Tag: post mortem

Not For the Faint Hearted

Sometimes, I really resent being squeamish. As an adult, without having to worry about weekly biology class and the embarrassment of having to be excused or risk fainting, I sometimes forget how squeamish I still am. After all, I’m one of those hard people who can watch Bones (although not necessarily while eating). I can do anything.

Except… I can’t. I didn’t take History or English Lit at A Level because I knew the syllabus and I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it through without chucking up. Being squeamish means that I can’t take a first aid course at work, and that I almost passed out in a manual handling training course. I hate it. It’s embarrassing, at least partly psychosomatic and, when I’m feeling particularly bitter, directly responsible for any problem I’ve ever had, ever.

But let us not dwell! Let us instead consider my current quandary. Do I buy these disgusting but beautiful books?

Click through to look inside!

One thing that I am a lot better at now than when I was younger, is my ability to approach gore and general innards on my own terms. Some pictures of carpal tunnel surgery came up on my Pinterest feed the other day (Why though, Pinterest!?), and I was fascinated! But put me in a room with other people and no escape route and I’ll crawl under the desk in a cold sweat.

As I’m writing this, it seems like a childhood trauma I’m not over, and that just I need a good bit of therapy. Well, sure, that’s probably correct. I should get that sorted. Or, I could buy these beautiful gross pieces of art and avoid parts of my own house if they get too much.

I’m not just wondering whether or not to risk making myself sick on a whim. I will probably need these for my research, and look at them. They are a chronicle of some of the most important drawings in history. They are part of the journey we have taken to get to where we are today.

So I probably will buy them.

Just not yet.

What about you? Are you fascinated by your fears? How far do you push yourself to conquer them?

In other news, I still haven’t finished the book I was going to review. But! I started another one! Reviews back up next week… I’m going to be talking about Death at the Priory, Sex and Murder in Victorian Englandby James Ruddick. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear what you think!

Captured Shadows

REVIEW – Beyond the Dark Veil : Post Mortem and Mourning Photography from the Thanatos Archive – Jacqueline Ann Bunge Barger

Grief is an odd and difficult thing. Until recently I was lucky enough not to have lost anybody close to me, and when I did, the raw rip of grief was something I struggled to understand even as it devastated me. It isolates you in your pain, and yet it unites you with every human in history.

Never has every human in history felt closer than when reading this collection of Victorian Post-Mortem and Mourning Photography, from the Thanos Archive.

It's impossible to do justice to this glossy, golden, embossed beauty of a book in a photograph

It’s impossible to do justice to this glossy, golden, embossed beauty of a book in a photograph

This is a beautiful volume, the kind that is a pleasure to hold in your hands as you run gentle fingertips over the shallow embossing on the cover. I really felt it was a thing of great importance before I even opened it – a feeling which only grew as I read, going through all 200 thick pages in one sitting and almost breaking my own heart.

There’s a theory I’ve always liked, that when you die, you live on for as long as there is somebody to remember you. You survive in memory, if not in spirit, which is one thing which makes this collection of Victorian mourning photography so hauntingly beautiful. By locking eyes with the long past dead or nearly dead, do we resurrect their souls, allowing them to live on for as long as we remember them?

Probably not. But the theatre of Victorian mourning is something beautiful, and the culmination of habits humanity has refined over millennia. These traditions, as explained in this hefty tome, fell out of favour during the first and second World Wars, when so many died it would have been too much mourning for society to take, and the fear was it would break the nation’s spirit.

For a book mainly comprised of high quality prints, it’s an absolute trove of information, and I gleaned four pages of notes from my read-through. I always think it’s easier to learn fact by reading fiction or watching a documentary – something immersive rather than dry – and this largely picture-based book had the same sort of effect. It’s learning by osmosis rather than forcing facts into your brain and hoping they stay there.

This post has been a real struggle to write. Nothing has flowed as it should, and I know I haven’t done this book justice. It was the most powerful and moving thing I have ever read, and several times during my read-through I wondered why I was putting myself through it. It isn’t necessary to immerse myself in so much death. Perhaps it isn’t wise, either. But the more I learn, the more fascinated I am by the culture which surrounds it, and the history of people’s association with death. It fascinates us all, it is the great unknown. The tradition with which we surround death is the culmination of millennia of trying to understand what we can never hope to.

I recommend this book whole-heartedly. It isn’t an easy read, but there is something to be said about confronting your own mortality in so forthright a manner. Similarly, there is something oddly comforting about seeing the preserved memories of those who had been so loved, still showing that love after over a century later. Like these 200+ people, perhaps we will not be forgotten, even when those who knew and loved us have long since passed.

Find Beyond the Dark Veil on amazon.co.uk

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