Common Ends: Death and the Poor in the Time of Dickens Open Access
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Representations of death in nineteenth-century British literature highlight the shared experiences of the poor and working classes and give voice to their common fears and perceptions. The poor negotiate their connection to the past, present, and future via spaces associated with death, which is indicative of the desperation of their situation as well as their differences from the middle and upper classes. This dissertation focuses on the period between the 1830s and early 1860s, a time of intense political activity by and concerning the poor. Charles Dickens, sympathetic to the lower classes and keenly attuned to his culture, offers a wealth of material to theorize the relationships between death, poverty, and literature. I also include texts by authors such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Brontë, Wilkie Collins, and George Eliot, as well as less-studied writers such as Thomas Noel, W.J. Linton, and Thomas Cooper.The first chapter focuses on the workhouse, whose association with death arises from the lower-classes' widespread fear of dying inside workhouse walls. In the second chapter, I argue that walking funeral processions transform the landscape, which becomes a space for social reunion and highlights the importance of mobility to class identity. Chapter three considers how the grave is used to recall the past and to contemplate the future in Dickens's novels and in the works of Chartist poets. The fourth, and final, chapter explores the afterlife as a site to comment on and imaginatively correct the plight of the poor. The coda focuses on Our Mutual Friend (1865) to analyze briefly the use of the river as a space of death that encapsulates both danger and redemption.