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Title: Vital commonplaces : Dickens, Tennyson & Victorian letters of condolence
Author: Edwards, M. J.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3440 4423
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 1995
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This thesis is a study of nineteenth century forms of grief and mourning, wlth particular reference to the peculiar pressures of writing to the bereaved, and how these were, or were not, overcome. Although the focus is mainly on the letters of condolence and on the poems of Tennyson, and the novels, journalism and letters of condolence of Dickens, use is also made of letters by the following: Thomas Carlyle, Edward FitzGerald, Benjamin Jowett, Cardinal Newman, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Queen Victoria. Letters of condolence to Henry Hallam after the death of his son, Arthur, (given in appendix from unpublished originals in Christ Church College Library, Oxford), and also letters of condolence to George Eliot, are also studied. Twentieth century psychological studies of bereavement by Freud (Mourning and Melancholia [1917]), Eric Lindemann (Symptomology of Grief, [1944]) Geoffrey Gorer (Death and Bereavement in Contemporary Britain [1965]), and by Colin Murray Parkes (Bereavement; studies of grief in adult life [1986]), serve to identify common and universal features of the processes of grief and mourning. Correspondence about Arthur Hallam's life and death, and about the exhumation of Rossetti's poems, show how the language with which death and grief is treated in letters, is fraught with difficulties. This thesis establishes a link between the language of fiction, poetry and letters, and between the conventions of expressing sympathetic grief in the form of condolences, and Victorian conventions of funerals and mourning, as found in fiction, letters, art criticism, Dickens' journalism, a publication for undertakers, and in the monuments at Highgate Cemetery. Delineating the fears which faced a condoler, reveals the common awareness that words of comfort can seem useless and empty. It is also seen that in the Victorian age, the conventions of grief and mourning were felt to have separated from the sentiment within. This felt inadequacy had serious implicatlons for the writer of a letter of condolence. This thesis identifies the feeling which many condolers shared: that words of comfort seemed merely comnonplace and formalised, and were therefore unable to convey sincerity, or to mark particularity. That writing cannot fully record the modulations of a voice, or convey action, presents a writer of a letter of condolence with a further difficulty. Words already felt to be commonpLace or conventional, might seem dead on the page, without voice or gesture. This thesis delineates the conventions and conmonplaces of funerals, of mourning, and of letters of condolence, as a problem which is ever-renewed. Close readings of Tennyson's letters of condolence and of 'In Memoriam' are provided, in order to establish how, in particular contrast to Dickens, Tennyson was able to resurrect such comnonplaces. A study of 'Our Mutual Friend' and of Dickens' letters of condolence shows how, Dickens seeks to deny the anguish of grief. Whereas Dickens is confident and certain about his power to condole and about hls views of an after-life, Tennyson is hesitant and reticent. Whereas Dickens seeks to rouse and be heartfelt, Tennyson is cautious.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Funerals ; Mourning ; Grief ; Bereavement ; Hallam