Back in the 1920s my mother never went to a funeral if she could help it, and was horrified when she heard of children being exposed to such an ordeal, and my father vanished from the room if death was mentioned; very much later, in the 1960s, when the publishers in which I was a partner brought out a beautiful and amusing book about the trappings of death, booksellers refused to stock something so “morbid”. I was born in December 1917, so was fully immersed in this refusal to contemplate death. Indeed it was not until more than 30 years later, when I had to visit a coroner’s office to identify a woman who had been found dead, that I thought for the first time how extraordinary – indeed how ridiculous – it was to have lived for so long without ever having seen a dead body. I have heard it suggested that this recoil from the subject was a result of the first world war filling everyone’s minds with an acute and appalled awareness of death, but my own explanation was, and still is, that it was a pendulum-swing away from the preceding century’s obsession with the subject – the relish for mourning, ranging from solemn viewing of the corpse by young and old alike, to passionate concern about the exact degree of blackness to be worn, and for how long (for the rest of your days if you were a widow). A mood so extreme surely had to result in a strong reaction.
What a healthy attitude.