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Blauner, R. (1968). Death, Grief, and Mourning. Geoffrey Gorer. London: The Cresset Press, 1965. vii + 184 pp. Paperback Ed. Garden City: Doubleday-Anchor, 1967. xxxiv + 205 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 55(3):521-522.

(1968). Psychoanalytic Review, 55(3):521-522

Book Review

Death, Grief, and Mourning. Geoffrey Gorer. London: The Cresset Press, 1965. vii + 184 pp. Paperback Ed. Garden City: Doubleday-Anchor, 1967. xxxiv + 205 pp.

Review by:
Robert Blauner

In 1955, Geoffrey Gorer published an essay entitled “The Pornography of Death” in which he argued that contemporary society was repressing the healthy acceptance of death and mourning in much the same way that the Victorian era had suppressed sex. The obsession with violence in the mass media represented a kind of obscene treatment of a fact of life in a society which had experienced no Freudian revolution in its attitude toward mortality.

Ten years later the distinguished social anthropologist gives us the result of his interview study, of a sample of 1600 English citizens, concerned with their experiences with death and bereavement. Based primarily on intensive re-interviews with a subsample of 80 from the original group, this book is one of a half-dozen or more social science investigations of mortality that have appeared in the past two years—a welcome indication that the cover of repression on this taboo topic is being increasingly lifted, in academic circles at least.

Gorer's early essay is reprinted as the final appendix. A personal essay or autobiographical introduction on the author's diverse encounters with death throughout his life opens the volume. These two “book-ends,” connected in complementary fashion, make the best of the book's reading. Through his own experience of sixty years, the shifting English death practices are vividly and poignantly described.

The author's argument essentially is that English (and presumably Western Protestant) mourning practices are in a state of anomie. Ours are the first known societies in which the majority of people lack common patterns of ritual to deal with the crisis of death. Death appears to have been severed from its social matrix: the majority of the deaths reported occurred in hospitals rather than at home, the deceased were not typically surrounded by relatives but died alone except for medical attendants.

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