The Narrative of the Good Death : The Evangelical Deathbed in Victorian England book cover
1st Edition

The Narrative of the Good Death
The Evangelical Deathbed in Victorian England

ISBN 9781138053465
Published March 29, 2017 by Routledge
292 Pages

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Book Description

The Christian idea of a good death had its roots in the Middle Ages with ars moriendi, featuring reliance on Jesus as Savior, preparedness for the life to come and for any spiritual battle that might ensue when on the threshold of death, and death not taking place in isolation. Evangelicalism introduced new features to the good death, with its focus on conversion, sanctification and an intimate relationship with Jesus. Scholarship focused on mid-nineteenth-century evangelical Nonconformist beliefs about death and the afterlife is sparse. This book fills the gap, contributing an understanding not only of death but of the history of Methodist and evangelical Nonconformist piety, theology, social background and literary expression in mid-nineteenth-century England. A good death was as central to Methodism as conversion and holiness. Analyzing over 1,200 obituaries, Riso reveals that while the last words of the dying pointed to a timeless experience of hope in the life to come, the obituaries reflect changing attitudes towards death and the afterlife among nineteenth-century evangelical Nonconformist observers who looked increasingly to earthly existence for the fulfillment of hopes. Exploring tensions in Nonconformist allegiance to both worldly and spiritual matters, this book offers an invaluable contribution to death studies, Methodism, and Evangelical theology.

Table of Contents

Preface; 1. The cultural landscape of evangelical nonconformist death; 2. Obituaries as literature: form and content; 3. Evangelical nonconformist theology and deathbed piety; 4. The claims of heaven and earth: social background and social mobility; 5. The old dissent and the new dissent: denominational variations; 6. The infinite in the finite: the romantic spirit and nonconformist death; 7. Last words: the experience of death; 8. The good death and a good life; Appendices

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Mary Riso is Program Coordinator for the Division of Education at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. She received her B.A. in Philosophy from Georgetown University, her M.Div. and Th.M. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and her PhD in History from the University of Stirling. Dr. Riso has worked in both scholarly publishing and academic administration. She is the author of Heroines: The Lives of Great Literary Characters and What They Have to Teach Us (Baker), which focuses on heroines from classic nineteenth-century literature.


’Evangelical Nonconformists of the Victorian age recorded the deaths of many of their number in the monthly issues of their denominational magazines. Mary Riso has analysed these obituaries with penetration, showing sensitivity to their conventional ways of writing about deathbeds and an awareness of the changing cultural setting of attitudes to mortality. The result is a collective profile that lays bare the strongly felt priorities of these Christian groups when confronting the last enemy.’ David Bebbington, University of Stirling, UK ’Mary Riso's carefully researched book makes a significant contribution to understanding the place of Protestant Nonconformity in English society. Her work is especially helpful for showing how much Nonconformist obituaries (a flourishing genre) partook of conventional middle-class values, yet also transcended them; how much the various denominations resembled each other, yet with crucial differences; and how much Romantic currents affected Nonconformists in some ways but not in others. It is a fine book.’ Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame, USA