I am mildly fascinated by the phenomenon of women who outlive their husbands by 50+ years and make sure to draw attention to it on their gravestones. See Rebecca Martin for an example. I don't know if it's sweet or Miss Havisham-y.
Abigail Virgin of Plymouth, MA was one of these long-term widows.
Capt. John Virgin
whose earth life
Feb. 13, 1880,
Aged 87 y'rs 7 mo's. 16 days
Blessed are the pure in heart.
Her husband, John Virgin, died in 1814 at the age of forty-seven. She was about twenty-one at the time.
The Capt. John Virgin stone is reproduced in Blachowicz's "From Slate to Marble" on p. 212 as the only signed John Tribell/Tribble stone in Plymouth (although unsigned stones are widespread). He suggests Tribell was particularly proud of this portrait.
It is quite a nice portrait, though slightly damaged. I've updated the post with a close-up.
I don't have a copy of "From Slate to Marble" — I'll have to look it up.
Given the focus on all things dead, I'm interested in your reaction to Michael Meranze's critique of Bernard Herman's conference paper in the new WMQ. I happen to agree with the good Professor Meranze that "object-centered histories does not take us out of the prison house of language." Herman looks at cemeteries, too. I know this is random, but I forsee heated debates over this subject in the near future.
If I understand what Meranze is saying (a dubious assumption), I tend to agree with him as well. I get a little uncomfortable when people start rhapsodizing over the "thingness of things" — it's all a little too romantic for me.
That said, I disagree somewhat with Meranze about the destabilizing potential of objects vs. written texts. While it's true that encountering an unfamiliar text can be a disorienting experience, I've never been so thoroughly befuddled by a text as I have been by an object. The feeling of alienation when confronted by an uninterpreted object can be profoundly shocking, and it is a useful shock — it forces an observer to start with the concrete and observable instead of jumping to (often erroneous) conclusions. I'm not saying that experience has to be unique to objects — we should apply the same standards to texts so that we don't assume too much about them — but I think that the strangeness of objects forces us to think deeply about other types of texts as well. I love the way Walter Johnson approaches conventional texts (letters, etc.) — he is able to make them as strange as if they were objects.
I'm not familiar with Herman's paper and Meranze's essay is its own little "prison house of language," so I'm sure I've missed some important points, but so it goes. In general, I am a pragmatist and an advocate for plain-spokenness in academic writing, so I don't generally wade into many theoretical arguments. I wouldn't go so far as to argue for a purely object-based history, but object-focused history in conjunction with conventional documentary histories seems fine to me. As for defining "culture" — I'll leave that to others.
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