Emma Liggins
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The graveyard in neo-Edwardian fiction
Refashioning the Victorian death space
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In These Silent Mansions: A Life in Graveyards (2020), the poet Jean Sprackland writes of the graveyard as an ‘otherworldly’, liminal place, ‘dismantled gradually by the passing years, always in a state of becoming’ (2020: 1). Historians addressing mourning and ‘the Victorian celebration of death’ (Jalland, 1996; Curl 2000) have dwelt on the Gothic excesses of the architecture of the nineteenth-century cemetery, and its archival and aesthetic functions. Drawing on recent work on the cemetery as death space (Young and Light, 2016), this chapter begins by reconsidering its otherworldly qualities in relation to its development as a site for mourning and display. Contemporary novelists Susan Hill and Tracy Chevalier refashion the Victorian burial ground in novels set in the early twentieth century. In their descriptions of lichen-covered headstones, ‘vapid’ angels, urns and open graves, The Woman in Black (1983) and Falling Angels (2001) represent the graveyard as a place shadowed by decay and excess. The original illustrations for the first edition of Hill’s novel dwell on the ghostly woman in black in the remote burial ground of Eel Marsh House and behind the headstones at Alice Drablow’s funeral, signifying the excessive and malevolent suffering of the mourning mother. Inspired by Highgate Cemetery, Chevalier plays on the idea of the burial ground as a contested space of disposal, decay and ‘moral sentiment’ (Loudon 1843: 1) in the transitional years after Queen Victoria’s death. I explore the extent to which neo-Edwardian fiction embraces the excesses of the Victorian death space or sets out to desacralise this place of mourning, loss and darkness.

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