Samantha Ellis at the Times Literary Supplement:
For the most part, we don’t keep relics the way the Victorians did. It would be hard, now, to find a story about a widow squabbling with her husband’s best friend over who could keep the heart another friend had snatched from the fire where his body was being cremated. But for Mary Shelley this was not a peculiar thing to do, particularly as other friends were also cherishing Percy’s ashes, and even giving them away as presents. As Deborah Lutz writes, death doesn’t just bring about the tragedy of turning people into things; “it might also start inanimate objects to life, cause them to travel, move about, generate meaning”.
Lutz, a professor at the University of Louisville, set out her stall in her first book, The Dangerous Lover: Gothic villains, Byronism, and the nineteenth-century seduction narrative (2006); she is both fabulously erudite and refreshingly willing to tackle the trashier end of the literary spectrum. Her two latest books are just as rigorous and, even better, impassioned. Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture is more scholarly in tone. Lutz looks at the Victorian cult of death, analysing the intense and sensual way Victorians mourned. She works chronologically from Romantic remains (Shelley’s jaw, Keats’s hair, a square of the bed curtains that surrounded Byron’s miserable honeymoon bed) to the start of the twentieth century, when the rise of secularism and the advance of medicine came together to produce what Diana Fuss has called the death of death.