Halloween weekend approaches, folks! At @VictorianMasc that means tis the season for dark comedy!
And so, inspired by Edward Gorey’s gloriously grim alphabet book The Gashlycrumb Tinies, I present to you my A-Z of Victorian literary deaths. Also in the spirit of spooky season, don’t forget to check out 10 Supernatural Tales from the Nineteenth Century.
Also, this post is all about character deaths and so comes with *ALL THE SPOILER WARNINGS*
Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky (Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace). Wounded during the Battle of Borodino (1812) when he is hit from an exploding shell. Despite being thoroughly kaboomed, Prince Andrei takes his sweet time to die from his wounds back in Moscow.
Emma Bovary. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (1856) Bored, middle class and prone to bouts of luxury shopping, Madame Bovary meets a sorry end after chugging a bottle of arsenic.
Sidney Carton. A Tale of Two Cities (1859). Mopey Sidney Carton goes to the guillotine after switching places with golden boy Charles Darnay during The Terror.
Daniel Dravot. Rudyard Kipling, The Man Who Would be King (1888). Oh boy. After an elaborate con whereby he manages to get himself named King of Kafiristan and worshipped as a god, Dravot’s deception is exposed and he is thrown to his death off a rope bridge. But that’s not half as grim as the end that awaits his brother-in-arms Peachey Carnahan.
Ezra Jennings. The unsung hero who unravels the mystery at the heart of Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868) is not the professional detective figure, but an unlikely and impoverished lawyer with a tragic past and who meets a poignant end after a long battle with laudanum. Fantine. Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (1862). Come on, now – you’ve all heard the song.
Gavroche Thénardier. Victor Hugo, Les Miserables. Hugo’s endearing street urchin and younger brother to the love-lorn Eponine meets a tragic and heroic end when he ventures beyond the barricade to collect ammunition for the remaining revolutionaries.
Heathcliff. Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights (1847). Because nothing says romance like implied necrophilia.
Irene Adler. We’re told almost nothing about the circumstances surrounding the death of Irene Adler in Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ (1888). Only a single reference to ‘the late’ Irene Adler by the narrator, Dr Watson, implies that, at some time between the events of the plot and Dr Watson’s writing them down, Irene has met an unfortunate end.
Jacob Marley. Charles Dickens, ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843). ♪ We’re Marley and Marley, whoooooooooooo!’ ♪
Mr Kurtz. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899).
Lucy Westenra. Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897). Lucy is swiftly dispatched when she gets vampirized and becomes too sexy for Victorian society.
Dr Moreau. H. G. Wells, The Island of Dr Moreau (1896). There’s a grim, but satisfying justice to be found in this novel wherein, having subjected the animals to tremendous pain and vivisection, Moreau himself is eventually dismembered by a puma…who may or may not represent the New Woman.
Nancy. Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist (1838). C’mon, we were all terrified of Oliver Reed’s menacing ganking of Shani Wallis’s Nancy in Oliver! (1968)
George Osborne. William Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1848). Even if he hadn’t met a grim end at Waterloo, we suspect douchebag George would have succumbed under the weight of the massive new-money chip on his shoulder. You can read more about him over on my good pal @BizarreVictoria’s Vanity Fair roasting.
Sir Percival Glyde. Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1861). Like Osborne, Percival Glyde is keeping a shaky, or rather shady, hold on his own social status. After taking the rather extreme step of having his wife switcheroo’ed with a doppelganger asylum patient in order to claim her fortune, Percival meets a toasty end by fire in circumstances which are far too complex to explain here.
Quincey Morris. Bram Stoker, Dracula. I like to imagine Quincey was the cherry on top of Bram Stoker’s sales pitch for Dracula: ‘It has vampires…and foursomes….and erotic blood transfusions….oh, and a giant moustachioed, knife-wielding ‘murican!’ SOLD!
Bertha Mason Rochester. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1847). Spoiler warning or no, if you don’t know the twist in Jane Eyre (dude, what!?), I can’t bring myself to spoil it for you.
Jack Stapleton. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). Jack Stapleton is the slightly eccentric, butterfly-collecting neighbour to Henry Baskerville of Baskerville Hall. Seriously, though, never trust a guy who collects butterflies.
Tess Durbeyfield. Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’urbervilles (1891) Poor Tess dies of sin and Victorian plot convention. She was created by Thomas Hardy. Of COURSE she dies.
Mr Utterson. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). Ok, confession: Mr Utterson doesn’t actually die in this story, but he’s wonderfully, woefully boring. And I don’t mean that as a criticism per se – he’s the perfect observer-narrator to the events of the plot.
The Vicomte de Valmont. Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782). Seduction. Wickedness. Decadence of the French, 18th-C variety. John Malkovitch etc etc.
Oscar Wilde died of meningitis in a Paris Hotel in 1900. The legend goes that his last words were: “This wallpaper is terrible – one of us will have to go!”, although it’s more likely he made this quip weeks before his eventual demise.
Can you think of any? Drop me a comment! I’ll do an image for my favourite one.
Yevgeny Vasilevich Bazarov. Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons (1862). Yes, you read that right. But how does one die of an autopsy I hear you ask? Well, friends, poor Yevgeny contracts blood poisoning following a botched autopsy procedure. Rotten luck that.
Zenobia Frome doesn’t die strictly within the time frame of Edith Wharton’s eerie 1911 novella Ethan Frome, but after years of hypochondria and a terrible accident, she ends up living a kind of half-life with Ethan which is, perhaps, grimmer than death. Yikes.
Have a great Halloween folks, and be safe out there!
Liked this post? You might also enjoy: ‘Victorians and their Cats’, ‘Victorians and their Dogs’, ‘Some Great (and some not so great) Victorian Dads‘, ‘What Would a Victorian Monopoly Board Look Like?’