Highgate Cemetery

 

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“I blinked during that moment and it’s gone. I don’t know which is worse — to have missed it or to know there is nothing to miss”

-Tracy Chevalier, Falling Angels

While reading Bernardine Evaristo’s novel, The Emperor’s Babe, we noticed an allusion to a famous poem by Rupert Brooke titled, “The Soldier.” In Evaristo’s novel, Septimus states “If I should di, think only this of me, Zuleika, / there’s a corner somewhere deep / in Caledonia that is for ever Libya” (Evaristo 148-149). This quote is a play on Brooke’s poem, in which states: “If I should die, think only this of me: / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England” (Brooke 1-3). While visiting Highgate Cemetery, I could not help but keep these paralleled quotes in mind, because they speak of the importance that even the dead have on incorporating Englishness. The spaces that we occupy in death remain to relay a tale of who we were in life, and regardless of where we die we carry with us our heritage and legacy. Our tour guide informed us of many of the ways that people utilized the spaces their loved ones rested in to tell the story of who they were in life, using money to construct beautiful tombs and gravestones or entire rooms to show off the person’s wealth for years and years to come. I found it interesting that even in death we are still concerned about social status and paving a way to lead people to remember someone by how much money they had. This seems interesting in light of what many of our class discussions have been on: who chooses what is preserved and who inscribes meaning on these things? Of course, in the cemetery we are considering people, rather than things, but the question remains the same. Those with money are the ones who are capable of being remembered, by constructing lavish tombs and burial sites that allow the memory of themselves and their loved ones to be carried on for years to come. Whereas, those with less money, are more likely to be buried with only a small gravestone in their own backyards. However, these people without money still represent Englishness, they are still a part of its history and the identity of the nation, because one cannot have rich people without have poor people in comparison.

I also found it interesting that people carried this hierarchy with them in death by creating these heterotopias, or sacred spaces that were preserved and untouched, where time continues around it but all time has stopped within it. In death we all become equals, because we are no longer making money or living in different places, but rather we all inhabit the same place, which is the ground: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Each body decays in the same manner, and yet people still felt the need to mark this ground with social power that the person found in life. Although no human life is more or less important than the next, some people can simply afford to make their name known to more people, even after they have entered their final resting space. However, no matter where these people were buried they are no more or no less a part of England than those who could afford to be put on display even in their passing.

 

Interesting Links:

Headstones in Highgate

Hauntings in Highgate

The Highgate Vampire Video

Walking Tour of Highgate

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One thought on “Highgate Cemetery

  1. Hello Laura! I really enjoyed reading your post. You bring up a really interesting point when you bring up “who chooses what is preserved and who inscribes meaning on these things?” This makes me think of the grave of Karl Marx. Do you remember how our tour guide mentioned that Karl Marx had another grave but his followers decided that he needed one more impressive? So in response to your question, in this case it was a mass group of people who decided that Marx was worthy enough of being remembered and gave him a very large tomb with his face on it so no one would be able to forget who he was.

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