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Rituals of Mourning
The curious legend of the Fisher King’s wound had, by the mid-1920s,
begun to seep into numerous literary accounts of masculine identity, sexual reproduction, and the modernist subversion of the masculine call to
action. Across accounts of both physical emasculation from Hemingway
and Lawrence and figurative emasculation from Waugh, Woolf, and others, the correlation between fractured masculinity and the formal turn to
elision as a mode of evocative representation becomes clear. As the previous chapter described, modernist literature returned to the styles and
sympathies of apophatic theology which, through its long association
with mystical belief, sought to illuminate the divine through a recognition that the complete understanding is ultimately always unobtainable. In his recent account of the modernist rendering of death, David
Sherman argues that:
if the human is traditionally conceived as that which intentionally disposes of its dead, then the modern is that period in which the human is no
longer certain about its ability to do so or the meaning of doing so.1
The uncertainty implied in the modern period’s disposal of the dead
has a curious backdrop. On 28 May 1876 the funeral of Baron Joseph
Louis Henry de Palm, a self-styled Bavarian noble, thrilled and scandalized New York City in equal measure. Although the original plans
conceived by Helena Blavatsky to parade his body down Fifth Avenue
to the New York Masonic Temple on an elaborate Egyptian bier were
© The Author(s) 2017
A. Johnson, Masculine Identity in Modernist Literature,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-65509-3_4
79
80 A. Johnson
finally reconsidered by leaders of the Theosophical Society, de Palm’s
funeral, nevertheless, proved to be a flamboyant spectacle attended by
over 2000 onlookers. Triangular admission tickets cut from heavy black
card detailed de Palm’s catalogue of honorifics and titles, even though
he had been almost entirely unknown to New York society until he was
elected to the recently formed Theosophical Society three months before
his stately departure. Such was the public interest in the Theosophical
funeral rites that the event received front-page coverage in the Herald,
the Sun, and the New York Times. As one reporter described:
The body of the hall was entirely without decoration. The platform or
altar, however, was embellished by an incense burner, which, according
to the offices of the society, was emblematic of the worship of fire, and a
wooden cross bearing a serpent, who seemed to be engaged in an honest
but fruitless effort to bite his own tail. […] Between the cross and the vase
of burning incense, and directly in front of the stage, appeared the coffin.
It was a handsome ebony casket, bound with silver, and bearing the name,
age, and titles of the dead gentleman. On it were placed seven lighted
candles, five of them white, one red, and the other green. They were also
intended to typify the worship of fire and light.2
The crowd gathered at the Masonic Temple was intrigued, and although
one aggrieved member of the audience was escorted away by police the
funeral rites progressed with little upset.3 At the height of the occult
revival, the question as to why the Theosophical funeral of a minor
Bavarian noble attracted such widespread public attention is perhaps less
pressing than the question of why the Theosophical Society took such
interest in the death of a stranger with little money, few connections,
and no influence. The answer seems to lie in what was to happen to de
Palm’s remains next. His would become the first modern cremation in
America, and mark a return to an ancient ritual of mourning and memorialization that the Theosophical Society was keen to resurrect for the
modern world.
As Stephen Prothero writes:
Death is a sort of alchemy. It changes us in an instant into something completely new. Spirit, soul, and mind flash away, and what was once a living
body becomes a new creation. This new thing, the corpse, is most evidently flesh and bones: pound after pound of inert ligaments, veins, arteries, organs, nails, skin, and hair. But it is also a powerful symbol, charged
RITUALS OF MOURNING 81
with meanings as many and varied as human cultures and individual
personalities.4
Although cremation had been regularly practised by many early civilizations, it began to fall out of favour in the West following the rise of
Christianity before being eventually outlawed by Charlemagne in 789.
As late as the nineteenth century there remained a fear that ‘cremation was an anti-Christian rite inextricably tied to Freemasonry, agnosticism, Theosophy, heathenism, Buddhism, and other forms of radical
religion’.5 Among the most outspoken proponents of cremation at the
time of de Palm’s funeral was Octavius Brooks Frothingham, a genteel
Unitarian minister who portrayed cremation as a form of purification
for the spirit that allowed for the hygienic preservation of the land. At a
time when it was still believed that disease was produced by gases emitted from decaying bodies, those in favour of cremation saw it as a way
to avoid the unsanitary and unseemly decomposition of the corpse that
could pollute the ground in which it was buried. But such a position
stood in stark contrast to traditional Christian beliefs in the sanctity of
the human body. Stephen Prothero goes as far as to suggest that, in this
newly modernized context, cremation ‘was an invented tradition aimed
at Americanizing immigrants [and incorporated] a desire for simpler
times when the country was less ethnically pluralistic, when genteel elites
were truly in charge’.6 The early Christian aversion to cremation stems
from an understanding of two different objectives for maintaining the
body following death: burial offers both an allusion to Christ’s entombment and allows the body to remain intact until the purification of the
spirit and ascent to heaven that was believed to take place following the
Second Coming. For America to accept the seemingly pagan practice of
cremation required a clear delineation between the pre-modern and the
modern, with an emphasis on the scientific modernity exemplified in the
purpose-built crematorium.
De Palm’s cremation could offer a momentous return to the rituals of India, a significant cultural and philosophical influence for the
Theosophical Society, but as no suitable crematorium was yet available
the body sat for over seven months, rudimentarily embalmed with carbolic acid and tar. Embalming originated in Egypt around 3200 BCE as
a way to preserve the body into the afterlife. Gradually embalming took
on greater and greater implications in Egypt where rituals were developed to preserve the body without having to bury it in the sand. This
82 A. Johnson
ancient ritual of memorialization had been returned to prominence during the American Civil War of 1861–1865, before which it had been
customary for soldiers to be buried near where they fell. The objective of this contemporary embalming thus was to preserve the body
for transport.7 When de Palm was finally cremated 400 miles away in
Washington, Pennsylvania, a small town on the Ohio border, the world
was again watching. A New York Times reporter described the effects of
the rudimentary modern embalming process on de Palm’s body:
the flesh was far from being thoroughly dried by the embalming powder,
though the process had made considerable progress; still it was, to a certain extent, pliable, somewhat like soddened leather. I should think that
the mummyfying [sic] process was about half completed, and that it would
have required at least six months more to have carried it out thoroughly.8
In his history of cremation in America, Prothero explains that ‘supporters hailed the event, the first cremation in modern America, as a harbinger of a new age of scientific progress and ritual simplicity. Opponents
denounced it as Satan’s errand. Reporters too were divided. Some wrote
up the story as a tragedy, others as a comedy.’9 The public interest surrounding de Palm’s notorious funeral, his embalming, and his eventual
cremation, registers the significance of the modern return of these two
ancient rituals of mourning, which had begun to resurface in Western
culture in newly modernized forms.
Both T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) and Virginia Woolf’s
Jacob’s Room (1922) engage with the complex implications of rituals of
mourning that had risen to prominence and continued to impact upon
the causal relationship between modern masculinity and mourning.
Commemoration and remembrance after the outbreak of war became ‘an
act of citizenship’ that found expression in three distinct contexts: the
private home commemorations of fallen soldiers, post-war civic memorials which could serve as a site of communal remembrance, and war
cemeteries which embody ‘a more enduring achievement and a more
universal language, drawing on particular traditions but, on occasion,
transcending them’.10 In Fictional Death and the Modernist Enterprise,
Alan Warren Friedman examines the sustained, problematical relationship between modernism and the literary portrayal of death:
RITUALS OF MOURNING 83
Modernists elide the dying process (Woolf, Forster); refract it through
untrustworthy memory (Marlow in Heart of Darkness, Stephen in
Ulysses); base it in materiality (Women in Love, As I Lay Dying, “Snows of
Kilimanjaro”); or foreground the complementarity of eros and thanatos
(Lawrence’s “The Woman Who Rode Away” and The Man Who Died; the
“Hades” chapter of Ulysses).11
The interwar public emphasis on memorialization, which turned the
body of the missing or killed soldier into a site of devotion and memorial, became curiously inverted in the modernist text, where memorialization most regularly took the form of vitally charged absent spaces.
‘In the process of remembering and commemorating the dead and the
war’, David Lloyd argues, ‘the sacred merged and was in tension with
the profane’.12 This chapter considers modernism’s entanglement with
death by looking specifically at Eliot’s and Woolf’s obstinate refusal of
mourning. Woolf and Eliot first met in 1919, and would maintain a
close (if occasionally adversarial, on Woolf’s part) friendship over the
following years. However, the well-documented personal and literary
connections between Woolf and Eliot are not the focus of this chapter,
nor do the following pages contrive to trace lines of influence between
Jacob’s Room and The Waste Land. Rather, my interest here is in a set
of thematic positions surrounding the awareness of male absence which
emerged in the years immediately following the First World War. Many
key aesthetic innovations of Anglo-American high modernism grew out
of a new post-war conceptualization of absence and elision. Long forgotten rituals of mourning such as embalming and cremation had begun to
return to prominence in the West, and writers such as Woolf and Eliot
used these images of dissolution and suspension to articulate the pains of
emasculation and social misrecognition. These heavily coded metaphors
speak to simultaneous gestures towards memorializing and forgetting,
concerns patently explored in both The Waste Land and Jacob’s Room.
As this chapter argues, rituals of mourning were recuperated in a new
secular context where the redemptive promise of everlasting life through
Christianity now seemed to ring false.
The curious incident of the first modern cremation in America resonates in many critical ways with one of the most deliberate modernist treatments of rituals of mourning and of the formative affect of an
incurable wound. The Waste Land’s interest in rituals of cremation and
embalming gives shape to the Eliot’s poetic exploration of anaemic
84 A. Johnson
masculinity, sexual failure, and psychological castration. While many
standard readings of The Waste Land at least nominally gesture towards
the presence of the Fisher King’s emasculating wound, Leon Surette
points out that ‘one difficulty with this standard reading of The Waste
Land is that most of the sexual episodes either narrated or alluded to do
not fit the pattern of male impotence’.13 Philip Sicker echoes this view
when he suggests that Eliot draws considerable attention to the juxtaposition of the castrated male figure with the archetypical ‘sexually violated
yet sterile female’.14 But the seeming lack of specific focus on male psychosexualities in the poem seems to be precisely the point. Any approach
to Eliot’s poetry requires something of what Elisabeth Schneider calls
the ‘double vision’; one must witness Eliot’s oeuvre on both the micro
level of specificity, historical resonance, and evocative meaning, and on
the macro level of poetic impersonality, visionary exuberance, and a
sense of a failed prophet at work.15 The Waste Land depicts an initiation
of modern masculinity, reaching its climax with a torturous journey to
hear the voice of god, and is consumed by imagery of embalming and
cremation. Eliot’s thematic gestures within The Waste Land resituate
the Freudian death instinct within the context of global spirituality, and
regularly propose the recently revived practice of cremation as a form of
purification and release from the earthly body. In doing so, the poem
provides evidence of an alternative view of emasculation during the interwar period, a view which rejected both psychoanalytic descriptions of
castration and contemporary medical traumas surrounding castration,
to return to historical and, as it seems, esoteric perceptions of masculinity as the twinned consort of the feminine divine. Not only does the
poem continually return to images of embalming and cremation—often
subsumed in the elemental symbols of water and fire—but it also reflects
upon the potential value in a symbolic return to these ancient rituals of
absence and mourning. In the world of the poem, mourning and emasculation become integrated into generative sites that forcibly implicate
the reader in the creation of textual meaning. This thematic interest is
famously attributed by Eliot to the influences of Jessie Weston’s From
Ritual to Romance, which provided ‘the plan and a good deal of the
incidental symbolism’ of his 1922 poem. Yet the Fisher King’s wound is
only obliquely referenced in the poem itself and remains a topic that is,
like many of the formal and thematic features of The Waste Land, seemingly everywhere and yet nowhere in the existing criticism.
RITUALS OF MOURNING 85
The poem’s epigraph comes from Petronius’s bawdy verse-novel the
Satyricon (c. first century ce) in which the Cumaean Sibyl is asked ‘what
do you want?’ Her modest reply is ‘I want to die’. Embedded as an anecdote within the comic set piece of Trimalchio’s dinner party, the Sybil’s
wish to die is necessitated by her failure to ask for eternal youth when she
requested eternal life. The Satyricon shows the figure at the later stages
in her life, when she had grown so small in her extreme old age that she
could be kept in a bottle. Petronius’s account of the Sybil introduces the
subsequent discussion of Trimalchio’s own plans for his death memorial, and, in doing so, ultimately reflects in curious ways upon the novel’s
climax in which Encolpius castrates himself after the god Priapus punished him with impotence. As always, there is a danger in overestimating
the implications of local allusions to the overall plan and composition of
Eliot’s poem. However, the aestheticized correlation drawn by Petronius
between a wish to die and a wish to more literally cut off one’s life force
reverberates through The Waste Land, and will give its energy to many
of the most conceptually intricate moments of Eliot’s poem. Like the
Cumaean Sybil, the characters filling the wasteland regularly return to be
finally removed from an impassive, deathless state. Caught up painfully in
this living death, the characters are seeking a final redemption, which can
only be brought about by the return to a something seemingly beyond
themselves, and beyond the realms of the known.
It is this wish to mourn and to be mourned which preoccupies the
denizens of the wasteland, who, inculcated in the barren secularity of
modern life, have only indirect access to the redemptive powers of creation, fulfilment, and completion. As David Sherman describes, The Waste
Land is
an attempt to encounter dead people in the materiality of their deaths, not
to resurrect them but to make death itself intelligible in cultural spheres
that had increasingly effaced dying and dead bodies—and thereby a definitive ethical dimension—from social relations and practices.16
‘The Burial of the Dead’, the first section of The Waste Land, opens
with an entombed speaker observing the cruelty of April, the month
during which rebirth and new life requires a cannibalistic devouring of
organic matter under the earth. Trapped between life and death and
unable to release hold of its bodily form, the speaker bears witness to
the constant regeneration of the earth in this eerie inversion of natural
86 A. Johnson
cycles and seasons where April can be cruel and winter can be warm. The
seemingly indissoluble body is left to simply witness the earth ‘mixing
/ memory and desire’ (lines 2–3) after a blanket of snow during winter slowed down the fearsome decomposition. The change in diction and
metre that comes with line eight indicates a new narrative voice, a shifted
centre of consciousness, and a conceptual turn in the text, leaving the
reader uncertain as to the relationship between the entombed voice of
the first seven lines of the poem and the speaker of the next eleven lines.
Shaken back into focus with the arrival of summer which ‘surprised us’,
the speaker continues to mix memories and desires, now embodying a
memory of the Countess Marie Larisch who is, unlike the buried corpse
of the opening, still among the living (line 8). But like the Cumaean
Sibyl, Marie’s present life of simplicity and solitude is defined principally
by her memories of the past. It is through these happier memories that
the reader ‘hold[s] on tight’ to ride down the sled into the environs of
the wasteland, the vast barren valley of ‘stony rubbish’ from which we
are only able to escape after the tortuous mountain climb in the poem’s
final stanzas (line 20).
A recognition of the ultimate futility of Marie’s recollections of a happier and more fulfilled childhood leads to the poem’s first certain volta
and to a new formal iambic register marked by dense intertextual reference to the Sapiential Books of Job and Ecclesiastes and to the writings
of Ezekiel and Isaiah. ‘[W]hat branches grow’ out of the meaningless
memories of a lonely woman, the speaker rhetorically asks, drawing into
focus the disappointment shared by the Cumaean Sibyl, the entombed
body, and Marie. Typical of Eliot’s method in The Waste Land, the
curious devotional model of a wish to be mourned is refracted initially
through multiple perspectives before coming together into sharper
focus. Here we find the first of numerous references to the Hyacinth
Girl who is blind and mute and seeking release that will be only finally
found closer to the poem’s conclusion. Although the sages, prophets,
and fortune-tellers of the poem often admit to an ancient esoteric wisdom regarding how to escape from this fearsome cycle of transmogrification, their knowledge is rarely legitimate. All that remains of the
ritualistic mysteries that the tarot reader Madame Sosostris represents
is a somewhat shambolic social enterprise, watched suspiciously over by
society. Although Madame Sosostris’s tarot reading sequence is among
the most remarked upon passage in The Waste Land, critics often dismiss
any potential sustained significance to the cards described beyond an
RITUALS OF MOURNING 87
introduction of key characters of the poem such as the Belladonna and
the one-eyed merchant. Betsey Creekmore, however, commences from
Robert Currie’s view that Eliot was well acquainted with A.E. Waite’s
The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1911) in order to argue that the question which the querent has asked of Madame Sosostris is ‘may I die?’,
a clear yet curious echo of the Sybil’s earlier request, and, even more
striking, an inverted parody of the healing question of Perceval and the
Fisher King.17 While the fortune delivered by Madame Sosostris doesn’t
always accurately describe the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck described in
The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, it nevertheless reflects the nature of tarot
reading as a meditation on symbols and the allowance of private interpretation to emerge from within a symbolic framework. In his famous
study of the poem, Grover Smith connects the name of the fortune-teller
to a figure in Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow (1921) and to the possibly mythical pharaoh Sesostris described by Herodotus.18 However, the
oblique presence of Madame Blavatsky seems clear as well. Both Sosostris
and Blavatsky embody the European rebirth—or perhaps, ‘recreation’—
of an ancient language of ritualism and what one finds emerging, then,
from the famed tarot sequence is an acknowledgement of the esoteric
principles of the poem’s views on modern mourning and emasculation
adjoined with a curious reminder of its necessary futility.
Eliot’s ironic efforts throughout the poem to compound futility
through an unnerving accretion of abortive mysticism and sophistry
never quite undermine the force of any such views. Instead, the very
futility of the poem’s individual set pieces underscores the wider thematic
evaluation of the unresolvable paradox of the mystical unmanning of a
society that somehow continues to move forward. For example, ‘The
Burial of the Dead’ ends with an anxious debate between the sanctity
of the buried body and the purification produced by an ecstatic disintegration from earthly life. While walking to work in the City, the speaker
recognizes a former comrade-in-arms named Stetson. His unease in
approaching the Bank of England is caused not by the man-made world
of the City but by the rhythms of life prescribed and regulated by the
Church, represented here in the form of Saint Mary Woolnoth, which
‘kept the hours’ (line 67). Through the ever-present awareness of order
imposed by the buildings and bridges of modern London, the speaker
is hoping to find a confidante by crying out, but this is clearly not possible. In a classic Freudian reading, one can view within this passage a
reflection of Eliot’s own death instinct in its recapitulation of death,
88 A. Johnson
particularly the death of Jean Verdenal at Gallipoli.19 Sandra Gilbert goes
as far as to describe the poem as ‘a dirge for Verdenal’ that ‘becomes a
kind of fragmented pastoral (or, more accurately, antipastoral) elegy, a
work that both continues and, in response to severe personal and cultural shock, disrupts the tradition of a man mourning for a man’.20 While
it becomes problematic to single-mindedly trace such biographical seeds
behind the poem, it remains clear that The Waste Land is as personal to
Eliot (reflecting, as many have argued, the death of Verdenal, his personally and spiritually challenging first marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood,
and his desires to reconcile a scattered, and in that sense, ironically modern worldview with seemingly more coherent and reliable systems of
knowledge) as it is global to readers. There remains the suggestive correlation here between the body reportedly buried in the garden and those
of the sacrificial vegetation gods, such as Osiris, who have been sacrificed
in order to guarantee the arrival of future springs. The Waste Land portrays its citizen voices as embalmed remains who are, like the Cumaean
Sybil of the epigraph, desperate to be allowed a death more permanent
than the one they experience now. Rituals of mourning connected in
modern Anglo-American contexts to a monotheistic conception of the
relationship between humanity and deity takes on new implications
in The Waste Land where the desire to disappear becomes connected,
instead, to seemingly pagan fertility rituals. This is not in the hope that
the body will finally encounter god, but that it will sprout and bloom
this year and the desolation surrounding the mourners will be shortly
resolved. To Eliot, this deathless life is a form of unmanning which
speaks of a greater social loss and a bareness which had struck England in
the years immediately following war.
Gary Taylor argues that Thomas Middleton’s A Game at Chess (1624)
‘is, for the history of castration, the equivalent of the Rosetta Stone:
an absolutely indispensable key’.21 Middleton’s allegorical play is now
best remembered as the eponymous influence standing behind the second section, ‘A Game of Chess’, of The Waste Land, but returning to
the original text reveals a work which gruesomely details Early Modern
psychosexuality and the common recourse to conflict, rivalry, and
opposition. ‘In [Middleton’s] oeuvre, as in Freud’s’, Taylor continues,
‘castration takes its place in an ambitiously global account of human
sexuality’22:
RITUALS OF MOURNING 89
castration, in A Game at Chess, actually makes a man better able to protect, against the depredations of rival males, the woman—and the religion
he loves. […] According to psychoanalysis, castration designates loss and
impotence—archetypically, paradigmatically, and always. By contrast, in
Middleton’s text, and in the pre-modern Western civilisation Middleton
represents, it does not.23
Eliot’s thematic interest in embalming and emasculation as correlated
to a deathless stasis can be observed across the two narrative sections
of ‘A Game of Chess’. In terms of setting, character, and conflict, these
sections couldn’t be more unalike, but they are associated by symbolic
forms of synthetic embalming which have overtaken the two ‘Queens’
on the chess board. Standard readings of the first section in which a
woman at her toilette grows increasingly frustrated with the inability of
her lover to communicate do not, perhaps, take fully into account the
monstrosity of the scene and of its redolence of Baron de Palm’s rudimentary embalming. The ‘sevenbranched candelabra’ (line 82) of the
scene gestures towards the seven rays of Theosophy and the ‘seven
lighted candles’ which formed the centrepiece of de Palm’s funeral rites,
and the scene as a whole bespeaks a form of ceremonial magic which
seems at once to have ritualistically embalmed the Belladonna while also
gesturing towards the possibility of a new rebirth.24 ‘A Game of Chess’ is
aligned to the element of air through a suffocating fug which surrounds
the Belladonna with ‘strange synthetic perfumes’ (line 87), and one finds
here the ‘Belladonna’, the ‘lady of situations’ (lines 49–50) laid out by
Madame Sosostris, who is sat, like the Queen of Pentacles in the RiderWaite-Smith tarot, slack and lifeless, leant over in her ‘burnished throne’
and surrounded by ‘fruited vines’ and a ‘golden Cupidon’ (lines 77–80).
The scene captures all of the supernatural horror of Eliot’s plays, Sweeney
Agonistes (1932) and The Family Reunion (1939), but in ‘A Game of
Chess’, these rituals of mourning become both fearsome and desirable,
components of a necessary existence defined in contradistinction to the
elemental world around us.
The repudiation of sexuality and the intimate act that consumes The
Waste Land reflects Eliot’s lifelong repulsion towards sex, a position first
cultivated by his morally upright Unitarian family in St Louis. While the
Belladonna of the first section has been frozen by the synthetic compounds surrounding her, the Queen of the second section has been
embalmed from within by the abortifacient from a chemist who ‘said it
90 A. Johnson
would be alright’ (line 161). As Christina Hauck points out, anxieties
surrounding reproductive failure grew in the early twentieth century,
caused by the spread of venereal diseases and changing social and legal
understandings of abortion and contraception. The poem’s persistent
interest in reproductive failure, Hauck argues, stands as a symbol for
what Eliot viewed as ‘the multiple failures of modernism: as a viable literary project and as a means to reconstitute wholeness at either a personal
or a general level’.25 The speaker of the second section of ‘A Game of
Chess’ judges Lil for her failure to subscribe to this process of artificialization in replacing her teeth and making herself physically attractive to
her husband. While embalming is meant to preserve the body forever
at the same age, the noxious chemical compounds used by Lil are having the inverse effect of ageing her too rapidly. The dreamlike sequence
of goodbyes seems to come from the speaker and is delivered to those
voiceless people with her: Bill, Lou, and May. But by line 172, the goodbyes becomes increasingly lyrical and detached, registering the movement of consciousness out and away from the speaker as it enters into
Tiresias in ‘The Fire Sermon’.
Both Queens in ‘A Game of Chess’ are stuck between life and death,
figuratively embalmed and unable to find release. However, later sections of the poem turn to the rituals of cremation and burial at sea as
a means by which to find release from the horrors of civilisation. The
Upanishads portray cremation as a process of purification necessary
for eventual rebirth whereas both Buddhist and Christian mythography connects fire to the temptations of the world. Paradoxically in The
Waste Land fire provides both a promise of purification and a reminder
of the dangers of the visible world. The setting of The Waste Land
uncannily overlays multiple spiritual views of masculinity and mourning, including contemporary interwar secularism, an Eastern meditation
on want and desire as connected to death, and the Fisher King legend
which, in Weston’s influential but fallacious argument, combines both
East and West to reflect a shared pattern of cultural beliefs centred on
the ritualistic killing of the king to create new life and a new return.
‘[T]hrobbing between two lives’—that is, between male and female—
the hermaphroditic Tiresias offers a clear symbol of the poem’s interest
in gender polarity and the complement of the masculine and feminine
divine (line 218). The removal from life for which Tiresias and the
Cumaean Sibyl beg is finally literalized in the account of Phlebas the
Phoenician, who passes through increasing stages of decomposition
RITUALS OF MOURNING 91
in the water, an elemental symbol of rebirth, renewal, and, ultimately,
regeneration.
Donald Childs points towards the four ‘mystical voids’ which provide
the thematic and structural shape of The Waste Land: the Hyacinth Girl
episode, the marital standoff in ‘A Game of Chess’, the Thames daughters’ song, and the eventual clap of the Thunder which offers the poem’s
clearest sense of thematic closure.26 These four moments are all wrapped
in issues of absence and propel the poem forward thematically, yet at
the same time stand out as sites of confusion and mistrust because of
their obscure setting within more narratively coherent passages. A poetic
feeling captured elsewhere through images of impotence and emasculation is portrayed in these four moments through an emptiness that exists
between people, an emptiness which emerges when they become entangled in the mysteries without any possibility of epistemological escape.
This can include both the ‘silence’ that predominates in the poem which
remains connected to a positive moment of conscious spiritual detachment, as well as the inability of speakers to communicate with one
another, creating a deafening silence as loud as the Thunder.
It becomes clear at the end of the poem’s journey that these rituals of
mourning held personal and intellectual interest to Eliot, and speak both
of Eliot’s own spiritual attachments before his Anglican conversion, as
well as of the modernization to the care of the dead in the early decades
of the twentieth century. In The Waste Land, the potent poetic symbol of
an incurable wound brings together the immediate physicality of battle
scars with themes of emasculation, destruction, and barrenness, a correlation which animates the poem as a whole. Although the personal reflections and refractions for Eliot remain always at a distance, the interest
that inheres in the poem comes from the fact that it is a telescope that
can be looked through equally well at either end. Through one lens can
be seen the mundane and particular, through the other a global image.
What exists between these two worlds—between the inward and outward—is the domain of the wasteland.
It is this same type of vacillation between the public and personal,
sacred and profane, and macro and micro that Virginia Woolf turns to
in her consideration of the rituals of modern mourning and the ways in
which they shape masculine identity. These tensions between two opposing forces are the energies which animate Jacob’s Room, a novel that
both is and is not about a nostalgic past and that is and is not about
the dream of a future in which resolution might be found. It is only
92 A. Johnson
when one softens one’s gaze on the surface of Jacob’s Room—a canvas
besmirched with all the matters and minutiae of London life, with all the
voices from the witless to the wise—that a ghostly dimensional form of
Jacob Flanders emerges. These bright flashes of narrative illumination
form an outline around what might conventionally be termed the real
hero of the novel. As Michael Levenson puts it, ‘as long as Jacob is alive,
the room is what it often is in Modernism: a picture of singleness, of
radical containment, a womb, cave, and sanctum, a box for a brain’.27
Jacob Flanders’s inevitable death is signalled from the very outset of the
novel when his older brother’s voice calls out for him across the beach,
setting from the outset a narrative of mourning and death. Laura Marcus
reasons that Jacob’s Room ‘rejects the conventions of Victorian biography
and Victorian modes of mourning and memorialization’ in an attempt
to enable new directions for grief.28 Like The Waste Land, Jacob’s Room
reimages emasculation and death by desacralizing rituals of mourning
and enfolding the most immediate traumas of war within narratives of
social disembodiment. As Rachel Hollander argues, the text ‘teaches the
dangers of sympathy’, and, particularly, the dangers of confining sympathy to the spaces of literature.29 ‘Jacob’s Room mourns Jacob’, Marcus
continues, ‘but it also satirizes his melancholia’.30 In many ways, Woolf’s
novel argues against the viability of memorialization, finding, instead,
new ways to encounter the past and the vestiges which remain. There
is little doubt that Woolf recognized that any attempt at turning a novel
into an epitaph (or, indeed, an epitaph into a novel) will ultimately fail
because the novel form vocally declares itself as a mode of retrospection
rather than expectation; any mourning undertaken on behalf of a living
character in the text must be considered in full knowledge of that text’s
own inevitable march towards the character’s ultimate dissolution.
With narrative patterns that highlight the movement towards death of
a young man stripped of individuality by the society which shaped and
created him, Jacob’s Room could perhaps be considered the most traditional of novels. However, much like Eliot’s epic poem of the same year,
Jacob’s Room is concerned only incidentally with mourning, and significantly more with the implications of the ghostly outlines left by absence.
The central thematic focus of the novel hinges upon the very fact that
Jacob does not return from war. Woolf is less concerned with portraying
the absence created by Jacob Flanders’s death, than about sketching the
outlines and contours of life that will make his ultimate absence so much
more poignant. Alex Zwerdling goes as far as to suggest that ‘Jacob’s
RITUALS OF MOURNING 93
Room lacks a teleology. Woolf’s hero remains an essentially molten personality interrupted by death at the stage of experimenting upon himself, a young man by turns brashly self-confident and utterly confused.’31
Woolf’s attempt to resolve these teleological concerns can be seen in the
text’s impassioned denial of the comforting presences of body and form.
In his reading of the novel, Theodore Koulouris asks ‘[h]ow can we
speak of the dead, of those who have been lost forever, without resorting
to a kind of textual narcissism, without failing in our attempt to capture
the essence of the lost other?’32 What this absence includes is a lost way
of life which would find itself again at the centre of her two later tragedies, Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, both of which owe considerable debt to the thematic plan of Jacob’s Room.
In the Poetics, Aristotle describes humans as the ‘most imitative of
living creatures’.33 Tragedy, in particular, is ‘an imitation, not of men,
but of an action and of life, and life consists in action, and its end is a
mode of action, not a quality’.34 Gilles Deleuze understands the implications of tragedy rather differently as correlated to the effects of dramatic
repetition:
The hero repeats precisely because he is separated from an essential, infinite knowledge. This knowledge is in him, it is immersed in him and acts
in him, but acts like something hidden, like a blocked representation. The
difference between the comic and the tragic pertains to two elements: first,
the nature of the repressed knowledge—in the one case immediate natural knowledge, a simple given of common sense, in the other terrible esoteric knowledge; second, as a result, the manner in which the character is
excluded from this knowledge, the manner in which ‘he does not know
that he knows’.35
These views of tragedy imply a certain sort of timeline for the characters
involved, a timeline that extends beyond the immediate frame of narration. The necessary implication is that the tragic or dramatic effect will
be wholly different should the narrative frame be centred at a different
point in the character’s life story. A comedy, for instance, could have
been told tragically or a tragedy told comically if only the primary events
were centred at a point earlier or later. Jacob Flanders is, of course, an
unremarkable person which is entirely out of character for a tragic hero,
and that seems to be precisely the point. The first reference to Jacob is
the protracted shouting of his name as his brother Archer looks for him
94 A. Johnson
on the beach. Archer’s ‘voice had an extraordinary sadness. Pure from
all body, pure from all passion, going out into the world, solitary, unanswered, breaking against rocks—so it sounded.’36 Jacob is thus both
embodied and disembodied by name, with the refrain of ‘Ja—cob!’ first
alerting readers to his very existence and the ‘solitary, unanswered’ tone
of Archer’s entreatment suggesting even at this early point in Jacob’s life
that he is perpetually distanced and unknowable. William Franke states:
Authors of apophatic discourse may sometimes embrace an agnosticism
as to whether language has any meaning at all, but their apophaticism is
not nihilistic, if that means somehow concluding all under Nothing, as if
“Nothing” were the final answer, rather than making the admission of the
inadequacy of all our names and saying an overture opening toward …
what cannot be said—and toward the inexhaustible discourses that fail to
say it.37
This almost nihilistic Nothingness saturates Woolf’s treatment of her
titular character. When we next see Jacob he is ‘fast asleep; profoundly
unconscious’ with a sheep’s skull lying at his feet and the onslaught of
nature and narrative contriving to enter the house, a scene that Woolf
would return to five years later in To the Lighthouse. The sheep’s skull—
with its missing jaw underlining the novel’s central motifs of silence and
unspeakability—‘would turn to powder, or some golfer, hitting his ball
one fine day, would disperse a little dust’ (8). When, in chapter ‘Cupio
Dissolvi’, the Isles of Scilly seem to Jacob like the distant enchanted
coasts of Greece, the capacity of the ocean to mystically dissolve life is
reaffirmed. Woolf is undoubtedly thinking of her own brother Thoby’s
death from typhoid fever after a visit to Greece, but will later more literally move action to Greece, setting it up, ironically, as both a site of personal memorialization and remembrance as well as the origin of Western
culture and, therefore, the fountainhead of civilization’s acquisition and
maintenance. An individual life seems little in comparison to the vast
stretches of Western history, and even William Shakespeare can be cast
aside as transient. When a ‘little thin paper [edition]’ of Shakespeare’s
collected works is knocked overboard on the sailing trip with Durrant,
‘you could see him floating merrily away, with all his pages ruffling innumerably; and then he went under’ (60, 62). Even though Shakespeare’s
plays ‘had frequently been praised, even quoted, and placed higher than
the Greek’, Jacob recognizes the curious instability of this icon of literary
RITUALS OF MOURNING 95
tradition and influence. ‘What’s the use of trying to read Shakespeare’
he ponders, before the volume finally ‘went under’ (60, 62). The titular character of Woolf’s Orlando (1928) later echoes Jacob’s sentiment
that ‘the great age of literature is past; the great age of literature was the
Greek; the Elizabethan age was inferior in every respect to the Greek’.38
Shot through with vivid description that belies, if only briefly, the continued existence of Woolf’s own authorial presence, the sailing sequence
of Jacob’s Room represents the apex of clarity and connection in Jacob’s
life, in spite of its ordinariness. Both the sheep’s skull and Shakespeare
have been absorbed by the destructive and redemptive forces of the
ocean, but only one of them emerges again. Like Phlebas the Phoenician
whose uncanny and insistent presence in The Waste Land discloses a ritual of esoteric renewal and a reaffirmation of ageless cycles of fertility and
growth, the sheep’s skull carries within it an indication of the inevitability
of this narrative’s closure.
As Lee Edelman has shown, culture continues to be heavily invested
in this narrative of future redemption, invoked, he argues, in the form
of the Child, ‘the emblem of futurity’s unquestioned value’.39 And it is
this, precisely, which Woolf’s novel questions. It is only at the beginning of the third chapter that the first tentative description of the physical presence of Jacob emerges. This ‘powerfully built young man’ seen
boarding a train carriage creates an immediate sense of dread in Mrs
Norman who recognizes that ‘it is a fact that men are dangerous’ (35),
introducing a central theme of the novel that men are a danger both to
themselves and to others. Jacob is robustly masculine, a sharp contrast
to Woolf’s later Septimus Warren Smith. It is the medical establishment
that destroys Septimus’s creative potential and ability to function as an
artist, and Septimus—grieving the loss of Evans as much as the loss of
his artistic identity and potential—who destroys himself, just like Judith
Shakespeare of ‘A Room of One’s Own’ (1929). As Elaine Showalter
argues of this particular presentation of masculinity, Septimus performs
the role of the silent, stoic man since he ‘is appalled at how much he
really does feel about the war, and desperately tries to deny it. Yet the
more he struggles to repress his war experience, the more hideously it
rises up to haunt him’.40 Jacob couldn’t be more dissimilar. He is later
mistaken for a ‘military gentleman’ (102), described by Bonamy’s maid
Mrs Papworth as ‘a fine young fellow’ (138), and is by all accounts in
possession of a robust figure and form that sets him in contrast to the
96 A. Johnson
wounded generation of older men and the enervated generation of
younger men that surround him.
There remains, however, a persistent suggestion of Jacob’s homosexuality borne out through a series of heavily coded metaphors surrounding images of Greece and ancient Greek culture. Through all of Jacob’s
failed and unfulfilled encounters with women is the reliable certainty of
Durrant and their shared love of Greek civilization:
Civilizations stood round them like flowers ready for picking. Ages lapped
at their feet like waves fit for sailing. And surveying all this, looming
through the fog, the lamplight, the shades of London, the two young men
decided in favour of Greece.
‘Probably,’ said Jacob, ‘we are the only people in the world who know
what the Greeks meant.’ (101)
The modest allusion here to the ‘vice of the Greeks’ and to Jacob’s
and Durrant’s apparent acceptance of it is drawn into sharper focus
several pages later when Jacob returns again to the aesthetic idealization of the Greeks in an attempt—one perhaps which fails—to appreciate female beauty: ‘[w]ild and frail and beautiful [Florinda] looked, and
thus the women of the Greeks were, Jacob thought; and this was life;
and himself a man and Florinda chaste’ (105). Jacob’s development as
a Classicist is continually hampered, with his numerous rejections for
journal articles thrown into his black wooden box with the letters from
his mother to be forgotten. Greece provides for Jacob the promise of
the essential life force that remains inaccessible to him in his life; however, there is no sense that he ever gains a quality of awareness or betterment because of it.
Woolf’s suggestion of male homosexuality is subtle but also problematic in the ease with which it aligns Jacob’s queerness with the influence
of the maimed, elderly, and infirm men who surround him in his early
childhood. The married Captain Barfoot, the object of Betty Flanders’s
admiration, ‘was lame and wanted two fingers on the left hand, having
served his country’ (28). Barfoot’s name—much like the oft-discussed
name Flanders—is richly symbolic, referring not only to his own lameness but also to the injured foot of Oedipus, which is redolent of the
curse that inflicts the Fisher King and the fact that he has an incurable
physical wound to signal this curse. For Captain Barfoot, ‘[i]n spite of
RITUALS OF MOURNING 97
his lameness there was something military in his approach’ (31). Indeed,
the first two sections of the novel are only incidentally concerned with
Jacob and focus, instead, on his widowed mother’s longing for Captain
Barfoot to provide the social and economic security to lead her sons successfully into a profession. The local vicar Mr Floyd is willing to provide
just that, and undertakes to teach Jacob Latin in preparation for school,
but his advances on Mrs Flanders are rebuffed in a letter that he keeps
as a talismanic emblem of his love. When Floyd leaves for another parish, Mrs Flanders youngest son John asks to keep his kitten. Some years
later, once Topaz becomes ‘a little mangy behind the ears’, Mrs Flanders
proclaims.
‘Poor old Topaz,’ said Mrs Flanders, as he stretched himself out in the sun,
and she smiled thinking how she had him gelded, and how she did not like
red hair in men. (25)
The swift move in Mrs Flanders’s unselfconscious speaking to herself
between the emasculation of the cat and her continuing dislike of Mr
Floyd’s red hair is suggestive of how her rebuff figuratively emasculated
him like the gelded Topaz, setting him on a course of disappointment
and frustration. Jacob is routinely shown to be pathetically ineffectual—
from the simple sentence with which the fate of his education is decided
during his mother’s weekly visit from a gentleman caller, to the breeziness with which he embarks on affairs with Florinda and others—and his
marked silence in the first chapters is suggestive of Woolf’s wider interest
in the portrayal of Jacob’s wounded interior life. Psychoanalyst Robert
A. Johnson suggests that
Every adolescent receives his Fisher King wound. He would never proceed
into consciousness if it were not so. The church speaks of this wounding as
the felix culpa, the happy fall which ushers one into the process of redemption. This is the fall from the Garden of Eden, the graduation from naive
consciousness into self consciousness.41
The Fisher King motif counter-intuitively highlights the certain presence of something by effecting its removal—in the Grail legends it is the
absence of the king’s penis that suddenly draws attention to the fact that
the king’s penis had, evidently, for all of these years been fertilizing the
ground and allowing crops to grow. The removal of this phallus is not
98 A. Johnson
about removal, but about a reminder of the certain masculine energies
that create and rule kingdoms. It was, of course, this type of masculine
energy that Woolf sought to re-evaluate. But the silencing continues into
later sections as well. ‘Oh God, oh God, oh God!’ Jacob exclaims after
leaving a stifling lunch with his tutor Mr Plumer, lamenting the world
of the mundane emblematized by ‘Shaw and Wells and the serious sixpenny weeklies!’ (43). Like Eliot’s pitiable Prufrock, he is stultified by
the emblems of middle-class propriety: ‘the moors and Byron; the sea
and the lighthouse; the sheep’s jaw with the yellow teeth in it; […]
the obstinate irrepressible conviction which makes youth so intolerably
disagreeable’ (44). It is precisely this milieu from which he attempts to
escape when he arrives in London, but it is an attempt that fails. Jacob’s
recourse is to push his past even further behind him, compulsively ignoring the letters from his mother that begin to accumulate in his rooms. It
is at the same time that these letters begin to go unanswered that Jacob’s
relationship with Florinda reaches fruition:
The letter lay upon the hall table; Florinda coming in that night took it
up with her, put it on the table as she kissed Jacob, and Jacob seeing the
hand, left it there under the lamp, between the biscuit-tin and the tobaccobox. They shut the bedroom door behind them. (123–4)
That Jacob’s refusal to acknowledge the mundanity of his early years, as
now represented by his mother’s letter, corresponds with what appears
to be a suggestion of his heterosexual physical union with Florinda, and
evinces Woolf’s central and problematic contention that it was Jacob’s
childhood and past which stunted his psychosexual development.
With this counter-intuitive lack of focus on the personage of Jacob,
Woolf’s 1922 novel turns to an all-encompassing vision, bringing into
itself all of the experiences of the characters filling the pages of the
novel. ‘They say the sky is the same everywhere’, the narrator reports.
‘Travelers, the shipwrecked, exiles, and the dying draw comfort from the
thought, and no doubt if you are of a mystical tendency, consolation,
and even explanation, shower down from the unbroken surface’ (37). In
one of several direct incursions made by Woolf’s own narrative voice, we
hear that
life is but a procession of shadows, and God knows why it is that we
embrace them so eagerly, and see them depart with such anguish, being
RITUALS OF MOURNING 99
shadows. And why, if this and much more than this is true, why are we yet
surprised in the window corner by a sudden vision that the young man in
the chair is of all things in the world the most real, the most solid, the best
known to us—why indeed? For the moment after we know nothing about
him.
Such is the manner of our seeing. Such the conditions of our love. (96)
For all of the novel’s apparent faith in the representational viability of
the via negativa—in description through elision and absence—it continues to affirm that even this ‘procession of shadows’ is an incomplete and
imperfect way to mourn. Christopher Knight suggests that ‘since Henry
James (more or less), the most viable way in which to pursue large-scale
positivities has been through the agency of the negative. The reason for
this […] has had much to do with our sense of historical belatedness and
the self-consciousness that attends to the expression of past pieties.’42
Jacob’s Room opens with the writing of a letter, ends with letters ‘strewn
about for anyone to read’ and, throughout, remains conscious of the
fragilities of written communication as divested from original thought
(246). As a text, it centres on the breakdowns of written communication and contrasts this with the new, post-war interest in the visible, the
touchable, and the knowable. In a typical scene of evocative detail, chapter seven opens with account of the arrival in London of magical paper
flowers that open when put in water: ‘It must not be thought, though,
that they ousted the flowers of nature. Roses, lilies, carnations in particular, looked over the rims of vases of surveyed the bright lives and swift
dooms of their artificial relations. […] But real flowers can never be dispensed with. If they could, human life would be a different affair altogether’ (111–2). In drawing a connection between these magical paper
flowers and the vitality and experience of life, Woolf is preparing for the
discussion of calling cards which immediately follows, the ‘little demons’
which are ‘the source of as many reprieves, calamities, and anxieties as
the battle [of Waterloo] itself’ (112–3). The discussion of calling cards
then moves towards the real focus of Woolf’s attention, which is the
nature of the written letter, and the dissolution of the logos.
From a very early age, Jacob is disinclined to trust the written word.
As a teenager, his disagreement with a lepidoptera manual leads him to
make ‘a correction in the margin’ with ‘a very fine pen’ (26). Indeed,
the narrative persona of Jacob’s Room is transfixed not simply by the
nature of written communication, but by its very failure. ‘Let us consider
100 A. Johnson
letters—’ a self-reflexive narrative voice suggests halfway through the
novel: (126)
Am I doomed all my days to write letters, send voices, which fall upon the
tea-table, fade upon the passage, making appointments, while life dwindles, to come and dine? Yet letters are venerable; and the telephone valiant, for the journey is a lonely one, and if bound together by notes and
telephones we went in company, perhaps—who knows?—we might talk by
the way. (126)
Like real flowers that ‘can never be dispensed with’ in favour of paper
ones, the art of personal connection can never be replaced by the
abstractions of writing (111). If one is to undertake the effort of writing
letters and making phone calls (another distancing mode of communication), the narrator suggests, it should be with the principal aim that ‘we
might talk by the way’, speaking directly as a result. This thematic interest in the failures of the logos, of written communication interceding in
the forms of signs and signals, reflects the novel’s broader repudiation
of memorialization, and, particularly, memorialization in written form.
In the extended British Museum sequence midway through the novel,
readers are introduced to Miss Marchmont, whose quest for knowledge
is such that her enormous pile of books topples into Jacob’s booth: ‘[s]
uch things happened to Miss Marchmont’ is the narrator’s somewhat
sympathetic response (143). Miss Marchmont’s half-baked theory of
synaesthetic aesthetics becomes curiously consistent with Woolf’s own
developing aesthetic of delineating presence by portraying absence to
reveal a ghostly outline: both Woolf and Miss Marchmont recognize
that one sense can be substituted for another to more vividly experience the world. While Miss Marchmont’s personal philosophy is lightly
mocked through the narrative lens of Jacob’s perceptions, her wilful
presence in the British Museum surrounded by the names of the great
men of history stresses Woolf’s own identification with these concerns
and with imagining new modes of representation as a critical aspect of
the development of women’s writing. An early character study of a male
Cambridge don underscores this thematic focus:
Cowan, Erasmus Cowan, sipped his port alone, or with one rosy little
man, whose memory held precisely the same span of time; sipped his port,
RITUALS OF MOURNING 101
and told his stories, and without book before him intoned Latin, Virgil,
and Catullus, as if language were wine upon his lips. Only—sometimes it
will come over one—what if the poet strode in? ‘This my image?’ he might
ask, pointing to the chubby man, whose brain is, after all, Virgil’s representative among us, though the body gluttonize, and as for arms, bees,
or even the plough, Cowan takes his trips abroad with a French novel in
his pocket, a rug about his knees, and is thankful to be home again in his
place, in his line, holding up in his snug little mirror the image of Virgil,
all rayed round with good stories of the dons of Trinity and red beams of
port. (52)
The scene lives both within time, but also without, stretching to distant
pasts and futures to both identify and then to ruthlessly undercut the
classical education entrenched in the halls of Trinity. With a name that
clearly echoes the classical humanist, Erasmus and his portrayal brings to
mind the ‘Old, learned, respectable bald heads’ of Yeats’s ‘The Scholars’
(1919), a poem which appears to have been on Woolf’s mind while writing this episode. In Yeats’s poem the enervated scholars ‘edit and annotate the lines’ of classical poets, including Catullus (line 3). ‘Lord, what
would they say / Did their Catullus walk that way?’ ends the poem, with
dual significance in the worry that these beloved poets who ‘rhymed out
in love’s despair’ had been dry and anaemic like these latter-day scholars or that these poets might enter the scene to see what these scholars had become (line 12). It is precisely this anxiety gestured towards
when the narrative voice, focalized through Cowan, worries that ‘Only—
sometimes it will come over one—what if the poet strode in? “This my
image?” he might ask, pointing to the chubby man, whose brain is,
after all, Virgil’s representative among us’ (52). Jacob similarly ennobles
the written word of classical writers with a reference approaching that
reserved for the divine:
Luckily Jacob had little sense of personal association; he seldom thought of
Plato or Socrates in the flesh; on the other hand his feeling for architecture
was very strong; he preferred statues to pictures; and he was beginning to
think a great deal about the problems of civilisation, which were solved, of
course, so very remarkably by the ancient Greeks, though their solution is
no help to us. (207)
Once Jacob has moved to London and taken up work in the Inn of
Courts, he tries to remember the source of a particular quotation for an
102 A. Johnson
article that he is writing: ‘“I rather think,” said Jacob, taking his pipe
from his mouth, “it’s in Virgil,”’ (84). Following a narrative journey
through the business and personal affairs of the City, Bonamy arrives at
Jacob’s room to discover that the passage is in fact from Lucretius (92).
Within the novel letters thus seal fate, although it is something that
Jacob is often willing to disregard. If Jacob’s Room mourns the largely
unassuming life of Jacob Alan Flanders, it does so only incidentally
through its rejection of accepted practices of mourning. As a novel it
works to imagine alternative routes into the past by exposing uncanny
breaches between personal and social trauma.
The modernist annus mirabilis represents the beginning of a sustained literature of modern remembrance and the provision of a thematic
centre that would hold sway over Anglo-American writing throughout
the interwar period. But the forms of modern remembrance portrayed
by Eliot and Woolf are antithetical in their engagement with mourning
and offer a sombre yet defiant rejection of the more ostentatious forms
of memorialization that had arisen in the years following World War
One. For both Eliot and Woolf, rituals of mourning had to be radically
reformed for modern purposes but in neither of these works is the figure
of mourning a singular presence. Rather, the focus of grief is the wound
of vast social absence, an incurable, emasculating wound like that borne
by the Fisher King. This stylistic elevation of absence and elision is, of
course, indicative of the wider interwar turn to the via negativa, but in
the case of both The Waste Land and Jacob’s Room this painful absence is
correlated specifically to lost masculine potency and the wide, wild reverberations it has created.
Notes
1. David Sherman, In a Strange Room: Modernism’s Corpses and Mortal
Obligation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 5.
2. ‘A Theosophical Funeral—Services Over Baron De Palm’, New York
Times, 29 May 1876.
3. Michael Gomes, The Dawning of the Theosophical Movement (Wheaton,
IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 102–3.
4. Stephen Prothero, Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America
(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001), 1.
5. Ibid., 24.
6. Ibid., 21–2.
RITUALS OF MOURNING 103
7. On the history of funeral care see, in particular: Robert G. Mayer,
Embalming: History, Theory, and Practice, 4th ed. (New York: McGrawHill, 2006).
8. ‘De Palm’s Incineration—Cremation of the Late Baron at Washington,
Penn’. New York Times, 7 December 1876.
9. Prothero, 15.
10. Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1995), 79–80.
11. Alan Warren Friedman, Fictional Death and the Modernist Enterprise
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 18–9.
12. David Lloyd, Battlefield Tourism: Pilgrimage and the Commemoration of
the Great War in Britain, Australia and Canada, 1919–1939 (Oxford:
Berg, 1998), 8.
13. Leon Surette, ‘The Waste Land and Jessie Weston: A Reassessment’,
Twentieth Century Literature 34, no. 2 (1988): 234.
14. Philip Sicker, ‘The Belladonna : Eliot’s Female Archetype In The Waste
Land’, Twentieth Century Literature 30, no. 4 (1984): 420.
15. Elisabeth Schneider, T.S. Eliot: The Pattern in the Carpet (London:
University of California Press, 1975), 1.
16. David Sherman, In a Strange Room: Modernism’s Corpses and Mortal
Obligation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 157.
17. Betsey B. Creekmore, ‘The Tarot Fortune in The Waste Land’, ELH 49,
no. 4 (1982): 911. See also: Robert Currie, ‘Eliot and the Tarot’ ELH,
46, no. 4 (1979).
18. Grover Smith, T.S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays: A Study in Sources and
Meaning (London: University of Chicago Press, 1956), 76.
19. Donald J. Childs, ‘Stetson in The Waste Land’, Essays in Criticism 38, no.
2 (1988): 131–48.
20. Sandra Gilbert, ‘“Rats’ Alley”: The Great War, Modernism, and the (Anti)
Pastoral Elegy, New Literary History 30, no. 1 (1999): 193–4. See also:
James E. Miller, T.S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land: Exorcism of the Demons
(University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977); James
E. Miller, ‘T.S. Eliot’s “Uranian Muse”: The Verdenal Letters’, ANQ 11,
no. 4, (1998): 4–20.
21. Gary Taylor, Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood
(London: Routledge, 2002), 31.
22. Ibid., 31, 26.
23. Ibid., 45.
24. ‘A Theosophical Funeral—Services Over Baron De Palm’, New York
Times, 29 May 1876.
25. Christina Hauck, ‘Abortion and the Individual Talent’, ELH 70, no. 1
(2003): 225.
104 A. Johnson
26. Donald J. Childs, T.S. Eliot: Mystic, Son and Lover (London: Athlone,
1997), 107.
27. Michael Levenson, Modernism (London: Yale UP, 2011), 228.
28. Laura Marcus, Virginia Woolf, 2nd edition (London: Northcote, 2004),
85.
29. Rachel Hollander, ‘Novel Ethics: Alterity and Form in Jacob’s Room’,
Twentieth Century Literature 53, no.1 (2007): 41.
30. Marcus, 89.
31. Alex Zwerdling, ‘Jacob’s Room: Woolf’s Satiric Elegy’, ELH 48, no. 4
(1981): 898.
32. Theodore Koulouris, ‘Jacques Derrida in Virginia Woolf: Death, Loss and
Mourning in Jacob’s Room’, Pacific Coast Philology, 46 (2011): 67.
33. Aristotle, The Poetics of Aristotle, trans. S.H. Butcher (London: Macmillan,
1902), 15.
34. Ibid., 27.
35. Giles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (London:
Athlone, 1994), 15.
36. Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room (1922; repr. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1999), 5. All subsequent references will be made to this edition
and cited parenthetically within the text.
37. William Franke, On What Cannot Be Said: Apophatic Discourses in
Philosophy, Religion, Literature, and the Arts: Modern and Contemporary
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