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

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Abstract

From the 1770s onwards gravesites of characters from Laurence Sterne's Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67) and 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. This essay traces the emergence of these graves as a unique form of literary afterlife, suggesting that they 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 depends on whilst also unpacking narratives which frame female sexuality, other than that which conveniently concludes with marriage, as tragedy. Graves to fictional characters therefore facilitated readers' quixotic mourning whilst holding the potential to provoke collective criticism of sentimental literary culture's framing of female sexuality without marriage as causing only social ostracism, suffering and death.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBritish Sociability in Enlightenment Europe: Cultural Practices and Personal Encounters
EditorsSebastian Domsch, Mascha Hansen
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-52567-5
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020

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