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Power, Agency and Emotion in the Folklore of the English Rural Deathbed

Claire Cock-Starkey

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Published Date:

January 2024


Folklore, Death, Rural History, Ritual, Emotion


The deathbed is an emotionally fraught site where friends and family gather to say farewell to their loved one for the final time. In the English rural working-class home in the nineteenth century folkloric ritual provided culturally-constructed behaviours with which to emotionally navigate this moment. At the urban deathbed paid professionals took the roles formerly held by friends and family to nurse and prepare a loved one for death and burial, while the rural deathbed remained a more traditional space. Building on Monique Scheer’s theory of emotions as practice, I argue that in the rural working-class home folkloric ritual became bodily-expressed emotions. These rituals, which can be viewed as a method of social communication, offered a framework for emotional responses to death which allowed those gathered at the deathbed to feel some power and agency over the moment and manner of their loved one’s passing.

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90 - 109

Date of Publication:

January 2024

About the author

Claire Cock-Starkey

Claire Cock-Starkey is a part-time PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London. Her project examines the folklore of death and dying in rural England in the nineteenth century. Claire also convenes Grave Matters, an online death discussion group.

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