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November 23, 2010

Writing a book is like having a permanent secret. On Sunday, Mary Shelley died. Yesterday, I gave a test on Oedipus Rex, made sure my genocide students understood the events leading up to the Rwanda genocide, took my son to orchestra and tuned several violins, bought a pizza, and went to a program at my son’s s school. At no point did I mention that she had died. After all, this is old information for the world. But today I am brooding over the aftermath. Mary wanted to be buried with her parents in St. Pancras churchyard, but her devoted daughter-in-law, Jane, did not like this idea; the railroad had destroyed the old neighborhood. The fields were slums. The railroad threatened to cut through the cemetery and ten years after Mary died, it did. Strangely enough, it would be Thomas Hardy, the young novelist to be, who was put in charge of moving the gravestones.
None of this comes up easily in conversation:
“How are you, Charlotte?”
“I am fine. But guess what? Did you know Thomas Hardy was in charge of dismantling the St. Pancras graveyard?”
Anyways, I suppose that is what blogs are for. Besides, the story isn’t done. Even if I could get someone to listen to Mary’s death, there’s more. For instance, since Jane wanted to respect Mary’s wishes — to be with her parents — she had a dilemma and her solution was ghoulish. She dug up Mary’s parents, had their coffins piled into her carriage and transported them to the nice suburban graveyard near where she and Percy (Junior) lived. However, the vicar of the village church didn’t relish the prospect of radicals, even dead ones, joining his respectable community, and locked the gates. Jane sat in her carriage with the corpses parked next to her, until the poor man relented (‘for fear of scandal” — the story goes). Now, thanks to Jane, Mary and her mother and father are all buried in Bournemouth.
Bournemouth? I am not even sure where this is, let alone if I have spelled this correctly. I foresee another trip to England.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Tamsen Endicott permalink
    November 23, 2010 1:09 pm

    Well, Charlotte, of course I know exactly where Bournemouth is (the locale of my JYA homestay)! And wallowing as I am in genealogical research, I am always up for a good tale about cemeteries and the long-dead.

  2. November 23, 2010 1:19 pm

    Tams, I was just thinking about you last night and as I wrote this I hoped I would hear from you. What Is Bournemouth like now?

  3. George Rosen permalink
    November 23, 2010 1:37 pm

    Charlotte: In return for the absolutely wonderful information about Thomas Hardy’s day job, I offer his poem, THE LEVELLED CHURCHYARD, below. Apparently, it was not even written about St. Pancras, the railroad-through-grandma’s-grave problem being widespread and being “mixed to human jam” quotidian.

    “O passenger, pray list and catch
    Our sighs and piteous groans,
    Half stifled in this jumbled patch
    Of wrenched memorial stones!

    “We late-lamented, resting here,
    Are mixed to human jam,
    And each to each exclaims in fear,
    ‘I know not which I am!’

    “The wicked people have annexed
    The verses on the good;
    A roaring drunkard sports the text
    Teetotal Tommy should!

    “Where we are huddled none can trace,
    And if our names remain,
    They pave some path or p-ing place
    Where we have never lain!

    “There’s not a modest maiden elf
    But dreads the final Trumpet,
    Lest half of her should rise herself,
    And half some local strumpet!

    “From restorations of Thy fane,
    From smoothings of Thy sward,
    From zealous Churchmen’s pick and plane
    Deliver us O Lord! Amen!”

  4. November 23, 2010 2:17 pm

    George, do you know I NEVER got what this poem was about. Poems are wasted on undergraduates. Thank you. Thank you.

  5. George Rosen permalink
    November 23, 2010 4:39 pm

    In addition to the railroad stuff in stanza 1, the last stanza–after I look up “fane”–would suggest that 19th-c. ecclesiastical urban renewal also a problem for the dead. Good grief. (Same site which names the specific churchyard, at Wimborne, that apparently inspired the poem also tells funny–both senses–story about Hardy finding a coffin with one skeleton and two heads while working at St. Pancras.) Jane would appear to have been a wise woman to have taken the family skeletons–and PBS’ heart (!?!)–elsewhere.

    So when do we get to read the book instead of the blog?

  6. Ruth permalink
    November 23, 2010 6:12 pm

    Oh Charlotte, I do so give thanks for meeting you 2 summer ago and therefore getting to read your blog. I am looking forward to this book. Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. Youre Deare Sister permalink
    November 23, 2010 6:50 pm

    I never thought I would be saying hurrah to the death of someone, but HURRAH! you have reached Mary II’s demise – the end is in sight!!!

    How fascinating about the graveyard and T Hardy –
    And I love the poem in the other commenter’s comment.

  8. Tamsen Endicott permalink
    November 23, 2010 7:25 pm

    The last time I was in Bournemouth was about 9 years ago. It was beautiful, but then, I am partial to a coastal town.

  9. Kate permalink
    November 24, 2010 11:39 am

    I love a positive daugther-in-law/mother-in-law story. We need more of these. This earthy scene is such a hook, Charlotte. I want to know why Jane would go to such lengths to preserve Mary’s wish – why was she so devoted to Mary?

  10. November 24, 2010 12:14 pm

    Oh Kate, I can’t wait to tell you all about it. I do love this story.

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