Life Writing & Death: Dialogues of the Dead

Obituaries: A Dead Important Genre

  • Clare Brant King's College London
Keywords: obituary, biography, animal, eco-grief

Abstract

Obituaries are micro-narratives in which distinct conventions and tensions are at work. Humanist and historical, emotional and dispassionate, philosophical and random, obituaries have a literary nexus that encompasses reverence, irreverence, grief and (in some cases) relief. My analysis starts with broadsheet obituaries of the late twentieth century, and models of reading the genre, which I re-read through counter-establishment Private Eye’s comic verse obituaries. Pet memorials adopt and adapt obituary, creating distinct subcultures of animal relations in genres of human mourning. The obituaries discussed span the ideological reproduction of essentially respectful obituaries, to comedy’s counter-cultural critique, to an expansive embrace of selected animal companions seen as part of human families, to an articulation of the value of life forms lost to climate emergency. In these and other contexts, obituaries are alive and well.

Author Biography

Clare Brant, King's College London

Clare Brant is Professor of Eighteenth-century Literature and Culture at King’s College London, where she also co-directs the Centre for Life-Writing Research. She co-edits the Palgrave series Studies in Life Writing, and has published widely. She proposes to write her own obituary to make sure she has one, to save anyone else the bother and to preserve a few of her best jokes. Email: Clare.brant@kcl.ac.uk.

Published
2020-07-06
Section
Life Writing & Death: Dialogues of the Dead