Cheer Up Dave, the dead are still asleep.
What is it about Dickens and death? At the beginning of ‘Great Expectations’ Philip ‘Pip’ Pirrip is hanging out in the graveyard with his dead relations, when the fated encounter with terrifying Magwitch changes the course of his life. Now, as part of our Dickens reading challenge, I’ve started reading ‘David Copperfield’ again, and before the poor blighter is even born, his father is under the soil. It wasn’t this in itself that struck me as being particularly macabre, but the attempts of the mother and Peggotty try to comfort the young lad, having scared him witless with that perennial favourite bedtime story: ‘Lazarus the dead, rises again’.
One Sunday night my mother reads to Peggotty and me in there, how Lazarus was raised up from the dead. And I am so frightened that they are afterwards obliged to take me out of bed, and shew me the quiet churchyard out of the bedroom window, with the dead all lying in their graves at rest, below the solemn moon’.
What child wouldn’t be soothed by a little peek at the dark graveyard right outside their window, just to confirm that the dead are still in their permanent beds? I did wonder whether my reaction was maybe symptomatic of a 21st century urban sensitivity around death, in which we do everything in our power to avoid the unavoidable, then don’t know how to handle it when it strikes. I think there probably is something in this. In fact, Lucy’s post on ‘Wuthering Heights‘ springs to mind. The image of people frequently slipping over in graveyards due to rising corpse fat caused by excessive rain, is incomprehensible, utterly horrific, and one that will never leave me! Maybe I am just being squeamish, but one thing’s for sure, the time will never come when tales of the dead coming back to life make an advisable choice of bedtime story for children.
I think it’s the world wars and associated genocide, conversely. The ability to handle death and trauma was pushed too far, and we decided tidying it away was all we could do. We drew a line between ourselves and out physical bodies, hiding death, and discouraging breastfeeding. We turned our minds to inventing Angel Delight and teabags, and listening to Doris Day. I do like a bit of Doris Day 😉
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the holy trinity of Angel Delight, teabags and Doris Day could be pretty much prescribed as a panacea for all ills. If Doris day can’t fix it, nothing can!
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