Death and the Early Modern Englishwoman

1st Edition

Lucinda M. Becker

Routledge
Published March 31, 2017
Reference - 240 Pages
ISBN 9781138277946 - CAT# Y315727

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Summary

This study explores the female experience of death in early modern England. By tracing attitudes towards gender through the occasion of death, it advances our understanding of the construction of femininity in the period. Becker illustrates how dying could be a positive event for a woman, and for her mourners, in terms of how it allowed her to be defined, enabled and elevated. The first part of the book gives a cultural and historical overview of death in early modern England, examining the means by which human mortality was confronted, and how the fear of death and dying could be used to uphold the mores of society. Becker explores particularly the female experience of death, and how women used the deathbed as a place of power from which to bestow dying maternal blessings, or leave instructions and advice for their survivors. The second part of the study looks at 'good' and 'bad' female deaths. The author discusses the motivation behind the reporting of the deaths and the veracity of such accounts, and highlights the ways in which they could be used for religious, political and patriarchal purposes. The third section of the book considers how death could, paradoxically, liberate a woman. In this section Becker evaluates the opportunity for female involvement in dying and posthumous rituals, including funeral rites and sermons, commemorative and autobiographical writing and literary legacies. While accounts of dying women largely underpinned the existing patriarchy, the experience of dying allowed some women to express themselves by allowing them to utilise an established male discourse. This opportunity for expression, along with the power of the deathbed, are the focus for this study.

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