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Death and the Victorians (Hardback)

A Dark Fascination

P&S History > British History > Victorian History P&S History > By Century > 19th Century P&S History > By Century > 20th Century P&S History > Social History

By Adrian Mackinder
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 192
Illustrations: 32 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399082556
Published: 27th February 2024

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From spooky stories and real-life ghost hunting, to shows about murder and serial killers, we are fascinated by death - and we owe these modern obsessions to the Victorian age.

Death and the Victorians explores a period in history when the search for the truth about what lies beyond our mortal realm was matched only by the imagination and invention used to find it.

Walk among London’s festering graveyards, where the dead were literally rising from the grave. Visit the Paris Morgue, where thousands flocked to view the spectacle of death every single day.

Lift the veil on how spirits were invited into the home, secret societies taught ways to survive death, and the latest science and technology was applied to provide proof of the afterlife.

Find out why the Victorian era is considered the golden age of the ghost story, exemplified by tales from the likes of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Oscar Wilde and Henry James.

Discover how the birth of the popular press nurtured our taste for murder and that Jack the Ripper was actually a work of pure Gothic horror fiction crafted by cynical Victorian newspapermen.

Death and the Victorians exposes the darker side of the nineteenth century, a time when the living were inventing incredible ways to connect with the dead that endure to this day.

Death and the Victorians is an entertaining and interesting read. It covers a wide range of topics including cemeteries, the occult and spiritualism, photography(eg. posing the dead in photos), ghost stories, the rise of sensationalist newspapers and penny dreadfuls, and of course Jack the Ripper. Many literary references.

NetGalley, Janelle Womsley

I've been intrigued by death customs for years and this book touched on several of my favorite topics. There were mentions of details and topics which I found myself wanting to explore further. Especially interesting was the chapter on Victorian ghost stories. I found several suggestions for future readings to enjoy!

NetGalley, Angela Gates

A macabre and engrossing read. Full of detail with plenty of intersections between Victorian culture and death.

NetGalley, Nomes Randall

Are you the kind of person that finds the Victorian obsession with death fascinating? Do you harbour a longing to take a stroll around Highgate Cemetery, London before you shuffle off this mortal coil? Then this is the book for you. Looking at the period of history from just before Queen Victoria took the throne to the outbreak of the First World War, the author examines the Victorian attitude towards death including the designing & building of huge cemeteries to replace the crumbling old churchyards, the practice of taking photographs of the recently deceased, the rise of spiritualism, & the growing popularity of the ghost story & 'Penny Dreadfuls'. It's mainly UK-centric although there is quite a bit about the Paris Morgue & the underground catacombs, plus the Hyde sisters in the US.

It seems weird to type this, given the subject matter, but this book made me LOL several times. It's quite humorous at times in tone but there's lots of intriguing information including the fact that the Victorians could be rather creepily morbid at times.

NetGalley, Gayle Noble

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

If you have an affinity for social history, mortuary rituals, and the interplay of religion and society, “Death and the Victorians” is a must-read. While it may be a tad academic at times, its thorough research and engaging storytelling make it an entertaining and informative read.
It's the perfect book if you love social history, if you are into goth culture o want to know more about how this time changed the way of life.
I found fascinating the part about the photo with the dead.
Highly recommended.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

Such a fantastic book! This gem is a thoroughly enjoyable read. The obsession the Victorians had with death is well known and so compelling. This book is a perfectly documented account of that. From the use of memento mori to postmortem photography, from the attraction for public executions to the furor of the Penny dreadfuls everything is presented in this book in a beautiful and accessible prose that will make you want to keep reading, nonstop.
Fantastic book. I highly recommend it!

NetGalley, Natalia Weissfeld

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This engrossing and informative book explores the Victorian fascination with death, from ghost stories to early murder obsessions, that still captivate us today. It delves into the era’s blend of Gothic imagination and invention as people pursued the spectral. It’s a spooky, fun, and easy read.

NetGalley, Andrea Romance

Such a great read! I’ve always been fascinated by the Victorian Era and their relationship with death, and that is exactly what this book explores. It is very well written, captivating, and it feels like the author has really done his research.

NetGalley, Persephone Hawker

Recommended for those who have an interest in the Victorian Age, the changing perception and activity surrounding death, and/or those who want to know some of the original ideas behind how we currently understand our relationship to death and the dead.

NetGalley, Jack Messer

This is a very informative book giving us a glimpse into how death was seen by, and changed during, the Victorian times. This short book was very well written with a lot of information, without sounding too “boring” or unoriginal to read. Despite being fairly short, this book covers a wide array of topics, and provides especially a good introduction to readers who may be unfamiliar with the information.

NetGalley, Anne (eggcatsreads)

Death and the Victorians covers a lot of ground in an easily digestible and entertaining way. It covers a range of topics that ultimately gives the reader a good sense and overview of Victorian attitudes and beliefs about death and the afterlife. I felt like each topic covered could easily be covered in a book of its own because there was so much covered, but the author gives plenty of recommendations for further reading beyond his analysis. This book could act as a great introduction to anyone new to the Victorian era or their specific attitudes and beliefs.

NetGalley, Erinn Hill

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a wonderful overview of the many aspects of death and the Victorian era. In the book, the author discusses the perception of death in the 18th century and how it evolved into one where people cared about the dying and dead. The book covers topics such as ghosts, ouija boards, spiritualists, and mourning culture. In addition, there is a section on post mortem photography, which I think the author did a wonderful job on. There is a lot of misleading information on the internet and they address that issue.

Anyone curious about this topic should pick up this book.

NetGalley, Gina Iorio

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This really worked well in telling the connection from the Victorians and death. It had a beautifully done cover and really added to my enjoyment. Adrian Mackinder does a great job in writing this.

NetGalley, Kathryn McLeer

Death and the Victorians by Adrian Mackinder is an engrossing book about how death was viewed and dealt with during a particularly macabre awakening in the era. But we, too, are fascinated by the process of death.

This was the Golden Age of ghosts, communicating with the dead, sensationalism and death depicted in literature, theatre and art. Faith and spiritualism were at the forefront. Unprecedented numbers of bodies from wars, plagues, crimes and industrial accidents necessitated better and more sanitary burial standards. Law changes prompted lucrative body snatching and murder just to earn money from medical men.

Private garden cemeteries and morgues became important and some are open to wandering to this day. I've visited many old catacombs, cemeteries and ossuaries and wonder what the people were like and how they lived.

Macabre photographs really personalize the grief and suffering Victorian families endured and the lengths they went to to keep their loved ones close. Bodies of the deceased were propped up and the pallor of those living were made to fade into the background. Photographs were often the best (or worst) way to preserve memories.

The press played a pivotal role in sensationalism and news, including Jack the Ripper. Occult societies sprang up.

If this topic intrigues you, don't allow this book to slip through your fingers.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

So, I'm a huge fan of nonfiction books about death, dying, mourning, etc. I'm also a huge fan of Victorian culture and history. Death and the Victorians provides an excellent introduction to the intersection of these topics in a very readable form. Many books about death infantilize the reader or are written for a scholarly audience-- Death and the Victorians never takes either tone, instead it chooses to present its information in an enticing narrative that is easy to follow but provides plenty of opportunity to stop and make notes or digest what you just read.

Adrian Mackinder very clearly knows their material, and I'm thrilled to have had the chance to read this book. Even though I spend a lot of time reading books about both topics, I still learned new information here. The sections on private funerals and death photography were incredibly interesting. Totally worth the read for experienced enjoyers of, as well as beginners to, morbid nonfiction.

NetGalley, Caleb Aarsand

Death and the Victorians by Adrian Mackinder is a nonfiction book around Victorian attitudes around death and connecting the threads to previous beliefs and modern practices. The cremation aspect was quite interesting and I am now interested in doing my own research into the topic.

The necropolises of Great Britain were new information for me as was when reincarnation was introduced to England and by who and I enjoyed the connections made between ectoplasm in Ghostbusters and Victorian spirituality.

I was originally concerned that the book would dismiss the victims of Jack the Ripper due to the wording of the summary, but Mackinder names all five of the Canonical Five, explicitly states that they deserve more attention, and directs readers who want to give the spotlight to those women to read The Five by Hallie Rubenhold.

I would recommend this to those doing research on the Victorian era, spirituality in England, and the White Chapel murders.

NetGalley, Chelsea Rothe

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a great book and one I found very interesting and highly entertaining.

NetGalley, Janalyn Prude

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This fascinating book covers the physical aspects of death as well as the mystical. It’s a great combination of facts about the practicalities of disposing of bodies through to the spiritualist movement and how “those left behind” come to terms with loss. I loved the information on the Paris Catacombs and the ways in which burials were managed in overcrowded London graveyards, as well as the details of Resurrection Men and what their practices meant for the legal framework. It’s well researched and there is a tone of humour in the writing style which actually works really well for such a dark topic. A great read!

NetGalley, Louise Gray

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is insanely entertaining, informative and well researched. I’ve always felt a strange fascination with Victorian times, so this read was like a time machine that allowed me to look at the people who lived those lives. The author makes a good case for the way Victoriana has influenced us through the years, including our views on life and death, our fascination with the supernatural and even the true crime podcasts that started only recently. Despite being centered on Victorian England, there is information about France and the US, including how views on the same subjects were similar and how they differed. I especially enjoyed the parts about literature and how it influenced media reports. Three of the books mentioned here: Dracula, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Portrait of Dorian Grey are favorites, so it was fascinating to see how the coverage of the Jack the Ripper murders was shaped by them. The author also answered my question about how intelligent people could have fallen for obvious frauds trying to speak to the dead. I truly enjoyed this.

NetGalley, Elisa Rambacher

Hundreds of years ago, at university, I did a course on Death and Mourning in Victorian Literature. I've been obsessed ever since. Give me an opportunity to talk about the overcrowding of graveyards in Victorian London and I'm there for twenty minutes minimum. This tapped right into my interests. I enjoyed the book. I think it's a great book for people who are starting to get interested in the subject. It struck the right note between scholarly and telling a great story.

NetGalley, Katy Wheatley

I will definitely recommend this title to readers who enjoy reading about the Victorian Era, a fascinating time in history and death, always a compelling topic!

NetGalley, Birgitta Gustafson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was an informative read, it was great to read more about the concept of death in general but also to learn more about the specific Victorian era regarding death was fascinating.

NetGalley, A D

4.5 stars

‘Even if death arrived after a long life well lived, or is actively welcomed due to illness, pain or suffering - sadness and loss always pervades. In contemplating what happens when you die, spare a thought not for those who pass away, but those who still live on.’

I adore reading about the Victorian era and with just the title alone I knew I NEEDED this book.

Reading about Edinburgh/Burke & Hare was great :)

It was interesting to see how death had changed over time.

This book has added many more books to by TBR and has made me want to do some travelling as I enjoy visiting graves/researching them.

‘During the early part of the nineteenth century, the dead were either the stuff of nightmares, piled up in such numbers they polluted the realm of the living; or raw materials, callously traded for coin, only to be stripped and reduced to chunks of meat to be dissected and prodded for knowledge.’

A must read for history readers and those with a curiosity for death and the Victorians.

Georgi Lvs Books !!

About Adrian Mackinder

Adrian Mackinder is a writer and performer. He has twenty years’ freelance experience scribbling for just about everyone, from The Guardian, British Government and the BBC to Cartoon Network, LEGO and The Beano.
Adrian is also a professional improviser, actor and comedian. Head Writer at Comedy Central UK for five years, he has performed live on stage in the UK, US and mainland Europe. Adrian lives with his family in Copenhagen where he struggles daily with being an Englishman abroad.

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