Communing with the Fictional Dead: Grave Tourism and the Sentimental Novel

Helen Williams*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Abstract

From the 1770s onwards gravesites of characters from Laurence Sterne’s Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–67), A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1768) and Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth (1791) appeared across Germany and in America as a unique form of literary afterlife. This essay argues that graves of literary heroines, Maria and Charlotte, were a means by which readers could express the heightened sensibility characteristic of the sentimental novel tradition through communing with favourite dead characters and—whether through sociable pilgrimage or simply in imagination—other sentimental readers. Considering the characteristically tragic outcomes for female protagonists of the sentimental novel, the practice of grave-visiting described here depends on while also unpacking narratives which explore female sexuality and its relationship with death. Graves to fictional characters therefore facilitated readers’ quixotic mourning while holding the potential to provoke collective criticism of sentimental literary culture’s framing of female sexuality, other than that which conveniently concludes with marriage, as tragedy
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBritish Sociability in Enlightenment Europe
Subtitle of host publicationCultural Practices and Personal Encounters
EditorsSebastian Domsch, Mascha Hansen
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Pages41-62
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783030525675
ISBN (Print)9783030525699, 9783030525668
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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