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  • How Victorian Periodicals Mourn:Obituaries and Memorial Essays
  • April Patrick (bio)

In an era when the reigning monarch mourned her husband for nearly forty years, the Victorian preoccupation with death appeared in artifacts ranging from mourning jewellery to post-mortem photography to black-bordered memorial cards. Just as these products for memorializing the dead varied widely, so did literary responses to death, which spanned genres and media. In the month following Charles Dickens's death, on 9 June 1870, written memorials for the beloved author, editor, and publisher filled the pages of magazines and newspapers. Barely twelve hours after Dickens's death, the Times published more than two thousand words on the deceased writer, as did other London daily newspapers, including the Pall Mall Gazette, the Morning Post, and the Standard. Many of the monthly publications printed lengthier responses to the loss in their July 1870 issues, including those by Dickens's friends and colleagues in Macmillan's Magazine, Temple Bar, Fraser's Magazine, New Monthly Magazine, Gentleman's Magazine, and St. Paul's Magazine. Other periodical coverage of the author's death, including reports on the burial and speeches made about the deceased, is excluded here, as it performs a different function from the writings that memorialized Dickens. Additionally, many periodicals also included poetic responses to his death in such forms as the elegy.

The obituary in the 10 June 1870 issue of the Times, "Death of Charles Dickens," includes details of Dickens's final illness and death before focusing mostly on his life, publications, and career. With two paragraphs near the end devoted to Dickens's oral readings of his popular works, the article quotes from "his parting speech on the occasion of his last reading at St. James's-hall" as the author's own farewell to his fans: "from these garish lights I vanish now for evermore, with one heartfelt, grateful, respectful, and affectionate farewell" (12). It then concludes with a paragraph of reflection on what made Dickens such a popular writer before a final note on Dickens's father-in-law, "a musical writer of some eminence in his day" (12), a seemingly odd addition but one that supports the news-focused nature of the obituary, which reported any details available. [End Page 196]

Many of the weekly papers could not print the news until the following week's issue, though the Examiner and London Review printed a short paragraph in the "Latest Intelligence" section of their 11 June 1870 issue announcing Dickens's death and promising "a detailed notice of the life and labours of the celebrated novelist . . . in our next week's issue" (377). The 18 June 1870 issue fulfills this promise, with a detailed account of Dickens's life and career referencing the same dates and publications as the Times and even quoting the same parting address from Dickens. The article concludes with a series of compliments on Dickens's personality and talents while maintaining a journalistic distance. In both this obituary and the one from the Times, any editorializing describes Dickens's popularity and skill as a writer and performer, hardly debatable or unique positions.

In its 18 June 1870 issue, the Athenæum, another weekly paper, also publishes about Dickens's death but does so in a style that, on its surface, diverges from the obituaries discussed above in two ways: first, the page is surrounded by a thick black border, like a memorial card; and, second, it is signed by its author, Henry F. Chorley. Though he begins with a standard discussion of Dickens's works in chronological order, Chorley shifts the focus to acknowledge his personal relationship with the author and note how having "know[n] Charles Dickens in the intimacy of his own home" leads him to "such emotion as almost incapacitates the heart and hand" (804). Chorley continues, praising Dickens for personal attributes such as his friendliness, generosity, and dedication, with specific details that indicate his own observation of them, noting, "Dickens was incomparable" (804). A deep sense of grief pervades the entire article, with Chorley's feeling of loss most apparent in the final sentence: "On a future day, I may endeavour to fill...


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pp. 196-199
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