Sociology Class on Death and Dying Visits the ABL

Amanda Smith and a student look closely at items relating to Robert Browning’s death.

Students in Amanda Smith’s upper-level sociology class on death and dying recently visited the Armstrong Browning Library. During their quick stop, Jennifer Borderud, director of the ABL, gave the students a short introduction to Victorian poet Robert Browning (1812-1889) and to the history of the Library and its collection. The students then examined artifacts in the collection relating to Robert Browning’s death to gain insight into nineteenth-century funeral and bereavement practices.

The items on display included a sketch of Browning made by painter G.D. Giles on 24 November 1889, shortly before Browning’s death. Browning signed the sketch and included a few lines of poetry: “Here I’m gazing, wide awake, Robert Browning, no mistake!”

Sketch of Robert Browning by G.D. Giles, 24 November 1889.

Also included in the display were photographs of Browning taken after his death by Ralph W. Curtis, a program and ticket for Browning’s funeral at Westminster Abbey, a lock of hair taken after Browning’s death by a family member, and an album of newspaper clippings relating to Browning’s death collected by his son and daughter-in-law.

Program from Robert Browning’s funeral at Westminster Abbey, 31 December 1889.

Ticket to Robert Browning’s funeral at Westminster Abbey, 31 December 1889.

Students also viewed letters written by Robert Browning on mourning paper after the death of his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning in June 1861. The students observed that letters written in 1861, shortly after Barrett Browning’s death, had wide black lines around the edges while letters written a year later, as the mourning period came to an end, had narrow black lines around the edges.

Letter from Robert Browning to William Surtees Cook, dated 18 July 1861.

 

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