘His face was quite white, and gradually becoming rigid. She touched his fingers; they were cold, thought his body was still warm. She listened at his chest. All was still within. The bumping of nearly thirty years had ceased.’

    (Jude the Obscure, Chapter 53, p1)

    The final chapter of Jude the Obscure presents perhaps the most famous deathbed scene in all Victorian literature: that of Jude himself. This melancholy scene exhibits the standard and classical features of Victorian deathbed writing: infirmity, a wife in attendance as nurse, pleasant and ironical descriptions of nature outside the room of the dying, loneliness, and religious doubt. Jude is shown in severe ill-health laying in his bed — ‘his face was so thin that his friends would hardly recognize him’ — whilst Arabella attends to him as nurse. She leaves for a moment to walk outside to find a beautiful summer day where every type of human activity is going on around her – all in starkest contrast to Jude who will never see these pleasures of the world again. As death approaches Jude is all alone, and his feeble plea of ‘A little water, please’ is answered only by ‘the deserted room that received his appeal’ (Ch. 53 p2).

    His near last words are desperate: ‘Water – some water – Sue – darling – drop of water – please – oh please!’, and then, as life passes from him, like Job three thousand years before, he makes a series of bitter accusations against the Creator who has abandoned him. Melancholic scenes as this are so frequent throughout Victorian literature because they mimic the grueling reality of disease, poverty, and general hardship that characterized so much of Victorian society. The religious rebuke is frequent in the literature too, usually suggesting the dejection of those men and women who having had no privileges in life are refused mercy by God also. Whilst such representations of moments of death are numerous they are not universal, and this next text conveys an entirely different attitude by some one facing death.

    Emile Bronte’s poem Last Lines (1986) is gives an entirely different tone to the imminent prospect of a person’s death. The poem is in first-person, and the speaker in the first words cries in defiance to death

    ‘No coward soul is mine, No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere: I see Heaven’s glories shine, And faith shines equal, arming me from fear’

    The poet affirms total affirmation of the Christian creed before the moment of death: it holds no fear, and can have no influence upon a true Christian. And these words are typical a common Victorian resilience to the death that, in contradistinction to the scenes of Jude’s death, affirmed the Creator as the source of greatest strength and fortitude in moments of desperation and before death. The speaker is protected from the ‘storm-troubled sphere’ of earthly misery by the certain promise of ‘undying life.’ Anchored on the ‘steadfast rock of immortality’ God’s promise of deliverance is absolute for those who abide by his commandments.

    Representations of funeral and burial in Victorian literature are so intimately meshed into each other that it is sensible to treat them here in the same analysis. Funeral and burial are stages two and three of the Victorian process of death identified in the introduction to this essay. The main representations of these themes are twofold. The first describes funeral and burial as acts of family and public catharsis: that is, as acts through which the deceased’s family and community, and the public generally, are helped to heal in their bereavement. The second representation is a damning rebuke by Victorian writers of the decadent and ostentatious abuses and manipulations of this process. Similarly, the reader finds in Victorian literature a biting critique of the wholly different experiences of funeral and burial between those who are rich and those who are paupers.

    The first representation then shows funeral and burial as stages of a complex culture and national atmosphere of grief and mourning. John Hinton describes this heavy public emphasis upon grief and death ritual as a ‘socially approved catharsis of grief’ where ‘viewing the body and taking part in the funeral emphasize beyond all doubt that the person is really dead. The condolences, the discussions of the deceased in the past tense, the newspaper announcements … all affirm loss’ (Hinton 1979, p186-187).

    Beverly Raphael has further said that funeral and burial were ‘an opportunity for re-establishment of the social group, for a re-enforcement of its life and unity’ Raphael 1984, p37). These quotations tell that in a society as deeply affected by high death-rates as Victorian England was that it became necessary to pour out this grief at a national level. But the cathartic intentions of public and high-profile funeral and burial were often grotesquely distorted when seen in practice. Thus many Victorian authors, perhaps most obviously Dickens, scarified and ridiculed what they saw as the ornamental decadence and wasteful excess of these events.

    The deepest cutting of such criticisms was the accusation that Victorians had come to believe that the grander and more ostentatious a person’s funeral and burial then the more honorable and morally-upright that person must be. Criticisms such as this have been made of Victorian culture ever since. Bertram Puckle in his Funeral Customs of 1926 spoke of the ‘madness’ of the endless processions that wound daily through the streets of London and commentated of Victorian funeral extravagance that ‘a foolish display of wealth to uphold family honour is a very foolish old human failing’ (Puckle, 1926). This tendency to ostentatiousness was indemic, and it was the responsibility of writers to comment upon it.

    The next two sections of this essay examine these representations of funeral in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations; and burial in George Eliot’s and Dickens’s Oliver Twist.

    ‘Who could sit upon anything in Fleet-Street during the busy hours of the day, and not be dazed or deafened by two immense processions, one ever tending westward with the sun, the other ever tending eastward from the sun, both ever tending to the plains beyond the range of red and purple where the sun goes down ?’

    (Two Cities, Ch. 20, p1)

    Mr. Jeremiah Cruncher – an appropriate sounding name for someone who makes money from the bodies of the dead! – has an avidity for funerals, a lust for them … they fascinate him. He is a man for whom ‘funerals had at all times a remarkable attraction’ (p2), a man who stands ‘dazed and deafened’ by the ‘immense procession’ before him. For Cruncher funerals are majestic, triumphant and spectacular affairs. What is more, Cruncher’s fascination with funerals was typical of a vast swathe of Victorian aristocratic, professional and working classes. In this passage from A Tale of Two Cities Dickens’s highlights in a sardonic and mocking tone some of the absurdities and fallacies of Victorian public opinion and belief about funerals.

    Dickens describes the scene beneath Mr. Cruncher’s window on Fleet-street of the funeral of Roger Cly – a reputed spy. When his father, Mr. Cruncher, reports the funeral approaching, Young Jerry, shouts ‘Hoorar’ (p1) and makes an ‘exultant sound’ (p1) that has, in Dickens’s curious and mocking phrase, a ‘mysterious significance’. This significance that Dickens questions is the Victorians’ gleefully morbid and macabre curiosity about death, the excitement it induces in them.

    Dickens describes the scene in the street below as the manic and riotous crowd press against the funeral carriage of Mr. Cly, and the ‘dingy trapping’ (p2) of the occupant of the carriage who considers these ‘that were considered essential to the dignity of the position’. One hears in ‘considered necessary’ the absurdity of the idea that the right clothes and funerary items – Stephen Curl makes a fascinating description of the crape industry in The Victorian Celebration of Death – can bestow honour and dignity upon the life of a person. This superficial materiality detracts from the proper spiritual and therapeutic significance of the occasion.

    The scene moves to Mr. Cruncher’s frantic inquisition of members of the crowd as he seeks to find out gossip about the deceased. At this point, Dickens’s language breaks down into a series of short interrupted sentences peppered with question marks and exclamation marks to show the commotion and excitement of Mr. Cruncher and the crowd. The apparently sacred and somber nature of Victorian funeral turns to chaos as the crowd invade the carriage and force the mourner inside to flee. As he is chased up a side-alley he drops his cloak, hat, long hatband, white-pocket hanker-chief, and other ‘symbolic tears’. This phrase is a devastating critique of the whole industry and paraphernalia of organized funeral and organized grief. Everything is shown as a pretence, and as sham.

    The tone of the condemnation of ritual ostentatiousness in Dickens’s last passage was rough mockery, and dark humor. It was also related from the view-point of a person who held great admiration for the institution of public funeral and grief. This next passage of Pip’s sister’s funeral from Great Expectations (Chapter 35) betrays far deeper contempt and disillusionment with this institution. Unlike the agitated Mr. Cruncher and crowd, Pip is calmly critical, contemplative and ambivalent whilst making the same criticisms in a devastating way.

    Pip’s narration of the funeral is immediately preceded by a paragraph where he discusses strange recollections in visions and sensations the vivid memories of a sister he felt he never knew so well. His desire to bury his sister in a simple, informal family ceremony is interrupted by the obligations and necessities of formal ceremony. Pip’s withering polemic against this pretentious formal ritual commences when he observes the absurd arrangements by the undertakers, Trabb & Co., for the funeral. Pip sees ‘two dismally absurd persons, each outstandingly exhibiting a crutch done up in black bandage’ (p1) waiting by pillars at the entrance to the house.

    Again: attention to paraphernalia and periphery costume far surpasses attention given to the deceased. Trabb & Co. have for example, appointed Joe, the father, ‘chief mourner’ (p2.) for the ceremony – the duty of chief mourner somehow connoting that his officious mourning counts more than that of others. But Joe is a simple man who has no desire to be soaked and swamped in all this unnaturalness – he is pityingly described by Pip as ‘entangled in a little black cloak’ – but only seeks to bury his daughter peacefully. Then Trabb makes Pip and the others ‘form’ in ‘some grim kind of dance’ (p2) for the ceremony; and Pip considers the ‘horrible black velvet housing’ of his sister’s coffin which being carried by the bearers looks like ‘a blind monster with twelve human legs’ (p3).

    What Pip wants most is to personalize the occasion: he wants to ‘have carried her to the Church himself’ and to be free to mourn and grieve genuinely and personally – but the rigid and senseless demands of funeral ritual and occasion forbid this. A funeral must it seems meet the grief lust and great expectations of the crowd who ‘highly approved of such occasions’ (p3). Dickens contrasts harrowingly and tellingly the subtle emotional confusion of Pip’s contemplation of his sister’s death in the first few lines of the passage against all the bravado and insensitivity of the public spectacle. Thus instead of personal and individual mourning, the scene succumbs to pompous ceremony: something embodied emblematically in the ‘excessive pride’ of Mr. and Mrs. Hubble who are ‘surprisingly conceited and vainglorious in being members of so distinguished a procession’ (p3).

    The Victorian critique of the manipulations of the funeral process was extended by authors such as Dickens and Eliot to the burial process also. Burial, as the third stage or rite of a Victorian death, is intended to be a dignified and respectful interment of the deceased whose ‘good death’ provides them with smooth passage into the afterlife, and towards God’s judgment. Moreover, a graceful burial completes the first part of the psychological closure that is necessary for the healing of relatives and fiends to experience. But the reality of most Victorian burials was very different from this purported sacred and spiritual procession. These next two scenes of burial tell of the dejection and disillusionment of relatives and friends at the sight of their loved ones burial. The first passage, also from Dickens, is that of the pauper’s burial in Oliver Twist; the second, from Mr. Featherstone’s burial in G. Eliot’s Middlemarch.

    This present scene of the pauper’s wife’s funeral in Chapter 5 of Oliver Twist represents the antithesis of the ‘good death’ and soft transition to the afterlife sought by most Victorians. Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker, and Pip are called to the apartment and then to perform the burial ceremony of an old pauper woman who has died recently. The language of the passage betrays the social reality and desperation of the lives of the poor of Victorian England, and the fact that they were denied even clean and respectful rites of death. There is no dignity or celebration in the subsequent burial. Oliver describes the couple as ‘so like the rats he had seen outside’ (p6) of the ‘miserable abode’ that is the couple’s house.

    Their only comfort on this day of horrible weather is a black cloak lent to them by Mr. Sowerberry ‘thrown over the rags of the old woman (the wife’s mother)’ (p7) and then swiftly taken back after the ceremony. Mr. Sowerberry hurries them along at the burial — ‘…it won’t do to keep the clergyman waiting’ (p7)’ – and the bearers carry the ‘light weight’ of one of thousands of victims of starvation and malnourishment. The pauper’s wife’s coffin is taken to ‘an obscure corner of the churchyard where the nettles grow’ (p8) and Mr. Bumble, the clergyman, reads only as much as can be ‘compressed into four minutes’. Immediately the grave digger is instructed to ‘fill-up’ the hole – something done very quickly as the wife’s coffin is only one stacked upon several others.

    Mr. Sowerberry then takes back the cloak he lent the old woman and they are hurried out of the graveyard that needs to be urgently shut-up. All in all, the scene is typical of the burials of the vast majority of Victorian England’s poor. Not only were most denied the ceremonial dignity or proud rituals demanded by the rich, but they had to bury their dead in squalour and ignominy; moreover, even the comfort of religious farewell is denied them by a Church that has no more than four minutes for them. And yet in contrast, for instance to the superficial fascination of Mr. Cruncher, Dickens puts in the mouth of the old woman the most eloquent and moving words of the passage. She says in deep lament

    ‘She was my daughter … strange that I who gave birth to her, and was a woman when, should be alive and merry now, and she lying there: so cold and stiff!’ (p6)

    and so the reader hears Dickens’s social critique of the inequality of events.

    The circumstances of burial described above are in complete contrast to the burial of the rich Mr. Featherstone in Chapter thirty-four of G. Eliot’s Middlemarch – though finally both scenes reach a similar disillusionment. Mr. Featherstone’s burial is attended by a crowd of curious locals who hear that the funeral will be a ‘big buryin’ whereby Mr. Featherstone will be buried in a style ‘beyond his betters’. He is a man bent on a ‘handsome funeral’ that people ‘bid’ to come to. But Featherstone does not escape what Eliot refers to as the ‘fellowship of illusion’ – the belief in life that if one is successful he can pass through death more easily than one who has lived miserably.

    The lack of love for Mr. Featherstone is showed by funeral attendants who are occupied only with greed and envy of his possessions. His wealth, finally, has brought him no more comfort or friendship at burial that the pauper in the passage above. Thus Dorothea says naively ‘This funeral seems to me the most dismal thing I ever saw … I cannot bear to think that anyone should die and leave no love behind’ and Mr. Brooke rebukes her ‘It was time the old man died, and none of these people are sorry'(p6). There must be justice in Victorian death, even if there is none in life.

    ‘Archival evidence suggests that in the nineteenth-century mourning rituals provided opportunities for the bereaved to express their sorrow in a manner that made the grieving experience easier to endure and to complete, aiding an ultimate return to a normal way of life. Mourning customs offered therapeutic benefits that could easily outweigh any attendant disadvantages for those who suffered most in private. …

    (Jalland, 1996, p193)

    In Victorian life mourning was an institution, regulated by strict rules such as dress codes, periods of mourning and behaviour. The criticisms of the authors in the above passages are polemics against the abuse of these rituals; performed and understood correctly however these acts could have the therapeutic effect described above. Victorian mourning was of two parts: the first immediately subsequent to the death and a second prolonged mourning that, officially at least lasted two years. These next two passages give Victorian mourning give quite different outward presentations, though, again, they end in similar realizations. The first is a scene of mourning from Chapter ten of G. Eliot’s Adam Bede; the second from several stanzas of Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam.

    Outwardly and initially the scenes of Lisabeth’s preparations for the funeral rituals of her husband, Thias, seem to be a precise and technical description of how widows were to mourn for their husbands. The sheer intricacy, precision and expectation of this mourning comes though in the scenes initial instructions. On the morning after Thias’s death Lisabeth has been ‘in incessant movement performing the initial duties to her dead with the awe and exactitude that belong to religious rites’. She has immense ceremonial obligations to perform, and these leave only fleeting seconds for what one expects as her ‘outbursts of wailing grief’. Lisabeth’s ritual preparations for this event are immaculate and long-prepared: she fetches ‘bleached linen’ which has ‘for long years been kept in reserve for this supreme use’. Next Lisabeth must ‘cleanse to the strictest purity every object in the sacred chamber’, and the windows must be ‘darkened with a fair white sheet’.

    But just as the reader suspects that Lisabeth is suppressing her real grief and emotions beneath this abundance of custom then out leaps a line of great wisdom and eloquence. She says almost mystically ‘Our dead are never dead to us unless we have forgotten them. They can be injured by us, they can be wounded’ (p1). Beneath the ceremonial importance of ritual, Lisabeth alludes to a deeper spiritual significance: she believes whole-heartedly that there is some continuance of her relationship to Thias into the next life and that these mourning rituals help to aid that journey. It is therefore of great importance they be performed correctly. Lisabeth’s knows that Thias must receive proper funeral rites so that he will pass in a happy condition into the next life. You can also buy dissertations at our site

    Lisabeth finds some structure and order in the way of death: she was older than Thias and therefore expected to die first, but since he has passed first she must in her mourning accord him the same honours as he would have given her. Indeed, she feels that ‘the greatest work of her life were to be done in seeing that Thias was buried decently before her’ (p2). Her ritual preparations complete, Lisabeth rests in the kitchen, and forgetting her usual cleaning responsibilities and without any duties as a distraction, falls into deep contemplation about her husband’s death, and the terror of it strikes her. She says beautifully and hauntingly ‘it was all of a piece with the sad confusion of her mind – that confusion which belongs to the first hours of sudden sorrow, when the human soul is like one who has been deposited sleeping among the ruins of some vast city’. Rituals cannot console the desperation that overwhelms, and her son, Seth, finds it impossible to console her in her loss.

    The death of his closest friend A. H. Hallam brought Lord Tennyson this same intense sensation of loss as Lisabeth, and this is recorded in his epic lament In Memoriam. An obvious difference from the Adam Bede passage and from Victorian literature generally, is the apathy and indifference shown to death rituals and customs; instead Tennyson frames his grief and mourns by creating symbols, images and words out of his experience. His mourning is an intensely private and personal experience that cannot find appropriate form in commercialized rituals but must come out through the suppleness of language.

    Hallam’s sudden death caused Tennyson intense and prolonged melancholy and sorrow, and the full force of this comes out in the poem’s language. Tennyson’s anger rushes out of these excerpts from the second stanza which take, initially, the form of accusations against God – something of course, highly taboo, in Victorian England. Tennyson says

    ‘Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot Is on the skull which thou hast made’

    (Stanza 2 line3-4)

    God’s foot is upon his skull, pushing him into the earth, crushing him. His mourning is unbearable, and the language and intensity of the poem immediately recalls again, as for Jude, Job’s accusations and suffering before the will of God. The unique vividness of the language of In Memoriam matches the shapes and internal images that torment Tennyson in his grief. He complains to God: ‘Wilt thou not leave us in the dust’ – that is, have you abandoned us, God?! One can even hear echoes of Christ’s plea on the cross ‘My God, My God, Why have thou abandoned me?’ Mark 33:34. More still, God has maddened man’s grief further by giving him faint ideas of immortality.

    There can be, in psychological language, no ‘closure’ to his mourning because it is tortured by the prospects of immortality. God taunts man by suggesting to him that he is immortal: in Tennyson’s words ‘He thinks he is not made to die. And thou hast made him: thou art just’. Tennyson, like Job, finally reconciles himself to God, but this is after an immensely long process of mourning and suffering. Like Lisabeth, Tennyson’s mourning is a polar contrast to the public process of mourning required mass participation for effect.

    The Victorian era witnessed at home and on the continent the most virulent attack against Christianity in its history, climaxing in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra published shortly before Victoria’s death. Yet for the vast mass of Victorian England were unaware of these assaults, and Christianity remained a moral bastion whose principles and teaching were near universally accepted. Amongst these principles Victorians knew well the Bible’s proclamations about the afterlife, the Day of Judgment and of the concepts of heaven and hell – which were then still conceived by most people as concrete, physical realms that were places of genuine torture. In its original context as a maxim for moral regulation the idea of the ‘Fear of the Lord’ was a healthy part of Victorian society. Men and women believed genuinely that if they lived a life in accordance with Jesus’s teaching then they would go to heaven, and sinners to hell.

    For the huge numbers of poor people in Victorian England these concepts and this promise were an enormous comfort and moral preservative against the bleakness of there earthly existence. But unfortunately the nineteenth-century witnessed a political and religious abuse of these concepts – turning hem into apparatus of fear to subdue and manipulate the people. Deprived of the promise of a blissful afterlife, the reality of grim Victorian existence often became unbearable. Thus Farrar (1877) in his critique of Victorian eschatology criticized its severity and use as a means of suppression. He preached

    ‘… the common view, which, to the utter detriment of all noble thoughts of God, and to all peace in believing … that at death there is passed upon every impertinent sinner an irreversible doom to endless tortures, either material or mental, of the most awful and unspeakable intensity; and (ii) that this doom awaits the majority of mankind’

    Wheeler however (1994) has shown the opposite side of the use of the idea of Judgment in Victorian life. Wheeler argues that divine judgment is the fifth of five stages of death that the Victorians needed to complete for healing purposes: the first four being earthly rites, after which attention turns to the ethereal realm. Conviction in this transition had a powerful therapeutic and spiritual effect in the process of mourning and grieving for the dead, and for reuniting the members of a community.

    Perhaps the most problematic question raised in Victorian literature is the question of judgment of children who have died. There was no automatic assumption or guarantee — as we presuppose today – that children would be carried straight to heaven. A child who had been neither baptized nor confirmed might go still to hell. The judgment of child death is here explored in the passage of Little Nell’s death in The Old Curiosity Shop and in Robert Bridges’s tragic poem On a Dead Child. Laurence Lerner’s powerful book Angel and Absences is used as the source of these ideas.

    The death of Little Nell in Chapter seventy-one of The Old Curiosity Shop is perhaps the most well-known representation of a child tragedy in Victorian literature. Child and adolescent mortality rates before the end of the nineteenth century were appalling – 57 of every 100 children below the age of five would perish (Lerner) – and child death was a tragedy that every parent would have experienced or heard experiences of. The sheer scale of child death inevitably brought parents to question the final fate – did they go to heaven or hell? — of their children and the charity of the Lord who could allow this to happen. Nell’s grandfather echoes these questions in the tragic scene of her death-chamber. Nell’s grandfather and Pit, the servant, are discussing Nell’s condition whilst she lays unconscious in an adjacent room. The grandfather confides that he has ‘prayed to Him, many, and many, and many a livelong night’ but concedes that this vigil will bring no mercy. After scenes of great tenderness as Little Nell dies the school master declares hopefully

    ‘… it is not on the earth that Heaven’s justice ends. Think what is earth, compared with the World to which her young spirit has winged its early flight’.

    The men agree that despite the utter agony of Nell’s death, they are consoled with the certainty that there will be justice for her in heaven, and that actually her passing is a blessing: she can go ‘early’ to God and avoid the horror of this world. The men agree that this fate of Nell’s is better than her earthly one.

    Robert Bridges’s poem On a Dead Child ends with a far more ambiguous tone. The brutal and harrowing imagery of the poem expresses doubt as to the destination of the father’s beloved daughter. In accusatory language reminiscent of Tennyson’s In Memoriam Bridges’s tells of his dismay about his child’s death. The poems first words ‘Perfect little body, without fault or stain, with promise of manhood full and fair’ explain this angst. His child was immaculate, without sin or stain, and with every opportunity of healthy growth to manhood. If God then can strike down this child whose morality is perfect – whilst so much of society is decadent and sinful – then what guarantee does he have that his child will go to heaven?

    A God who can allow this to happen, can equally refuse the child entry to heaven. This uncertainty is expressed in the plea ‘Death, whither hath he taken thee!’ The father knows not where his child is gone; he has none of the certainty shared by the mourners of Little Nell. The final line suggests even that this denial may be possible ‘And the things we have seen and have known and have heard of, fail us.’ Traditional Christianity and its teachings about the justice of the afterlife have failed this father completely, and instead of divine comfort he peers into an abyss of doubt. God’s judgment against his daughter seems malevolent and unjust, and he cannot forgive God for this.


    • Beverley, B. (1984). The Anatomy of Bereavement. Hutchinson, London.
    • Curl, J. S. (2000). The Victorian Celebration of Death. Sutton, Stroud.
    • Dickens, C. (1837-38) (1999). Oliver Twist. Penguin, London.
    • Dickens, C. (1860-61) (2002) Great Expectations. Penguin, London.
    • Dickens, C. (1841) (2002). The Old Curiosity Shop. Penguin, London.
    • Dickens, C. (1859) (2003). A Tale of Two Cities. Penguin, London.
    • Eliot, G. (1859) (1980). Adam Bede. Penguin, Hammondsworth.
    • Eliot, G. (1871) (2003). Middlemarch. Penguin, London.
    • Farrar, F.W. (1877). Eternal Hope: Five Sermons Preached. Westminster Abbey: November & December
    • Hardy, T. (1895) (1993) Jude the Obscure. Penguin, London.
    • Hinton, J. (1967). Dying. Penguin, Harmondsworth.
    • Jalland, P. (1996). Death in the Victorian Family. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
    • Lerner, L. (1997). Angels and Absences: Child Deaths in the Nineteenth Century. Vanderbilt University Press, London.
    • Puckle, P.S. (1926) Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development. Werner Laurie.
    • Tennyson, A. (1850) In Memoriam. E. Moxon, London.
    • The Oxford Companion to English Literature. (1995). Oxford University Press, Oxford.
    • Wheeler, M. (1994) Heaven, Hell and the Victorians. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

    It is easy to check materials for uniqueness using our high-quality anti-plagiarism service.

    Order now »