The Corpse as Text: Disinterment and Antiquarian Enquiry, 1700-1900
Title Details

253 Pages

23.4 x 15.6 cm

25 b/w illus.

Imprint: Boydell Press

The Corpse as Text: Disinterment and Antiquarian Enquiry, 1700-1900

by Thea Tomaini

  • Description
  • Contents
  • Reviews
Between 1700 and 1900, the subject of disinterment (exhumation) attracted the attention of antiquaries, who constructed a comprehensive memory of the past by 'reading' corpses as documents describing an idealised past.

Between 1700 and 1900, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were stereotyped, idealised, and held as a standard by which the present time could be measured. Various figures in politics, academia, and the church pointed to historical persons such as Henry VIII, Shakespeare, Charles I, and Oliver Cromwell as icons whose lives, deaths and corpses illustrated the victories of English Protestantism, the values of Monarchism (or Republicanism), and the superiority of the English culture and its language. In particular, the subject of disinterment (exhumation) attracted the attention of antiquaries. They constructed a comprehensive memory of the past by 'reading' corpses as documents describing an idealised past. These 'texts' accompanied and enhanced the traditional texts of chronicle, literature, and epitaph.
This study explores the cooperation of ideology and aesthetic, the paradox of allure and revulsion, and the uncanny attraction to death. In each case there is a desire for the dead to speak in a contemporary voice; each historical personage becomes symbolic of larger aspects of the contemporary culture. The discourse of the noble body in death is reconfigured to validate English nationalist ideals and to establish the past as a Golden Era of unimpeachable superiority. It was not enough simply to study the lives and deaths of historical figures. Itwas necessary to disinter the corpses, engage physically with the dead, and experience the discourse of validation.

THEA TOMAINI is Associate Professor of English (Teaching) at the University of Southern California.
Introduction: The Corpse as Text
Presumptive Readings: King John
The Text in Neglect: Katherine de Valois
Appropriated Meanings: Thomas Becket
Fictions and Fantasies: Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Investigations and Revisions: Katherine Parr
A Surfeit of Interpretations: William Shakespeare
The Conversant Dead: Charles I and Oliver Cromwell
Conclusion
Bibliography
"A fascinating guide to the ways in which antiquarian study and disinterment played into the formation of British identity, as well as a particularly ghoulish case study of how past lives and events are interpreted, reinterpreted and used....If you're interested in how people relate to the bodies of the dead, it's an excellent addition to your library." FORTEAN TIMES
"Tomaini tackles the delightfully macabre subject of the disinterment of the corpses of prominent, mostly royal Britons between the early eighteenth and late nineteenth centuries. . . . [Her] treatments of the individual case studies are sharp and insightful, as well as readable and full of entertaining and amusing detail." Stephanie Barczewski, Journal of British Studies

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9781783271948

April 2017

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9781782049517

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Title Details

253 Pages

2.34 x 1.56 cm

25 b/w illus.

Imprint: Boydell Press