Professor James Stevens Curl
- Publication Date
- Page Count
In this finely-illustrated and well-researched book Professor Curl has rescued much fascinating material from undeserved oblivion, and his work fills a genuine gap. From humble working-class exequies to the massive outpourings of grief at the State funerals of Wellington and Queen Victoria herself, The Victorian Celebration of Death covers an immense canvas. It describes the change in sensibility that led to a new tenderness towards the dead; disposal of the dead as part of the great sanitary reforms of the epoch (though given appropriate expression in cemeteries as works of art); the ephemera of death and dying (including wreaths, mourning-cards and –jewellery, elaborate hearses crowned with ostrich-feather plumes, mourning-dress, and much else); State funerals as national spectacles; and the utilitarian reactions towards the end of the nineteenth century.
Combining wit with compassion, Curl wears his learning lightly, and his taste for the eerie is delicately balanced by his literary personality. His researches has resurrected many valuable and extremely interesting aspects of nineteenth-century attitudes to death and the disposal of the dead: furthermore, his celebrations of the cemetery in terms of aesthetics and landscape design strike a thrilling note, an outpouring of the great black cornucopia of Victorian agony and the terrific paraphernalia of the Last Act. Curl’s achievement is as well-ordered as any sumptuous funeral, and is lucid as well as entertaining, with many surprises and associated delights. He proceeds from the elegiac garden (an antidote to the gruesome horrors of the overcrowded, smelly, and insanitary graveyards) to the Elysian fields of the ideal cemetery, and then on to cremation, with scarcely a jolt. His robustly argued and beautifully written reportage makes his unique and elegant book and agreeable companion to the non-eternal bedside.
PROFESSOR EMERITUS JAMES STEVENS CURL has held Chairs in Architectural History at two British Universities. He read for his Doctorate at University College London, and in 1991-2 and 2002 was Visiting Fellow at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge. With his many books (including the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture), articles, and learned papers he has established and international reputation for scholarship, lucidity of style, and thorough investigations in little-known fields of research.