Esther Schor tells us about the persistence of the dead, about why they still matter long after we emerge from grief and accept our loss. Mourning as a cultural phenomenon has become opaque to us in the twentieth century, Schor argues. This book is an effort to recover the culture of mourning that thrived in English society from the Enlightenment through the Romantic Age, and to recapture its meaning. Mourning appears here as the social diffusion of grief through sympathy, as a force that constitutes communities and helps us to conceptualize history.
In the textual and social practices of the British Enlightenment and its early nineteenth-century heirs, Schor uncovers the ways in which mourning mediated between received ideas of virtue, both classical and Christian, and a burgeoning, property-based commercial society. The circulation of sympathies maps the means by which both valued things and values themselves are distributed within a culture. Delving into philosophy, politics, economics, and social history as well as literary texts, Schor traces a shift in the British discourse of mourning in the wake of the French Revolution: What begins as a way to effect a moral consensus in society turns into a means of conceiving and bringing forth history.