Exhuming the City: The Politics and Poetics of Graveyard Clearance
As sanitary discourses in the 1830s and 1840s pushed urban burial grounds and cemeteries ex urbis, the Victorians confronted an environmental shift of catastrophic proportions: corpses were exhumed to facilitate their removal to suburban cemeteries. The association of the dead with pestilence, disease and the "abject" reveals a profound shift in the apprehension of the dead, transferring the aegis of burial from the Church, to a more secular realm. This essay explores how the Victorians reconciled these utilitarian methods of treating the dead with the psychological trauma of death itself. The transfer of graveyards away from churches replaced traditional notions of a Christian afterlife with a Derridean "revenance" that lingered in the interstices of life and death in a perennial haunting of the Victorian imagination.