Katherine E. Blake “Urban Burial Reform in William Wordsworth’s ‘Village Churchyard’” (pp. 279–304)

This essay looks at the relationship between space and class in nineteenth-century English burials in order to shed new light on William Wordsworth’s Essays upon Epitaphs (1810, 1876) and “The Brothers” (1800). While Wordsworth’s work dwells on pastoral images of burial, I argue that his representations in fact align more closely with the cultural practices and values underpinning urban burial conventions. Through his representation of burial space, Wordsworth’s work plays out urban concerns about burial in the countryside. Ultimately, this essay argues that the exportation of urban concerns to imaginary rural sites accounts for the utility of Wordsworth’s work to mid-nineteenth-century burial reformers, and particularly to Edwin Chadwick, a utilitarian known for his work on the 1832 Poor Law and sanitary guidelines for burial. By reevaluating what prior studies have said about Chadwick’s reforms in light of recent work on his economic theories, I argue that Chadwick’s citation of Wordsworth’s first “Essay upon Epitaphs” transforms the latter’s pastoral vision into an endorsement of a national cemetery. I explore the extent to which Wordsworth’s early-nineteenth-century ideas are and are not compatible with Chadwick’s mid-century reforms.

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