Andrew Smith
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Gothic death and Dickens
Executions, graves and dreams
in Gothic death 1740–1914
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This chapter begins with a discussion of Dickens’s views on capital punishment which were informed by his concern that popular media coverage of executions created a death wish in the most susceptible, who would relish the lead role provided by the drama of the scaffold. Dickens was also concerned that media interest in capital offences granted the condemned an undeserved post-mortem existence. Dickens’s solution to illegitimate criminal resurrections was set out in letters sent to The Times in 1849 in which he advocated that executions should no longer be held in public, and argued that the media should not be permitted to publish stories about the condemned. The emotional disruption caused by the execution can be compared with how Dickens writes about graves as the site where the family reconvenes (is resurrected) after death, which introduces a cultural narrative about the significance of burial practices during the period. These images of death constitute a pattern in Dickens, which also includes references to writing, reading, and dreaming. These seemingly disparate contexts coalesce in The Mystery of Edwin Drood which links, dreams, death and reading in a complex way that invites reconsideration for why a self-incriminating conscience emerges in Dickens’s later writings.

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Gothic death 1740–1914

A literary history


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