ERIC Number: ED390059
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1995-Mar
Reference Count: N/A
The Romantic Rhetoric of 19th Century Obituaries: "She Gave a Few Faint Gasps and Died."
Scholars of writing, language, and culture will find a rich fund of research material in 19th-century obituaries which convey extensive details of the deceased's life through an elegant language reminiscent of an oral culture. In contrast to today's newspaper obituaries, which are business-like, tight-lipped, and entirely devoid of any details or feelings, the obituaries of the 19th-century are elevated in a poetic style overflowing with drama, emotion, and adventure. Extensive excerpts from these obituaries show how they unashamedly expressed grief and the shock of loss; unlike today, the personal details of the deceased's last moments are not spared. One excerpt, for instance, explains how Miss Mattie Ayers threw herself into the Saranac River at Moffitsville (New York), after outrunning her brother and a friend on her way to a cliff. After her rescue, she "gave a few faint gasps and died." In addition to grisly details, all people, regardless of how saintly or naughty, merited a notice of their unique experiences, important contributions, or personal characteristics. These obituaries also depict a pre-technological society in which 60 was a ripe old age and people much younger died of diseases now regarded as extinct, such as typhoid, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. Remnants of an oral cultural tradition are evident in the use of stock phrases and references to word-of-mouth information. (TB)
Publication Type: Speeches/Meeting Papers; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Cultural Studies; Historical Materials; Nineteenth Century; Obituaries; Writing Style
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (46th, Washington, DC, March 23-25, 1995).