Department Chair

Lisa Berglund, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of English

Date of Award


Access Control

Open Access

Degree Name

English, M.A.


English Department


Jennifer Ryan, Ph.D. Associate Professor of English

Department Home page

First Reader

Mark Fulk, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English

Second Reader

Barish Ali, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English


Death today is hidden from our everyday lives so it cannot intermingle with the general public. So when a family member dies, their body becomes an object in need of disposal; no longer can they be recognized as the familiar person they once were. To witness death is to force individuals to confront the truths of human existence, and for most of us seeing such a sight would fill us with an emotion of disgust. Yet during the nineteenth century, the burden of care towards the sick or dying was shared by a community of family, neighbors, and friends; the death of each person was a public occurrence. Death happened at home and, instead of being met with repulsion, was greeted as an event.

In this study, I explore the Victorian family's shared emotional and psychological support of the deathbed scene, particularly in the literary treatment of the dying and dead body, while also comparing it to our modern attitudes of death. Both the sickroom and the deathbed were important spaces in Victorian life and literature as abjection of the body is forced away in favor of a literary escapism in which the young, dead woman in the text not only stays beautiful, but is also "frozen" in time to preserve her purity and innocence against mortal aging and sin. This study will prove how both time periods distort the realities of death, but with reasonably different methods.