Representations of Suicide in Urban North-West England c.1870-1910: The Formative Role of Respectability, Class, Gender and Morality’

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Abstract

In the late-Victorian period in England, attitudes towards suicide were complex. Theexistence of secular viewpoints encouraged compassionate attitudes to such deaths by characterising suicide as a result of mental illness or as a natural response to harsh socio-economic conditions. Yet, in contemporary society, traditional forms of cultural and moral condemnation continued to influence perceptions of self-destruction. This article examines attitudes to working-class suicide between 1870 and 1910 and maintains that the interaction between these traditional and secular outlooks was a highly complex phenomenon. Responses to suicidal deaths were multi-faceted. The extent of hostility orsympathy accorded to such deaths was dependent upon a wide range of factors that do not sit easily with either paradigm. I suggest that a dominant or homogenous attitude towards suicide did not exist. Instead, there existed different varieties of suicides and responses to them. The role of respectability, morality and gender will be portrayed as primary definers of what came to constitute a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ suicide.
LanguageEnglish
Pages191-213
JournalMortality
Volume15:3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2010

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morality
suicide
gender
death
self-destruction
traditional society
working class
mental illness
paradigm
interaction
economics

Keywords

  • history of suicide
  • death in lancashire
  • history of death
  • working class death cultures

Cite this

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title = "Representations of Suicide in Urban North-West England c.1870-1910: The Formative Role of Respectability, Class, Gender and Morality’",
abstract = "In the late-Victorian period in England, attitudes towards suicide were complex. Theexistence of secular viewpoints encouraged compassionate attitudes to such deaths by characterising suicide as a result of mental illness or as a natural response to harsh socio-economic conditions. Yet, in contemporary society, traditional forms of cultural and moral condemnation continued to influence perceptions of self-destruction. This article examines attitudes to working-class suicide between 1870 and 1910 and maintains that the interaction between these traditional and secular outlooks was a highly complex phenomenon. Responses to suicidal deaths were multi-faceted. The extent of hostility orsympathy accorded to such deaths was dependent upon a wide range of factors that do not sit easily with either paradigm. I suggest that a dominant or homogenous attitude towards suicide did not exist. Instead, there existed different varieties of suicides and responses to them. The role of respectability, morality and gender will be portrayed as primary definers of what came to constitute a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ suicide.",
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AB - In the late-Victorian period in England, attitudes towards suicide were complex. Theexistence of secular viewpoints encouraged compassionate attitudes to such deaths by characterising suicide as a result of mental illness or as a natural response to harsh socio-economic conditions. Yet, in contemporary society, traditional forms of cultural and moral condemnation continued to influence perceptions of self-destruction. This article examines attitudes to working-class suicide between 1870 and 1910 and maintains that the interaction between these traditional and secular outlooks was a highly complex phenomenon. Responses to suicidal deaths were multi-faceted. The extent of hostility orsympathy accorded to such deaths was dependent upon a wide range of factors that do not sit easily with either paradigm. I suggest that a dominant or homogenous attitude towards suicide did not exist. Instead, there existed different varieties of suicides and responses to them. The role of respectability, morality and gender will be portrayed as primary definers of what came to constitute a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ suicide.

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