Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Marie Henri Beyle (Stendhal), The Red and the Black, 1830

 Translation by Lloyd C. Parks

Death of Julien Sorel

Death of Julien Sorel:

The bad air of the dungeon was becoming unbearable to Julien. Luckily, on the day it was announced to him that he must die, a brilliant sun gladdened all nature, and Julien was in a brave mood. For him, to walk in the open air was a delightful sensation, like a stroll ashore for the voyager who has been at sea for a long time. "Come now, everything is going fine," he told himself, "I don’t feel the slightest want of courage."

Never had that head been more poetical than at the moment it was about to fall. The sweetest times he had know in the woods at Vergy came crowding back into his mind, and with an extreme vividness.

Everything went smoothly, decently, and without the least affectation on Julien’s part.

Two days before, he had said to Fouque: "What state I’ll be in, I can’t say; this dungeon, so damp, so ugly, gives me such bouts of fever that sometimes I don’t know where I am; but as for fear, no; they won’t see me turn pale."

      He had made arrangements in advance so that on the morning of the last day, Fouque would carry off Mathilde and Mme. De Renal.

… Julien had extracted from Mme. De Renal an oath that she would live to care for Mathilde’s son.

"Who knows? Perhaps we still have sensations after death," he said to Fouque one day. "I should rather like to rest, since rest is the word, in that small cave on the tall mountain that looks down on Verrieries. Many’s the time — I’ve told you about it — when I had withdrawn at night to that cave, and was looking out over the richest provinces of France in the distance, that ambition would fire my heart. In those days it was my only passion….In short, that cave is dear to me, and there’s no denying that the way it is situated is enough to make a philosopher envious…. Very well! Those good Congreganists of Besancon will do anything for money; if you go about it the right way, they will sell you my mortal remains…"

Fouque succeeded in this mournful transaction. He was spending the night alone in his room with his friend’s body when to his great surprise, he saw Mathilde enter. A few hours earlier he had left her ten leagues out of Besancon. Her look and her eyes were wild.

"I want to see him," she said.

Fouque hadn’t the heart to speak or to rise. He pointed to a big blue cloak on the floor; what remained of Julien was wrapped up in it.

She dropped to her knees. The memory of Boniface de La Mole and Marguerite de Navarre gave her, no doubt, a superhuman courage. Her trembling hands undid the cloak. Fouque turned his head.

He heard Mathilde walk hurriedly about the room. She lit several candles. By the time Fouque had the strength to look at her, she had set Julien’s head on a little marble table and was kissing it on the brow.

Mathilde followed her lover to the tomb he had chosen for himself. A great number of priests escorted the coffin, and unbeknownst to everyone, alone in her carriage draped with black, she bore on her lap the head of the man she had loved so dearly.

Having thus arrived at a spot near the peak of the tall mountains in the Jura range in the middle of the night, twenty priests said a mass for the dead in the small cave, magnificently illuminated by countless tapers. All the inhabitants of the small mountain village through which the procession passed had followed it, attracted by the strangeness of this ceremony.

Mathilde appeared in a long mourning dress, and at the end of the service had several thousand five-franc pieces thrown to them.

Having stayed behind with Fouque, she insisted on burying her lover’s head with her own hands. Fouque nearly went mad with grief over this.

Through Mathilde’s good offices, the rough cave was ornamented at great expense with marbles carved in Italy.

Mme. De Renal kept her promise. She made no attempt whatsoever on her life; but three days after Julien, she died while embracing her children.



Adrienne Nater, 2008

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