Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve, A Cultural Study

Overview

"The most comprehensive multidisciplinary contemplation of mortality we are likely to get." -Thomas Lynch, New York Times Book Review
Prominent critic, poet, and memoirist Sandra M. Gilbert explores our relationship to death though literature, history, poetry, and societal practices. Does death change;and if it does, how has it changed in the last century? And how have our experiences and expressions of grief changed? Did the traumas of Hiroshima and the Holocaust transform our thinking about mortality? More ...
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2006 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 580 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. hardcover, with new dust ... jacket, new covers (sharp corners, bright spine titles), clean unmarked pages, binding tight as new and unread (clean page edge)....Post Office Delivery Confirmation provided by e-mail to enable you to track your package. Book is shipped in a padded envelope and packaged in bubble wrap. Read more Show Less

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Overview

"The most comprehensive multidisciplinary contemplation of mortality we are likely to get." -Thomas Lynch, New York Times Book Review
Prominent critic, poet, and memoirist Sandra M. Gilbert explores our relationship to death though literature, history, poetry, and societal practices. Does death change;and if it does, how has it changed in the last century? And how have our experiences and expressions of grief changed? Did the traumas of Hiroshima and the Holocaust transform our thinking about mortality? More recently, did the catastrophe of 9/11 alter our modes of mourning? And are there at the same time aspects of grief that barely change from age to age? Seneca wrote, "Anyone can stop a man's life but no one his death; a thousand doors open on to it." This inevitability has left varying marks on all human cultures. Exploring expressions of faith, burial customs, photographs, poems, and memoirs, acclaimed author Sandra M. Gilbert brings to the topic of death the critical skill that won her fame for The Madwoman in the Attic and other books, as she examines both the changelessness of grief and the changing customs that mark contemporary mourning.
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Editorial Reviews

Thomas Lynch
Gilbert's book instructs and inspires, ennobles and emboldens. Undertakers and anthropologists, the reverend clergy and good doctors, hospice workers and the recently bereaved, poets and common readers of uncommon books are hereby encouraged to have a look.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Many readers will relate to Gilbert's grief following the unexpected loss of her husband in 1991: "death suddenly seemed... urgently close, as if the walls between this world and the `other' had indeed become transparent." In the process of mourning, the acclaimed coauthor of Madwoman in the Attic returned to a project she had abandoned in the early 1970s and invested it with the candor of recent loss. The resulting m lange of literary criticism, anthropology and memoir looks at death across time and culture: in the Nazi concentration camps, 9/11, and the 21st-century "hospital spaceship," as well as through photographs, paintings and poetry. "Like the sun, death can't be looked at steadily," wrote La Rochefoucauld, heralding the modern view of the matter. (The medievals, in contrast, thought the process of dying was much scarier than death itself.) For Gilbert, the passage from a Christian theology of "expiration" to a modern "(anti)theology of `termination' " is best embodied in the poems of Whitman and Dickinson. Her close readings of our cultural history will entrance anyone interested in an intelligent analysis of the ways we grieve. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Becoming a widow suddenly brought poet and professor Gilbert (Univ. of California, Davis) to death's door. Over the last 14 years, she has transformed dismay, grief, reflection, and research into a book that explores, embraces, dissects, and reenlivens death. Other losses, including her first child at three days, figure in this autobiographical, poetic, anthropological, and historical treatment of a formerly taboo subject. Part 1 meditates on the psychology of grief, with D.H. Lawrence, William Butler Yeats, and Sigmund Freud, while Part 2 treats the reshaping of death in the last century. Part 3, "The Handbook of Heartbreak," has five chapters on elegy and lamentation from such writers as Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and Allen Ginsberg to 9/11 and beyond. Disdaining the wishful fix of "closure," she writes, "Indeed the truism that death's door is always open has been the argument of this book." Neither triumph nor requiem, Gilbert's is a sensitive and sensible masterpiece addressing the door, teaching readers to see, feel, and think, even to touch and be touched. Her work, dark but also luminous, will help not only the bereft and those around them but also a society that loves and hates death blindly. Essential for both general and academic collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/05.]-E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Cross-disciplinary study of the ways that shifts in cultural attitudes and beliefs have altered how death is mourned and the dead memorialized. Gilbert (English/Univ. of Calif., Davis) has previously written on this subject from a personal perspective (Wrongful Death, 1995) and from a literary one (Inventions of Farewell, 2001). Here she combines autobiographical narrative and literary criticism with anthropological, cultural and sociological studies to give a broader, more complex picture. After the terrorist attacks of 2001, her academic study of the contemporary elegy evolved into a more general study of dying, death, bereavement and mourning in Western cultures. Personal experiences open each chapter in Part One, "Arranging My Mourning," which considers such universal aspects of death as grief, widowhood, memorials and the desire to communicate with the dead. In Part Two, "History Makes Death," Gilbert turns to the work of anthropologists, sociologists and historians, but also uses personal stories, the music of Brahms and the writings of Evelyn Waugh and Jessica Mitford as tools. This section examines changes in attitudes towards death and in the rituals and language associated with it; the effects of 20th-century technologies on everything from genocide to hospital-managed dying; and the documentation of death through film and still photography. Part Three, "The Handbook of Heartbreak," appears to be the core of her original literary study on the poetics of grief. Here the author focuses on how modern poets express confusion, anxiety and distress over death. While it is filled with numerous excerpts from, and analysis of, the works of 20th-century American and British poets, Gilbertventures beyond the written word to consider the effects of the horrifying images of 9/11, attempts by bereaved individuals to find closure, hastily improvised public memorials and the World Trade Center memorial design as a reflection of the absence and blankness now associated with the end of life. A scholarly, well-researched work that assumes, even demands, a strong interest in contemporary English-language literature.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393051315
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/16/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandra M. Gilbert has published numerous volumes of criticism, including, most recently, Death’s Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve, as well as eight collections of poetry and a memoir. She is coeditor (with Susan Gubar) of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women and a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle’s Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. A Distinguished Professor of English emerita at the University of California, Davis, she lives in Berkeley, California.
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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Arranging my mourning : five meditations on the psychology of grief
1 Death opens
2 Widow
3 Yahrzeit
4 E-mail to the dead
5 Writing wrong
Pt. 2 History makes death : how the twentieth century reshaped dying and mourning
6 Expiration/termination
7 Technologies of death
8 Technologies of dying
9 A day in the death of...
10 Millennial mourning
Pt. 3 The handbook of heartbreak : contemporary elegy and lamentation
11 On the beach with Sylvia Plath
12 Was the nineteenth century different, and luckier?
13 "Rats' alley" and the death of pastoral
14 Monsters of elegy
15 Apocalypse now (and then)
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