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The Art of Suicide


pi c t u r i n g h i s t o ry Series Editors Peter Burke, Sander L. Gilman, Ludmilla Jordanova, Roy Porter, †Bob Scribner (1995–8) In the same series Health and Illness Images of Difference sander l. gilman Men in Black john harvey Dismembering the Male Men’s Bodies, Britain and the Great War joanna bourke Eyes of Love The Gaze in English and French Painting and Novels 1840–1900 stephen kern The Destruction of Art Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution dario gamboni The Feminine Ideal marianne thesander Maps and Politics jeremy black Trading Territories Mapping the Early Modern World jerry brot ton Picturing Empire Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire james ryan Pictures and Visuality in Early Modern China craig clunas Mirror in Parchment The Luttrell Psalter and the Making of Medieval England michael camille

Landscape and Englishness david matless The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe mitchell b. merback ‘Down with the Crown’ British Anti-monarchism and Debates about Royalty since 1790 antony taylor The Jewish Self-Image American and British Perspectives 1881‒1939 michael berkowitz Global Interests Renaissance Art between East and West lisa jardine and jerry brot ton Picturing Tropical Nature nancy leys stepan Representing the Republic Mapping the United States 1600‒1900 john rennie short Bodies Politic Disease, Death and Doctors in Britain, 1650‒1900 roy porter Eyewitnessing The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence peter burke

The Art of Suicide Ron M. Brown

reaktion books

Published by Reaktion Books Ltd 79 Farringdon Road, London ec1m 3ju, uk First published 2001 Copyright © Ron Brown 2001 All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. Series design by Humphrey Stone Printed and bound in Great Britain by Biddles Ltd, Guildford and King’s Lynn British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Brown, Ron The art of suicide. – (Picturing history) 1. Suicide in art. 2. Art – History I. Title 704. 9'4936228 isbn 1 86189 105 9

Title page: John Flaxman, Chatterton taking the Bowl of Poison from the Spirit of Despair, c. 1780, pen and ink and wash. British Museum, London.


Introduction 7 1 Representing Voluntary Death in Classical Antiquity 21 2 Self-killing from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance 49 3 Conflict and Change in Early Modern Europe 88 4 An English Dance of Death? 124 5 Preserving Life and Punishing Death 146 6 The Century of Destruction 194 Postscript 215 References 223 Select Bibliography 240 Acknowledgements 243 Photographic Acknowledgements 245 Index 247


To be, or not to be: that is the question: william shakespeare, Hamlet III.i.56

Here, in one evocative piece of writing, are called up many of the issues which cluster around the notion of suicide. Hamlet’s question goes to the very heart of the matter: is there a moment when life, the most precious of human possessions, becomes a burden which is too heavy to bear? And, in that moment, does one have the right to make one’s own quietus? What stays the hand: fear of pain, of oblivion, of an unknown afterlife, of eternal damnation? And what drives the bodkin home: courage, despair or madness? Shakespeare lends his protagonist a religious sensibility: for Hamlet, suicide is a moral issue, validating the position arrived at by the Christian Church by the end of the sixteenth century. The complexity of his argument, however, has more to do with the long history of self-slaughter, ranging as it does between the binary poles of suicide as heroic and suicide as sinful, and of humankind as a rational subject endowed with ultimate free will even unto death, or as a prisoner caught in a web, woven equally of doubt and prohibition, from which only madness can offer release. The play’s two central deaths bring the oppositions together: Hamlet, by choosing confrontation, seeks out an end which is voluntary, without being self-inflicted; thus, he avoids the stigma of selfslaughter and, in true heroic fashion, ‘flights of angels’ are invoked to bear him in triumph to the rest he has craved throughout. Ophelia, his female counterpart, validates the persistent inscription of sensibility on the body of woman: her self-chosen death stems from loss, frailty and the disintegration of reason, which demeans the act and diminishes her from the tragic to the pathetic. The effective tension which surrounds the issue of self-murder in Hamlet echoes a conflict that has existed since antiquity. The status of 7

suicide has always been open to question. The historian of suicide can discern little consensus in any of the issues which emerge in the course of its ‘long history’: rather, the range of social, political and cultural responses with which it has been greeted has reflected, with uncanny accuracy, the shifting patterns of human thought over more than two millennia. Its representations: tragic, epic, heroic, pathetic, judgemental, moral, didactic, comic and satiric, paint a picture of a European culture grappling with the almost impossible task of understanding and coming to terms with this strangest and most persistent of phenomena. The imaging of suicide can be found across a wide geography, but the parameters of the following investigation embrace a Western and specifically European cultural ambience. That my title contains a pun and an anachronism reflects on the one hand a wicked sense of humour and a particular view of art’s history, and on the other, a central and tormenting linguistic problem. Both will eventually become clear to the careful reader. My title also brings together two terms which require care, both dynamic, both abstract. How they relate to each other is a delicate question. The simple answer is that this is a story about suicide-as-represented. It is about human death as read through the myriad meanings given to self-slaughter. As an answer, I realize it is also artful, as it avoids crucial questions about the writing contained within. Suffice to say, for the time being, that given the inestimable number of contexts for the art of suicidal death, one must be highly dubious of any claims to universality. The object of this book is thus to investigate how the act and the agents of suicidal death have been described, interpreted and constructed in images from antiquity to the close of the twentieth century. The field of investigation embraces sculpture, painting, illumination, print, book and newspaper illustration, cartoons, and ceramics from antiquity. I have yet to come across a suicidal image on stained glass. In order to complete and close the narrative frame, I have included examples from mechanical reproduction, though I have not concerned myself with photography or television on the whole. Factual or filmic images of suicides in the age of mechanical reproduction merit a separate study. In the course of this history I shall also examine how, from Plato and Socrates onwards, and in pursuit of its time-honoured concern for questions of life and death, philosophy has mediated suicide’s meanings in parallel with this creative process. As recently as 1940 the psychiatrist Marguerite von Andics claimed that the history of suicide is part of the philosophical tradition of the ‘meaning of life’. 8

Yet suicide also has a history of its own. In order to chronicle how the act and agents of suicide have been conceived in art, I have recognized the importance of the philosophical tradition in ascribing meaning, but the current study has put many preconceptions aside, and has quite different objectives to theorizing the meaning of life. Moreover, it is concerned with the historical production and relations of meanings of suicide as they interrelate with gender and nation, and with the dynamics of power between words and images in high art and popular culture, as they articulate meanings of suicide in an arc which stretches from the epic and the tragic to the satirical and comic. The long historical span aims to examine suicide’s mobility in order to hold onto the visual traces as they connect and collide with philosophies both intellectual and esoteric, or as they confront meaning in the abstract. In this context, I would contend that the coexistence of the differing sign systems of art history and philosophy, and the divergent but interrelated roles they play in making sense of ‘suicide’, provide valuable clues to an understanding of the underlying grammar of suicide as it is reconstituted over time. I have chosen to ask the question of how suicide and the suicide is imagined in visual terms. Intertwined with this is the question of how art history and philosophy have functioned together over many centuries to produce, articulate and project notions of why people choose to take their own lives. While the history of philosophy is well documented, and has allowed me to discern major shifts in suicidal discourse, the objects and images from visual culture that form the central focus of this particular area of art history are less familiar and more difficult to trace. In this respect I have been considerably helped in my task by Fred Cutter’s Art and the Wish to Die which provides a ready catalogue of 180 images. His research has unearthed a vast amount of representations of suicide, though some are concerned with selfinjury and ‘death-by-instalments’ through drink or drugs rather than self-killing per se. There is a further issue of his association of suicide with self-destructive behaviour. I am convinced that it does not help to knit them so closely together. My focus is on suicide alone. The main problem with Cutter’s work is a fundamental art historical one. To examine images with a view to revealing how cultural attitudes towards suicide are reflected in art, denies the images a creative role. My work will thus move away from seeing images as reflective and examine visual works as refractive, or perhaps extend this useful metaphor from physics further to see these images as splitting and diffusing meaning. Though Cutter’s work is a groundbreaking piece 9

of research it remains a somewhat idiosyncratic text aimed at, in his own words, ‘suicide prevention’. There is little doubt that images may invite the viewing subject to conform, resist or negotiate, and that the reader is asked to engage with the text, and the text demands that we refer back to ourselves. It is never a simple relationship, however. Suicide has been pictured as beautiful, heroic, bold, as well as ugly, criminal, cowardly. To highlight these changes, my methodology draws on the theoretical work of Paul Veyne and the notion that the objects of study have a connection with neighbouring forces.1 Clearly, for my purpose, Veyne’s regard for historical patterns and the divergence and relations that make up the object has a practical application. The very notion of objectification allows visual representations of suicide to be analysed in order to reveal a reworking of the signifier and demonstrate the construction of new and original meanings. Veyne’s theories help to avoid the pitfalls of representing suicide’s meanings as universal. Expanding upon what Veyne calls ‘the hidden grammar’ underlying conscious discourse, I have tried to unfold and reveal for the reader the grammar of suicide: its flow, its punctuation, its subject and object. My text is problem-based in the sense explored by Foucault in ‘The Discourse on Language’, his appendix to The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972), and will recognize that other schemes come into play too. Suicide is thus seen as a site for ascribing meanings of inequality and difference. In keeping with Veyne’s intellectual history, I have attempted to tease out meanings of suicide that have become submerged, meanings no longer apparent, or meanings overruled by the concreteness of historical terminology and a huge body of scholarship that has on the whole ignored the role of the visual in ascribing meaning. Thus the emphasis on the ability of the image to alter attitudes towards self-destruction will be replaced by an intertextual reflexive analysis which draws on Foucault’s ideas of power and the importance of dialogues around the spoken and unspoken. A few notes in Foucault’s History of Sexuality refer to suicide as the usurping of power. Foucault argues that during the nineteenth century a transition took place from the right to take life to one that fostered it, or ‘disallowed it to death’.2 Thus ‘political power assigned itself to the task of administering life’. His designation of suicide as crime is perhaps overstated, yet, in the historical study of suicide, the point of the state’s ownership of the body cannot be underestimated. The methodology does not pretend to offer an answer to the wider art-historical problem of textual reading. Rather, I would argue that 10

we have to begin somewhere in order to achieve even a fractional reclamation of these texts as they gave rise to meanings of suicide. I also want to try things out. In this respect I consider fields of discourse and fields of action alongside semiotic analysis while resisting the idea of becoming a prisoner to any particular approach. Indeed, the issue of representation assumes the coexistence of a variety of texts, visual, verbal, semiotic, philosophic and political, and demands a diversity of approaches. In tandem with this, while not confronting them head on, the book is written with bioethical questions in mind. Throughout, the central and troubling problem of the visual representation’s relationship with reality will be addressed; and in line with recent art histories, the reception and mobilization of images and objects will be considered a high-potential relationship. My reading of the images examines suicide as it is resignified over short periods of time and as it finds its way into other discursive arenas. In particular, I investigate notions of national identity, class, authorship, gender, sexuality and madness. Even before the publication of the works mentioned above, however, art history and literature had two key sources. Hans Rost’s Bibliographie des Selbstmords of 1927 lists over four thousand selfmurders and remains an important source for all researchers in the field. Erika Tietze-Conrat’s unfinished manuscript ‘Patterns of Suicide in Literature and Art’ has also proved a valuable resource. None of these address the aspect of meaning. One book only boasts a lengthy history: Georges Minois’ History of Suicide: Voluntary Death in Western Culture. Minois’ otherwise excellent book does not actually do what it proposes and stops short of the twentieth century. Inadvertently, the central question is raised of how one begins (and ends) the process of reconstituting the contradictions and relations that make up the various meanings of suicide across time. The argument here is that by scrutinizing the intertextual relationships of varied patterns of visual art and a broad philosophical practice, we can begin to establish an understanding of suicide’s ‘meanings’ from antiquity to the close of the twentieth century and delineate the character of suicide(s) in representation. The function of the pictures in establishing meaning has determined the shape of the history which has emerged, and in the partial reconstruction that may have ensued from this practice, the relationship of history with philosophy, and philosophy of the ‘least cultural kind’, has played an influential role.3 At times however, I have had only my judgement to rely on. Despite the lack of extant images from the periods of antiquity and 11

Early Christianity the amount that is available permits an examination of representations of suicide and allows the reader to begin to reconstitute across a long history the representation, signs and traces of this baffling way of death. Indeed, it may be that it is the very absence of visual images which speaks volumes in these cases. The fragments that remain from visual culture may well represent a partial history, nevertheless they provide a picture of a history that from its very outset demonstrates the complex nature and relationship of objects, images and text to the reality they capture, hold and recreate. The narrative starting point examines the earliest images extant in order to initiate a serial analysis of suicide’s representations, and reconstitute the traces of suicide and their interrelations. In addition, I begin to explore the semantic process of words and images as they transfigure the reality of voluntary death for the contemporary reader. From remote antiquity I believe that visual images of suicide were ‘loaded’: replete with meaning. After establishing the relationships from antiquity to the late medieval period in Chapters 1 and 2, my objective is to offer an overview of the European scene in Chapters 3 to 4. Though at times I may be guilty of clouding geographical differences, the implications of geography and location are considered, particularly in the period when the western world of capitalism emerged from a feudal economy, and the ‘violent disruption’ of the Reformation impacted upon early Catholic thought. In turn, the advent of print culture endorsed an already powerful Christian iconography in order to educate the popular masses.4 In Chapter 2, special attention has been paid to the Bible – a collection of books with the widest of readership, and in this case, one that created problems for the condemnation of suicide by theologians and for its meanings for lay Christianity. In this history there are gaps that emerge from the survey as a product of absence. At times, therefore, my dialogue with suicide attempts to define what is and what is not being discussed. Alongside the anomalies, the whispers and silences, a history is revealed that demonstrates the vigour of European society and its attempts to understand and contain self-slaughter. Where images are limited in number a sluggish pace of change is implied though one is constantly aware of the problem of the survival of early images. This was to change dramatically with the development of print culture after which a fairly dense cultural grid of interwoven texts originated, giving rise to further stratification of the meanings of suicide. With patience, the threads of this history can be unravelled, though it is at times difficult to see where they lead. 12

As a result of the increase over the centuries in the sheer number of images, the attendant historical problems are very different from those of antiquity and Early Christianity. From the early modern period my analysis has thus been informed by a more thematic approach. The picture history of suicide that emerges is in effect an incomplete history that reflects on discourse and demonstrates the difficulty inherent in any attempt to reduce discursive interrelationships to the theories and philosophies that they are assumed to verify. In the early chapters there is a special concern for the ‘restoration’ of ancient and biblical reading. How can I construct a genealogy of suicide in antiquity or Early Christianity? Indeed, how can I construct a genealogy at all? This problem is exacerbated by the fact that suicide’s distant past poses very different challenges of reading to its recent history. In response to this, my methodology involves a constant widening of my terms of reference to include a variety of sources, and a continual refining of my analytical method. This allows me to see very different national, religious and gender alliances at work within suicidal discourse. This is followed by a survey of the impact on antiquity of the visual figurations of suicide of Jewish casuistry and Christianity in biblical writing and theology. The necessarily extensive chronology of the chapter follows the figurations as they mutate and tell very different stories in the Old and New Testaments. In this respect the period of late antiquity and Early Christianity, where monotheistic ideas challenged the ‘gods’ of classical antiquity, is particularly important. In the medieval world, it has to be born in mind that there existed a consummate dread of sudden and unforeseen death. The popular consciousness of purgatory, and the renewed emphasis on dying with dignity in the Ars Moriendi as described by Duffy in The Stripping of the Altars meant suicidal death was taboo. Confronted by the chilling image of one’s own death in the danse macabre, late medieval ‘Europeans’ had plenty to fear from death, a passing which must have seemed to be just around the corner. Like the danse macabre, suicide and its imaging both questioned the strength of Christianity and were deployed to reinforce it. Chapter 3 focuses on the early modern period and a broader European picture, where the social process of making ‘suicide’ can be seen in the working through of two very distinct discursive positions. The shape of my argument here is that an embryonic notion of a medical analysis of suicidal death arose which, combined with religious notions of suicide stigmatized as a sinful death and expressed in the idea of ‘crying crimes’, clashed head on with Epicurean ideas of 13

heroic suicide. These competing discursive positions indicate the complexity of the historical battle to designate the reality of suicide. In the visual field, this is further complicated by a split between high art and popular culture where internal differences occur. This is apparent in France, England, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, the Low Countries and Italy. On the whole, high art paints a picture of heroic suicide to which popular culture illustrates an opposition. Additional complications are presented by the religious battle to define suicide, the engendering of suicide, and the growing popular sympathy for suicides in coroners’ juries in the early modern period.5 In order to highlight the successive reconfigurations during the period from the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth century to the beginnings of World War I, the next two chapters divide the period into two. Chapter 4 surveys the cardinal period of change that led away from suicide’s links with the eighteenthcentury notions of men of sensibility and the death of Chatterton in 1770, to Cruikshank’s image of the suicide of the Marquis of Londonderry in 1822, and the symbolic death of old sensibilities. This shift was accompanied by the increasing medicalization and feminization of suicide. It is here in the nineteenth century that the art historian feels that the ground has been well trodden already and that it might be difficult to say something new. Olive Anderson’s book Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England is a monumental work and in her chapter ‘Standard Commonplaces and Personal Reactions: Mid-Victorian London’ she offers the historian of art an exemplary model of interdisciplinary history on romantic stereotypes of female suicide. Barbara T. Gates’s Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories contains much on male anxiety and the relocation of suicide in an ‘Other world’. Gates’s work also raises an issue central to my premise, that life itself is fictionalized. The sense of and the production of discourse that created the fiction and the ‘reality’ of suicidal death is one and the same thing. Meaning, however, is never abstract, and will be seen to have been generated by differing sign systems, along with other institutionalized discourses such as medicine, as they foreground the changing nature and enduring strangeness of suicide. The emphases of the works cited above are sociological, historical and literary and if I am to add anything to this scholarship it is in the survey of the visual aspect. With regard to this, it is worth dwelling very briefly on the available art historiography. Lynda Nead’s chapter in Myths of Sexuality and her article ‘Seduction, Prostitution, Suicide: On the Brink by Alfred Elmore’6 offer a way forward for reading 14

images, and see the visual working as a technology to produce specific meanings around prostitution and suicide. Margaret Higonnet’s short but important article ‘Speaking Silences’ in S. R. Suleiman’s The Female Body in Western Culture examines suicide as interpretation, presents a model of suicide linked to a contaminated femininity, and pinpoints the medicalization of suicide as synonymous with its feminization. Expanding on this thesis, Elisabeth Bronfen’s work Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic raises vital questions around the issues of the pleasing and the morbid. In her chapter ‘Noli me Videre’ she emphasizes the centrality of the female body in suicidal imagery and the position of the viewing spectator with reference to artistic and literary suicides. The theme of woman as trope is a thread which runs through Bronfen’s book, though the act of displacement of death onto the feminine echoes themes of otherness and anxiety. Despite her attempt to demystify the (mis)representation of femininity and death, the present reader senses, as a result of her analysis, a universality to such work, and begins to feel that in Bronfen’s dissection the trope is absolute. However, her clever use of Lacan’s typology of gender constructions and issues of alterity offer a theoretical path for my work to follow. The point here is that in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century new ascriptions arose of suicidal behaviour that were linked to tainted femininity. Pivotal to these changes was the image of the boy poet Chatterton whose death created a whole technology of suicide linked to notions of the romantic author. From then on, suicidal death lost its heroic component, was medicalized, ‘sociologized’ and subsequently stigmatized as a degrading death. The question of the sheer number of female images requires some exposition. The absence of male suicides in high art, their presence in popular culture and in the bizarre images of the developing yellow press requires some thought too. Chapter 5 aims to synthesize and add to the above scholarship by going back to the early eighteenth century and then offering an overview of the breadth of the nineteenth century, ending with surveys of fin-de-siècle Europe and the beginnings of the new century up to World War I. Thereafter, a radically different attitude to death and suicide is apparent, signalled perhaps by the increasing interest and coverage of ‘murders most foul’ by the burgeoning yellow press. Where historical orthodoxy paints a picture of suicidal representations bound up with changing medical science and ideas of depressive illness the growth of morbidity and the public interest in the horror of violent death is given more reflection. 15

Hereafter this book offers some very different ideas of suicidal death and art in the last century, a century that has on the whole (Alvarez apart) been avoided by historians of suicide. Chapter 6 will thus pick up on and extend this analysis from the post-war period up to the decriminalization of suicide in the 1960s – a period in which it has been argued that suicide was seen as not so much a means of ending life but as a cry for help. In 1962, the period of decriminalization, the powerful image of Andy Warhol’s Suicide constructs an attitude to suicide where the anonymity suggested by the title is in itself an admittance that suicidal death is a feature of modern life and belongs to us all. The cry for help in this case, however, might well come from the artist himself and not the victim (illus. 1). Interlinked as they are, each period will be considered as a site of production for suicide and as constituting a struggle for meaning in itself though, to be sure, the layering of meanings which become apparent makes it difficult to separate period from period. My conclusion reflects upon some further issues concerning the sharp growth in the study of death and suicide in the epoch of ‘postmodernity’. In this respect, I examine briefly how meanings of suicide and death have become bound up with recent resource-driven political economies. Thus the Braudelian idea of longue durée (described in ‘History and Social Science’), with its regard for the conceptualization of hierarchies as they form and reform, is reconciled in the thematic focus on the nineteenth century and a differing narration, more resembling a microhistory involving self-critique. In effect, any trowelling over and skimming the cracks and discontinuities, or, alternatively, filling the lags of history, has been discarded for an honest struggle with a history that does not unfold as a neat series of ideas. Indeed, it is difficult at times to see a signified agreement arising over what constitutes ‘suicide’. Yet there is no doubt that throughout suicide’s history, the images associated with it form part of a cultural sign system which plays a crucial role in directing responses and giving meaning to an apparently wilful and symbolic act. The hierarchical and apparently stable picture arising from the Braudelian long span of history is challenged and undermined by an approach that looks for the production and articulation of ‘suicide’ arising from creative practice and philosophy. The story of suicide’s representation does not presuppose an order, but argues instead that visual representations might in themselves produce the social hierarchy, and that subsequent ages might reconfigure completely the meaning of voluntary death. There still remains a historical problem 16

1 Andy Warhol, Suicide (Purple Jumping Man), 1965, synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas. Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

between the long picture of history where change appears linear and slow and the short span where change appears as interrupted and more abrupt. A paramount problem is that the complex dialogue into which the art historian must enter with suicide’s representations creates a source of tension for art history or, rather, it obliges one to look beyond the traditional formalities of art history to an unconventional iconography which diminishes the significance of the object’s functionality, its size and its place. Along with this, conventionally opposing notions of aesthetic value and the popular have been collapsed or have been brought together in order to discern the changing character of the 17

chosen representations. Even so, from the beginning I have recognized, and been concerned with, the value of art history and also of philosophy, which has been subjected to a similar rough treatment. Plato, Hume and Camus have been handled with the same mixture of respect and suspicion as those more modest writers of the eighteenth century, the popular moralist Vicesimus Knox and the first ‘suicidologist’ Charles Moore. Though mine is not a global history I have tried not to discard any wisdom that may help me understand and interpret my theme. In my examination of the long process of suicide’s delineation, I have thus addressed three particular narratives: first, the visual and the verbal texts in the suicidal genre which are available to the historian; second, the historical re-presentation of suicide over time; third, contemporary theory with its critical sensitivity towards representation. Each narrative has brought with it specific problems and particular solutions to the construction of a genealogy of suicide and its forms. In turn, I have been obliged to negotiate a precarious route at the interface of suicidal texts and philosophies appertaining to suicide. Working at the point of intersection between texts and social ideas of suicide, or between the producer’s intention and the public reading, I have attempted to apprehend individual and collective themes of meaning over time. As a result of the long historical process ruptures and shifts in themes have been identified which I have attempted to retain, synchronize and reconstitute as representations of the traces of suicide. The picture which unfolds of the art of suicide is one of a constant overshadowing or a series of adumbrations of meaning, each casting its shadow and in turn being overshadowed. At times the plausibility of that storyline may be in question but the research has indicated the unintelligibility of suicide’s history. Despite this, I would point to the fact that no history is self-evident. The reader who looks for connections will sometimes be confounded. They are not always there. Rather, The Art of Suicide begins to identify a typology of suicide’s imaging, ranging from the earliest known image of self-killing, that of the death of Ajax on a small seal, dated c. 700 bc (illus. 3). My belief is that further research will uncover many more images of suicidal death, particularly for the periods of antiquity and Early Christianity. They will be ‘hidden’ away in museums and galleries, especially on ceramics and illuminations, and for the later periods on artefacts and art objects. Some years ago, in the heady early days of my research, I wrote to every gallery and museum in the United Kingdom enquiring about 18

images of suicide. Most of the institutions I contacted did not have a catalogue that included specific sections on suicide. If this book proves one thing only, the reader will realize that the images are prolific. I have kept their letters of reply, some of which expressed horror or disgust at my topic, some even hinted at a morbid desire on my part. I trust that the finished text does not lend itself to such a reading.


2 The Suicide of Ajax, bronze statue from Populonia, 5th century bc. Museo Archeologico, Florence.

1 Representing Voluntary Death in Classical Antiquity

There is a doctrine whispered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door and run away ... socrates 1 (470‒399 bc)

The messages of conflict revealed in the few visual and historical markers of suicidal death which remain from antiquity are strong enough to confirm that, from the very outset, the history of suicide has been played out on a stage where displacement, dialogic interrelations and contradiction have acted out their contrary scenarios. The arenas where conflicting meanings of voluntary death circled and collided expose a struggle for primacy where differing powers and authorities are repeatedly claimed, won, celebrated and ultimately lost. From the beginnings of their history, suicidal images acted not simply as a sign of suicide itself but also, and essentially, as a sign of otherness. On the one hand these early images reveal a fertility and invite a variety of artistic and philosophical interpretations that set the scene for further resourceful elaborations over the long history of suicidal representation. On the other they offer a vivid template for differentiation. In this, the earliest period for which visual records exist, the first stratum was formed of the archaeology of suicide. Since then, successive layers of meaning have gradually overlaid it. The primary traces of suicidal imagery, which originated in the Graeco-Roman world, form a clear link with the evolution of philosophical beliefs, and in general, the types identifiable from antiquity indicate a change from Hellenistic and Apollonian belief systems to the culture of Etruria and Rome, in a chronological span from c. 600 bc to c. ad 430.2 It must be remembered, however, that there were marked differences between Roman and Greek societies, and so to talk of ‘antiquity’ as universal is to confuse these variations.3 However, Greek and Roman antiquity was underpinned by some shared beliefs and assumptions. 21

For the pagan, death represented a transit from one world to another. Hades, the realm of Pluto and the dead, was an underworld, a place of shadows but, unlike the later Christian vision of Hell, did not threaten eternal damnation and punishment; nor did it inspire the ancient world with horror. It was not until the Christian era, with its division of the afterworld into purgatory and areas of eternal bliss and eternal torment, that life beyond death was invested with supernatural properties, so that those approaching death did so with a sense of culpability and foreboding.4 In the Christian world, good hope and grace did not await the sodomite, or the suicide, only despair. On the face of things a voluntary transition to Hades seemed to have been admissible in antiquity, though the presence of preventative strategies indicates it was also to be avoided.5 Visual evidence is scanty, but the few images which do survive from the period, inscribed on seals, in sculptures and wall paintings, appear to buoy up the argument that, despite its apparent acceptance and its historical reputation as something of an heroic death in antiquity, voluntary death was, nevertheless, not wholly acceptable. As Socrates suggested, the act of voluntary death seems to have been ‘whispered in secret’, rather than proclaimed aloud, and by his use of the term ‘run away’ implies a coward’s death. In Plato’s The Trial and Death of Socrates, Socrates’ Apology for his death includes the statement that ‘it was better for me to die now and be delivered from trouble’.6 In Greek antiquity, to die by one’s own hand was not wrong in itself, but good reason was required for the deed.7 In Plato’s story Phaedo, Socrates refuses to avail himself of the chance to escape after his trial and drinks the hemlock which will inevitably kill him. Socrates keeps the prison door closed. Though Plato’s text with its concern for Ideal Theory and exalted patriotism would seem to deny the Socratic notion of the immortality of the soul, Socrates’ death was still considered ‘a landmark on man’s voyage to eternity’.8 For the ancients, then, death, even wilful death, heralded some kind of immortality. Besides, the languages of classical antiquity had no word for suicide: the concept was expressed by means of a very different terminology. The vocabulary that stood in for ‘suicide’ was vast. David Daube’s analysis ‘The Linguistics of Suicide’, however, offers the reader two useful categories for an analysis of the early period: first, suicide as killing, and second, suicide as a form of dying.9 These divisions offer a manageable framework for analysis Self-killing (autoktonos) implied a violent death, but not necessarily a crime; earlier Greek expressions also connote a dying rather than a 22

killing or a murder. To die voluntarily (hekousios apotheisko), or to grasp death (lambano thanaton), implied not just a sophistication in terms of method (the hemlock), but also a method that indicated a passive form of suicide.10 The notion of a self-murderer (autophoneutes) which arose in the later classical period signified an offence,11 and though hanging was considered a bad death, the violation in this case had more to do with motive than method. It must be borne in mind that the syntax and meanings of voluntary death in this period were linguistically complex, and an expression such as autophoneutes could also mean ‘one who instigates the suicide of another’, someone who authorizes someone else’s death, even though that death might subsequently be ‘by their own hand’.12 The indications are, then, that at the very beginning of the recorded history of the act, active and passive suicides were linguistically differentiated. All these terms were effectively to be replaced by one: suicide. The attendant problems of the history of ‘suicide’ are to some extent linguistic, and for the actual analysis of those who take their lives, the capacious vocabulary of antiquity may be more propitious. The dominant linguistic expressions of antiquity implied a mode of dying, in preference to a mode of killing, the notion of self-murder arose much later. It is generally believed that suicidium is a ‘Latinism’, constructed in the seventeenth century ad from Latin sui (of oneself) and cidium (from caedere to kill). Yet its earliest traces can be found in the use of the word suicida in monastic writing in the twelfth century.13 From the early part of the seventeenth century, the legal and popular use of the term marks a period of severity towards selfkillers which does not seem to have had the same prevalence in Greek or Roman culture. Close examination of its linguistic development reveals that the concept of ‘suicide’ has been represented as a product of Augustinian severity; this in turn suggests that suicide is significatory of such, and therefore replete with meaning in itself. However, the historical thesis that Augustine of Hippo’s Neoplatonism alone could have reversed the perspectives of antiquity is highly dubious.14 From the Early Christian era (c. 4 bc) to the beginning of the fifteenth century, a Christian millennium, suicide was, among other designations, seen as a product of diabolical despair which, together with presumption, was proscribed by the Church as one of the two sins against the Holy Ghost. For the Christian believer, then, selfmurder was already invested with a religious significance; but MacDonald and Murphy advance the proposition that beyond this period, the sixteenth-century revolution in government and religion 23

in England had a further, and very significant, impact on attitudes. They argue that as a consequence of this upheaval both crown and church derived profit from self-murder.15 By emphasizing the sinful nature of suicide, the new Protestant Church was able to attract followers through the offer of salvation, while the monarch acquired material benefits from the forfeiture of the suicide’s goods. Suicide’s link with the supernatural was thus established for Christian congregations, and the state, which could acquire riches through the process of forfeiture, was well aware of its social and legal implications. It was into this climate of repression that the legal term suicide was born. Therefore, by the early modern period in England, perceptions of the deed and its consequences were both clear and generally understood. As a consequence, its representation, as we shall see, was largely unambiguous. When, however, one turns to the period of antiquity, the picture is more opaque. What then did representations of suicide mean for antiquity? In the first place, the frequent references in literature and extensive dictionary entries on suicide suggest that there was no formal exclusion of the subject. Indeed, as others have noted, towards the end of the period of Greek and Roman domination the degree of literary reference and the actual occurrence of suicide increased.16 However, although there are numerous verbal references, particularly in the writing of the Stoics, visual reference is muted.17 Suicidal imagery in antiquity was limited. Only with the insertion of suicide into a religious discourse did images begin to proliferate. This lack of images in antiquity must be considered as having a determining role in generating meanings of suicide since, if suicide is seen as being shaped through publication, then due acknowledgement must also be paid to absence. Images may well have been lost or destroyed, but the infrequency of the depiction of self-killing in pre-Christian and pagan society may imply that the visual representation of suicide was actually taboo. Although on the face of it, images of self-killing appear to have been prohibited during this period, production clearly did occur; and there are still enough discursive traces for the historian to begin to analyse their typology and circulation. Van Hooff cites Philostratos’ appreciative references in Eikones to paintings of self-killing near Naples, images which are now lost, or which may never have existed in the first place.18 The collection described by Philostratos included the heroic death of Menoikeus, who threw himself on his sword in order to save Thebes, and two others representing mythical women, Euadne and Laodameia, who both chose death by fire. Philostratos’ text also signifies that, from the 24

very beginning of its recorded history, the visualization of suicide for women and for men was given differing ascriptions. For men, suicide signified a more active death. I would go further and hypothesize that in the period of antiquity the graphic treatment of certain aspects of these constructions was culturally proscribed, and that clever articulations of nation and gender were written in to them. Philostratos, for instance, inscribes Euadne’s death on the funeral pyre with a heroic and gendered meaning. Preferring as she did the pyre to the rope, Euadne earned the writer’s commendation, since she did not hang herself as ‘other women’ did in response to loss. Philostratos also reports an image of the death of Pantheia, whose suicide was attributed to her feelings of responsibility for the death of her husband, and a panorama of a rocky coast where a boy and girl, united in a suicide pact, ‘flew into the sea in a first and last embrace’.19 Motivated variously by love for one’s country, for one’s husband, or love unrealized, these images of death were highly valued by Philostratos. It is not clear at this point if the method and the motive were consciously interconnected, though for Philostratos hanging clearly had feminine connotations. Thus, it appears that even before the emblematic suicide of Judas, hanging was regarded as a bad, faint-hearted, or ‘feminine’ death. From the beginning of suicide’s representation, however, there is some evidence of a structural disagreement between good and bad deaths that depended on motive and method; and throughout the long history this disagreement is constantly in flux. Chronologically, suicide’s depiction begins with the death of Ajax and my reading of these early images begins with a small seal recording the death of Ajax (illus. 3). This, the earliest image of suicide uncovered, appears to designate suicide as gladiatorial, and thus the history of the depiction of suicide begins with a death which is both male and ‘heroic’. Although the sword, which is the first method to be represented as employed in self-killing, may be read as a symbol of death, extermination and also of psychic decision, any analysis of suicidal method would need to acknowledge that the perpetrator probably used whatever was immediately to hand. Further, any study of suicide is bedevilled by the fact that, from its inception, suicidal discourse is enmeshed with mythology. People are born and people die. In-between is what fiction and history call life, and life itself is continually fictionalized. To interrupt or snare the fiction creates further myths. With suicide, the unarticulated chain of concepts by which it is understood changes from decade to decade, death to death. However, it is possible to make some general statements. 25

3 ‘The Death of Ajax’, seal from Corinth, c. 700 BC. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

In his 1907 work The Ajax of Sophocles A. C. Pearson testifies to the fact that Ajax’s story has its own history and development. Two versions exist of Ajax’s suicide, one by Pindar in which Troy’s most famous hero commits his self-killing as a result of dishonour, and Sophocles’ more detailed version, where Ajax son of Telamon, insane with vexation when the armour of Achilles won from Hector was awarded to his companion Ulysses, falls on his own sword. In Pindar’s version of the story Ajax immediately kills himself. In Sophocles’ tale he is driven mad and slaughters a flock of sheep which he takes for the Greeks.20 Only on regaining his senses and realizing his actions does he kill himself. The initial image of Ajax (illus. 3), on a small seal about two centimetres across and dated c. 700 bc, contains few narrative details. It simply shows the aftermath of the killing, and gives no clue as to which story it might belong. The seal shows Ajax impaled on his sword. How do we know it is Ajax? Other images confirm his identity by offering the reader the same pose, and tell the Homeric story by the inclusion of Ulysses and Diomedes standing over the body of the dying hero. The total number of images is small, but together they portray a recognizable typology of Ajax’s death. He is represented either as impaled by his sword or kneeling over it with the blade facing up and the handle buried in the ground (illus. 4, 5). Encoded in the images is the story through a representation of its ending or a representation of intention. In several of the images of Ajax, his madness and instability are denoted in the images by his falling, unstable body. 26

4 ‘Ajax Preparing for His Death’, painting on a black-figure krater attributed to Exekias, c. 540 BC. Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie, Boulogne.

5 ‘Ajax Impaled by His Sword’, painting on a black-figure krater from Corinth, c. 600 BC. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The seal shows the naked body of Ajax falling on his sword. His physical imbalance is caught by the raised toes and muscular tension of the calf muscles, the front of the thighs and the curved back circling the outside of the seal. The sprawled outstretched hands reach down almost as far on the opposite radial of the seal to his toes and complete the tension. The sword is piercing his middle. A scene attributed to Exekias and painted on a krater (c. 540 bc) shows what appears to be a more composed and deliberate suicide (illus. 4). Ajax is on his haunches planting the sword in a small mound in the ground. A palm tree traces the curve of Ajax’s spinal cord to give emphasis to his brokenness and his defeat. His body is depicted as cumbersome, supported as it is by two tiny feet. The sheer weight of body ratio to feet indicates that Ajax will fall on the sword. It may be that mental instability is shown by bodily physical proportion. In this tiny relief, the commensurability of body parts which give rise to ideal beauty and its theorizing in the canon of Polyclitus are relevant only in that the constituent parts of the body do not match. The imbalance appears to serve two purposes: one, he will fall, two, he is physically and perhaps ‘mentally’ unstable. To the right of Ajax and looking down is what appears at first to be a helmeted figure holding a shield. Closer examination shows a helmet and a shield only. This probably represents the armour of Hector, or is a representation of Ulysses who won the armour. It is a strange motif, suggesting a human presence where none exists. Further clues are provided on the shield. In the centre is depicted the stark white head of Medusa, the Gorgon. The shield and helmet might be a reference to Perseus and his victory over the Gorgon, or to the shield of Achilles, a symbol of man’s attempts to overcome death and the futility of such efforts.21 Originally the Gorgon’s head portrayed on shields served to frighten off the enemy or to ward off evil spirits. Since Freud, the Gorgon has signified castration.22 In this latter sense Ajax is emasculated. If we wished to extend that reading, woman is the cause of a particular masculine death. To the modern reader, Ajax’s petrifaction is connoted, as is his inability to intervene in destiny. A Corinthian black-figure krater (c. 600 bc) (illus. 5) depicts Ajax’s suicide at the moment of its discovery by his friends Odysseus (Ulysses) and Diomedes and shows the body pierced by his sword. An identical image, carved on the metope from the temple of Hera, is now in the museum at Paestum.23 The crucial difference between this image and the representations we will consider is that while they depict either the moments immediately preceding death or the 28

moment itself, this one shows Ajax’s corpse. The unclad body is supported by hands, elbows and knees. The blade of the sword is embedded in the ground. Ajax is impaled with the handle appearing at the base of the spine. It is likely that the male figure on the right in front of his shield is Ulysses, the winner of the shield. Ulysses offers a gesture of dismay, expressed by a hand placed on the nape of his neck. The expression is meaningful, for it signals both despair and disbelief. Here, then, despair is not confined to the suicide, but is also keenly felt by those left behind: the interlinking of despair and dismay is a central theme in suicide’s history. In this case, the shield and helmet shown must be those taken from Hector. Diomedes is stooping over the figure covered by his shield, and the tip of his spear forms an arch with the tip of Ulysses’ helmet to position the fallen Ajax in the centre of the triangle. A gem from Etruria shows Ajax falling on his sword (illus. 6) and a bronze from Populonia depicts him holding his sword with his right hand. His body leans at 45 degrees, his right leg is bent at the knee and his head turned away while his left arm is thrown out in despair (illus. 2). Ajax’s insanity is evident. So what, in fact, do these earliest images tell us about voluntary death in the period? It is probably too simplistic to make the connection between the temporary insanity induced by a female goddess, Athena, and a gendered position, but the myth of ‘woman’ and

6 ‘Ajax Falling on His Sword’, carved sard gem from Etruria, first quarter of 5th century BC. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


induced insanity has resonances elsewhere in literature and art that will be explored below. Be that as it may, death itself had a feminine aspect in Greek mythology where it was imagined that death was the sister of sleep or the daughter of the night. In truth, however, the story of Ajax is one of a guilt-ridden ‘hero’ outclassed by his father. The story also illustrates and confounds the complex nature of suicide’s motives, as it combines all three of Durkheim’s motivational categories, anomic, altruistic and egoistic. On the obverse of the krater there is a painting of Iole and Herakles. The image of the latter is revealing, since in myth he was the most popular of heroes. Herakles was the man who always chose the most difficult but correct path.24 In myth Herakles overcame obstacle after obstacle leading towards the realization of self. Nonetheless Herakles destroyed self too, though the suicidal elements of his death by selfburning are not as obvious as Ajax’s suicide. In some respects the hero’s survival is ensured by the lack of imagery of his death (illus. 7). The single image referred to above shows the bearded Herakles in several states leading to his apotheosis. The image serializes the story of Herakles, beginning around the base with a running figure, a figure in action with a club, then a torso on a burning pyre and, finally, his transportation to the seat of the gods in heaven. Standing over Herakles’ pyre is the goddess Athena who guides him upwards while a further divinity (Jupiter) escorts an unbearded Herakles, still with his symbolic club, to heaven in a chariot. This is a very different representation from the images of Ajax. The scene is not a simple voluntary death but a translation. Herakles’ life is to continue in heaven where Juno is to give him the hand of her daughter Hebe in marriage. His is a ‘removal’ that has been engineered by the gods, and is connoted by his figure rising from the base up the right side of the vase and across the top. Herakles is guided on this journey by a divine cortege. If the depictions of Ajax show a death, or a mode of dying that displays a ‘psychodynamic’ understanding of suicidal death, Herakles’ story shows a comprehension of the very nature of suicidal thought and the illogicality of the split in the suicide’s orientation. The suicide’s belief in immortality is signified. In the myth it is his ‘mother’s share’ that perishes, and then Jupiter takes him up in cloud.25 The earthly body dies but the myth of Herakles lives on. This idiosyncratic image is not an image of a suicide at all. It is an example of exagoge. The self-murderers in this case were the gods themselves who ordered this son of Zeus to ‘kill himself ’. The absence of imagery of Socrates’ suicide might imply a similar departure. The pictorial unfolding of the story thus signifies a continuation 30

7 ‘The Apotheosis of Herakles’, red-figure pelice found at Vulci and attributed to Cadmos, c. 450 BC. Museum Antiker Kleinkunst, Munich.

of life. Herakles’ transmutation by fire and cloud is clearly serialized on this fascinating vase. The generality of images remaining from antiquity show, for both women and men, the body portrayed intact, and what is chiefly shown is intent, rather than the deed itself. In antiquity, where death was seen as a separation of body and soul, the image transcends death. In such a culture the mutilated body was not depicted. This is contradicted somewhat by those artists of antiquity whose artistic devices operated carefully to show that Ajax was, in fact, impaled on his sword, though no wound or blood is apparent. As reported by Philostratos, Euadne was seen to be descending to the pyre, but not actually in the flames. In a drawing by Reinach, derived from earlier sources, ‘Fedra’ is pictured holding the rope, but not hanging, and in a scene from the Aiolas of Euripides on a vase by the Amykos Painter (c. 410 bc), Canace is shown draped across a sofa, clutching a short sword. Her brother, the father of her child, is shown to the left, his hands bound behind him (illus. 8). In the depiction of Herakles (illus. 7), however, his torso is seen in the flames, although, 31

8 ‘The Suicide of Canace’, scene from Euripides’ Aiolas painted on a red-figure hydria by the Amykos Painter, c. 410 BC. Museo Provinciale, Bari.

as the same image also depicts his ascent to heaven, this witnesses the redundancy of his earthly body. It is feasible to assume that in the ancient world the cultivation of self, and the objectification of oneself as a field of action, would limit the depiction of self-killing to sanitized images. The history of suicide’s representations shows that the discrete notions of selfkilling, dying and self-murder are deployed in very different ways. In a way it is the nature of this deployment that helped in the construction of a system of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ deaths. Ironically, one of the earliest images of a suicidal death was that of Socrates, whose own teaching helped give rise to the cultivation of self.26 Ordered to take his own life, Socrates was the victim of a self-murderer, but his trial and condemnation to death meant his self-murder was ordered by the State.27 Hitherto, in order to kill her/his ‘self ’, the suicide had to see her/himself as object, which to some extent contradicts the world view of the societies with which we are dealing. The notion of ‘self ’ is a modern one and alien to these cultures. This too may explain the limited number of representations in antiquity. In addition, certain superstructural differences existed in the artistic ideologies of ancient Rome and Greece. In the latter, art was predominantly ‘official’, in the former it was not; thus in Greek art the public imagery of suicide would require the support of governmental patronage while in Rome such patronage was private. My survey indicates that in neither case 32

was the public imagery of suicide at all common. In fact, Socrates’ death had become mythologized by the time its first extant image, a carved relief, was crafted, over two hundred years after Socrates’ ‘entry into the world of ideal presences of which earthly reality is a mere shadow’.28 The chronological gap between the event and its first surviving image indicates a silence, a suppression in the visual field of this obligatory death. Evidently it was not easy, or perhaps not even possible, for visual representations of Socrates’ death to be produced until the underpinning ideology of the Hellenistic era had eroded away. By then, the rational values of Socrates’ thought were being displaced by the emergent Christian ideology, and ironically, the growth of values inimical to suicide. Historically there is an overlap of pagan and Early Christian philosophy, and it is clear that the agreements and disagreements between the cultures are complex in that in both Graeco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian cultural life was perceived as being given meaning by death. This was especially true of Christianity, whose foundations were laid by those martyrs who died voluntarily for their faith.29 However, before this era of interface, public works depicting voluntary death were commissioned; but in both Greek and Roman culture, public imagery tends to fall into the category of what Durkheim and Halbwachs termed suicides obsidionaux: an enemy about to kill himself rather than suffer capture.30 The reading will show these categories to be simplistic and incomplete. Two important examples of such images have come to light: first, a statue which has been identified by Visconti as a Gaul slaying himself and his wife, and second, the death of Decebulus on Trajan’s column and on an earthenware cup from Southern Gaul. Presumed to have been carved in the original by Epigonus, the anonymous Gaul belongs to the Hellenistic period, and is deemed by Visconti to have been a central feature of a monument erected by Attalos the First to celebrate his victory over the Gauls at Pergamon (c. 230 bc), though only a Roman copy remains in the Palazzo Altemps in Rome (illus. 9).31 The site of the original statue has not been determined. Art-historical reconstructions of the monument show a dying gladiator, a dying trumpeter and three other figures around the Gaul (illus. 10). The defeated gladiator supports his sinking body on one hand, one leg is outstretched, his shield is discarded to his left and his head hangs down. Round his neck is a rope. Winckelmann’s claim that the rope around the neck was a strategy used by heralds to prevent burst blood vessels may be relevant, but it is a curious attribute in this case. The Ludovisi Gaul, as it is often referred to, depicts a man who 33

9 A Gaul Slaying Himself and His Wife, Roman copy after a Greek original of the Pergamon school, c. 230 BC, marble. Palazzo Altemps, Rome.

BArII\EYIATTAl\oL: N r1< HL:Al:MAXHlToA!Ho 10 ‘The Victory Monument of Attalos’, 3rd century BC, reconstruction by Arnold Schober.

has slain his wife and who is holding onto her with his left hand. The intensity of her death is emphasized by the fact it is perpetrated by her husband rather than by herself. Having made sure of her death, he has plunged his sword into his own heart with his right hand. That blood is bursting from the wound clearly contradicts the notion that there was a risk that the formal and moral perfection expected in works of art in classical antiquity would be contravened by the depiction of a mutilated body. While it may be debatable whether or not the statue actually represents a Gaul, the varying interpretations of the work which have been advanced themselves indicate not just the dextrous attempts of the connoisseur to assess the statue’s style and subject matter, but also the equivocal nature of responses to suicide. Haskell and Penny’s Taste and the Antique lists a variety of such explanations. Named and renamed in different inventories from 1623 it took three titles between 1633 and 1670, a fourth by 1698, and a fifth in 1704. The image in Haskell and Penny’s text carries the title Paetus and Arria;32 thus they give credence to Seignelay’s reading of the statue as the representation of the death of Paetus and his wife Arria (1670). Paetus was sentenced to death for treason by Nero in ad 56. Other titles include Fulvius and his Wife (1633), Gaul and his Wife (1704), Macareus and Canace (1698), Pyramus and Thisbe (1638) and Sextus Marius (1633). I would suggest that there is a further level of meaning in the work. The Gaul’s wife is sinking slowly in passive defeat. This is signified by the limp arm of the dead or dying woman still held by the man. In contrast, even though he is mortally wounded, the Gaul himself is animated, looking over his shoulder in fearful expectation. The pitch and intensity of his attempt to kill himself is clear. To the modern reader, it is a gesture of defiance as much as of defeat, an indictment of his enemy as well as an escape from him. On the one hand it is an acceptance of death, on the other a denial; an apt sign of the dilemma of the analysis of suicide. In this sense it foregrounds the ambiguous nature of suicide. It is unlike the representations of the death of Herakles in that it does not represent a Greek ‘removed from life’ (exagoge), but something more physical, more substantial. It may be that the Gaul symbolizes his nation, is a personification of Gaul. In any case, what we see is a violent portrayal of a man killing himself and his wife where her death is not of her volition, though we might assume it is by her consent. That this statue is reckoned to be part of Attalos’ victory monument does not provide an entirely satisfactory explanation of its func35

tion. In the light of the humanistic philosophy which permeated Hellenistic culture it has been suggested by Germaine Bazin that the statue might have two functions. One, as a symbol of victory; two, as a gesture of pity from the victor to the vanquished, who must suffer the degradation of defeat.33 In this way the image serves to exonerate the victor from responsibility for the humiliation of the vanquished. Moreover, several writers have noted the depiction of national and racial differences in the statue, the coarseness of the features, the tousled hair, the tense muscles and the lack of grace.34 The opinion is that the physical attributes portrayed are not those generally represented of a Greek. This would further support Visconti’s argument that the statue represents either a Gaul or a German who had died heroically on the battlefield.35 To represent the differences between this and other contemporary works as stemming from a new realism, or as reflecting a new frankness of style, while at the same time describing the image as ‘unusual’ is to avoid a critical engagement with its meaning.36 To describe the sculpture as ‘baroque’ is pointless.37 There is no sustained discussion in any of these works of the links between these physical characteristics and the subject matter. In this respect it is worth considering momentarily the medium of sculpture and its ability to capture reality. In a discussion on sculpture’s power in respect of its verisimilitude Richard Brilliant, in his book Portraiture, shows how sculpture lends itself more readily to referentiality than does painting and, effected by the autoicon, offers a more immediate, more convincing image of something once-living.38 In Brilliant’s thesis, sculpture replicates reality and stands in for the original. The stark reality of the statue of the Gaul may capture what appears to be a naturalistic body, but in these early carved images of death their iconic nature is made problematic by the social aspect and its increasing arbitrariness.39 Stylistic change, however, is not in itself sufficient to explain the construction of the Gaul’s physique and appearance since such an analysis neglects both the statue’s function and its reception. Fundamentally, the statue is a phyletic representation which connotes difference and allows the subject of suicide a public site for displaying what-is-not-Greek. What was whispered indoors for the Greek philosopher was publicly declared for the vanquished Gaul and his wife. Within the parameters of my argument it is a meaningful image, as it highlights from the outset the instability and artificiality of suicide’s meanings. The vast scholarship on the statue reflects the connoisseurs’ wilful neglect of meaning; even so it is their erudition that has 36

provided valuable clues for a critical reading of the work. The sculpture has a contradictory logic contained within it. The variety of scholastic interpretations indicates the nature of these writings as a ‘supplement’ to the statue, which defer and produce their own meanings of suicide in the sense Derrida describes.40 The writing operates only to replace the sculpture. What is radically different to other images in antiquity is that this is an image of voluntary death that is defined by the act where the agent connotes an enemy. The Ludovisi Gaul is thus situated within language, and that language not only denotes the complexity of suicidal imagery, but also constructs otherness. It is a self-killing which does not reflect the academic flavour of its contemporaries, and it does not simply depict ownhandedness. The Gaul’s sidelong glance gives an indication of his motive. Rather than fall into his enemy’s hands he kills his wife and then himself. Inscribed in the statue there appears to be a shift in representation from subject to object. The Gaul and his wife are objectified; the death, though noble, is nevertheless a ‘suicide’. There is confusion here between the act, the appraisal of that act and its designation: a problem with act and object. The depiction of blood also emphasizes the Gaul’s mortality. Arguably, we are presented with both a killing and a mode of dying. Also significant is that this statue, one of the most powerfully realistic expressions of suicidal death in antiquity, represents neither a Greek nor a Roman. Acceptable as such a death might have been in this period, it is nevertheless inscribed upon another national body. In effect, it offers the beginning of an alphabet for additional readings of visual representations of suicidal death. A further important image, that of the Dacian king Decebulus, can be found on Trajan’s Column in Rome (illus. 11). The relief, a symbol of the violence of Roman society, was a tribute to Trajan and wound around the column in the form of a strip. Illustrations show Decebulus under a tree about to be seized by four Romans, three on horseback and one on foot. Decebulus is depicted as a defeated man sprawled on the floor in the well-known icon of the dying gladiator, later named Myrmillo. The Roman foot soldier to the right of Decebulus has his sword ready, aimed at Decebulus’ head. Van Hooff ’s work also cites the case of the death of Decebulus on an earthenware cup, and confirms that the depiction of historical scenes is rare on these objects. The cup (illus. 12), from Southern Gaul, depicts a contorted figure reeling back from a leaping lion. His shield is behind him and his sword turned towards his midriff. Between the leonine symbol of Rome and the king is scrawled the name Decebulus. The ‘victim’ is thus named, and the image commandeered by the signa37

ture. The ideas of nation and manliness encapsulated in these works of art indicate the power relations at work in suicidal representation. The heroic nature of Decebulus’ suicide is questioned in the image: according to the history books, the Roman soldier who took the head of Decebulus to Rome was the true celebrity.41 Alongside this, the much restored and much copied sculptural image of the death of Seneca (illus. 13), found on an estate between S. Matteo and S. Guiliano in Rome, provides the reader with a further unit for evaluating representations of suicidal death. Regarded by Winckelmann in 1767 as similar to images of slaves,42 it has subsequently been described by Bieber, drawing on Visconti, as The Fisherman and by others as The Slave.43 It, too, represents blood, although it is assumed that the reddened African marble bowl or vase, which connotes sanguinity and in which Seneca is placed, was added at a later date.44 There is no doubt that the aged figure, the bath and the blood lend weight to the theory that the sculpture relates the story of Seneca’s death. Seneca, an old man, opened his veins; but his old age

11 ‘Decebulus’, detail of Trajan’s Column, Rome, c. 115 AD.


12 ‘Decebulus’, detail of a drawn copy of a painting on an earthenware cup from Southern Gaul signed Lucius Cosius, 3rd century AD.

meant his blood ran very slowly. In order to hasten the process, he stood in a bath of hot water. In the image, the bath serves to define the figure more closely as Seneca, and in this respect it is an intriguing addition. That the figure might not in fact represent Seneca, but simply an old man, was spotted by the sceptical Scottish traveller Joseph Forsyth in 1802.45 The tendency of the art historical connoisseur to nominalize, and in this case to perpetuate the ambiguity that is suicide, is clearly an aspect of the historiography of both Seneca and The Gaul. Although several images of suicide survive from the Etruscan period (750–200 bc), the range is small, and they are found mainly on vases. If suicide was not readily apparent in public works it was more so in household objects. In recent years the gendered identity of the private domain (oikos) and the public domain (polis) has been the source of several influential studies.46 The cosmos apart, any voluntary death belonged also to these two spheres. I would contend that whether the death was public or private mattered in antiquity and that location counted in terms of meaning. During this period the binary relationships between nature (physis) and culture (nomos), were established. The argument that the changing relationship between these spheres and between polis and oikos form an ongoing dynamic that can be studied in order to allow the historian to discern who has a public political voice (men) and who has none (women) has great relevance here.47 In the case of suicide’s 39

13 The Dying Seneca (sometimes called The Elderly Fisherman), found near SS. Matteo and Guiliano, Rome, alabaster and marble with enamelled eyes. MusĂŠe du Louvre, Paris.

representations, the greater number of male images surviving from the period indicates that in antiquity it was largely those with the responsibility for the political domain who killed themselves â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;in representationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. Furthermore, if that death was suffered for the fatherland, if the fatherland was Greece or Rome, then it was judged a good death. However, the images of these suicides were on objects predominantly located in the private sphere, the space designated as a feminine domain during the period of antiquity. Two other meaningful representations are among the existing frescoes at Pompeii. The first is Pyramus and Thisbe (illus. 14), and the 40

14 Pyramus and Thisbe, fresco from the House of Loreius Tiburtinus, Pompeii, c. AD 79.

second, which might be deemed a suicide, Narcissus. The theme of dependency running through suicide’s representation, and the correspondence between word and image is clear in this representation of Ovid’s story of the lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, while the story of Narcissus has many significant connotations for the later feminization of suicide and its association with men of sensibility. In Metamorphoses Ovid recounts the narrative of Pyramus’ arrangement to meet Thisbe by the white mulberry tree near the tomb of Ninus, the builder of Nineveh. Thisbe waits, but is frightened by a lion and runs away, leaving her veil. The lion smears it with blood. Pyramus arrives and, thinking his lover has been killed by the lion, falls on his sword.48 Thisbe returns soon after to find him and she, in turn, falls on the sword. In mythology it is the blood of the lovers that stains the mulberry red. In Ovid’s stories change is illusionary or meta41

phoric, and death is inevitable. Randomness is not applicable here and the modern reader can forget familiar notions of chance. The wall painting in the house of Loreius Tiburtinus in Pompeii shows the lovers dying. In the background is a lioness, though Ovid mentions a lion. The bloody veil hangs on a tree which echoes and frames Thisbe’s body. The myth’s popularity will be discussed in later chapters, and is demonstrated by the number of illustrations which can be found, especially by the Middle Ages. The story was the model for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and for the rustics’ scenes in a Midsummer Night’s Dream which offer a travesty of the deaths. Demonstrating the fluidity of the imaging of suicide, in one medieval text, the Gesta Romanorum, the lion represented evil (or the devil),49 and Pyramus was interpreted as the son of God who allowed his own death. Later, in Renaissance texts, the heroic aspect was restored. Metamorphoses also provided the literary source for the second painting at Pompeii. In Ovid’s text, Narcissus sees his own reflection in a fountain and thinks it to be the nymph of the place. In another version of the story he jumps in to the fountain trying to reach the image and dies. It is generally accepted that he fell in love with his reflection and pined away. When the nymphs came for the body they found only a flower in its place. Michael Grant also mentions a painted image of Narcissus, contemporary to Ovid’s text, from Hermopolis Magna in Egypt.50 In the earliest known example of a short story, a tale from Egypt from the workshop of the scribe Anena, there is a suicide. Probably written during the reign of Rameses II, The Two Brothers: Anpu and Bata dates from c. 1400 bc. However, in effect, Narcissus dies twice. He first becomes dead to the real world, and then he fuses with nature. But can this double death be categorized as suicide? His real death, the result of idle dreams, goes through a series of translations, from a Neoplatonist belief that the soul had found no satisfaction in the body of Narcissus to a modern psychoanalytical diagnosis. Clearly each is socialized within its historical context. In contrast to these depictions of men or lovers, images of lone women in the period are few and far between. Of single women only four images have been brought to notice: those of Jokaste, Canace, Dido and Phaedra.51 What is unusual in suicidal discourse in the period of antiquity is that voluntary death as a masculine death dominates the visual field, whereas in the literary canon women abound. There do not appear to be many female images at all. Lucretia’s death (dated c. 509 bc), is the earliest entry in Grisé’s table of frequency,52 but even she is not portrayed in visual terms until much later. By the fourteenth century 42

15 ‘Phaedra Carrying a Noose, the Means of Her Decease’ (inscribed ‘Fedra’), copy of an image from the Tor Marancio.

ad she was exceedingly popular. Cleopatra (30 bc), Sophonisba (third century bc), Portia (c. 42 bc) and Elektra (who symbolizes the values of the private domain) are found only in writing. Visual images of Dido, a Phoenician, and the Greeks Jokaste and Phaedra are still existent. Phaedra, or ‘Fedra’ as she is named in this particular sketch by Reinach from a ancient painting, is shown with a rope in her right hand, her head hanging down to one side, and her left hand holding her gown loosely across her lower body (illus. 15). The drawing, taken from the Virgilius Vaticanus, is a copy of the primary image of a woman hanging. Like Decebulus, the protagonist is labelled by her name scrawled above her left shoulder: ‘Fedra’, a signature which brings together hanging and a feminine death associated with incestuous wrongdoing. The image is of a youthful woman, and though it gives nothing away, her evil might well be signified in the method, which in turn might reflect on the motive. Hanging was taboo in Hellenistic culture and even more so in Roman culture. The Romans regarded it as crude and perfidious, a death fit only for wrongdoers and women. A later Roman version of the play Phaedra by Seneca heroicizes Phaedra by replacing the problematic rope with a gladiatorial sword.53 43

16 ‘Theseus Finds Phaedra Contemplating Suicide’, vase painting on an Apulian redfigure pyxis from Altamura showing a scene from Euripedes’ First Hippolytus, 4th century BC. Soprintendenza alle Antichità, Taranto.

Phaedra’s failed attempt to seduce her son-in-law Hippolytus not only caused the death of Hippolytus, through the curse of her wronged husband Theseus, but also resulted in her revenge hanging. In this sense, the motive might establish hanging as a bad death. A fourth-century vase shows Theseus standing over Phaedra while she contemplates the discarded sword of Hippolytus buried in the ground (illus. 16). The interactive relationship between method and motive is therefore grounded in these early images. If the method was bad, it is suggested, then so was the motive. The sword connoted an honourable way of dying, and an honourable return to the earth, but the rope left the body hanging between heaven and earth and was therefore an unseemly death. Additionally, Frazer noted in The Golden Bough that suspension between heaven and earth placed people out reach of earthly influence and kept deities alive.54 The notion of deferment, of being held in abeyance, is intimated. The death of Jokaste, as pictured on a relief cup that can be found in the archaeological museum in Halle, repays close examination , as it reveals clear evidence of the relational aspect of motive and method. As with many of these images, a written text precedes the image, in this case Euripides’ Phonissia. After Polyneikes and Eteokles, the sons of Jokaste by her own son, Oedipus, had fought to the death, Jokaste took the sword from one of them and stabbed herself. The use of the gladiatorial weapon would imply heroic dimensions, but Sophocles’ version of Jokaste’s death is as the penalty for her incest, and has her hanging herself for shame when it is revealed that she has bred chil44

17 ‘The Suicide of Dido’, detail from Codex Virgilius Vaticanus, 4th century AD. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome.

dren from her own son. Van Hooff cites a fourth-century statue which depicts Jokaste hanging.55 The evidence, such as it is, suggests that whether the cause of death is Ajax’s or Jokaste’s desperation, Pyramus and Thisbe’s romantic loss, Herakles’ mythic exagoge or Phaedra’s revenge and frustration, it is predominantly men’s relationships with men, and women’s relationship to men that forms the basis for much of the typology of images of suicide. As victims of these relationships, or as sinners, women’s imaging provides the beginning of a typology which offers a matrix for the further study of the gendered nature of suicide’s imaging. Both aspects can be witnessed in the enduring representation of Dido beyond the grave. Originally called Eliss, the character was renamed Dido, meaning ‘heroic’. However, the images of her death suggest that her heroic status is problematic. At times they perpetuate her heroic status, at other times her disjuncture, her fragmentation. 45

18 ’Dido Mourned by Her Maids’, detail from Codex Virgilius Vaticanus.

Dido is shown in two images from late antiquity (fourth century ad); both are from illuminated manuscripts in the Vatican Museum (illus. 17, 18). In the first, she is placed above the viewer on an elevated couch, with a funeral pyre underneath, the height of which, indicated by a ladder, may serve to symbolize her special status. Dido holds a knife in her upraised right hand, which acts both as a gesture of despair and to illustrate her intention. In the second, she is pictured in death, surrounded by seven women. A peculiarity of the second image is that the woman on the extreme left behind Dido gestures with her hand in an exact replication of Dido’s gesture of despair in the first, though without the knife. Though it is difficult to say which of these images precedes the other chronologically, slight differences may provide a clue to the serial nature of the two. The image containing the seven maidservants has no window and Dido’s body is slumped back, implying the deed has been done. If this is the case, the gesture by the handmaid would then be one of despair for the princess. The absence of the window space implies darkness and signifies that there is no way out for this 46

heroic woman. In both these images Dido dies in her palace. This supplementary shift of location from the public space in the seminal story to the private in the visual representation may well serve to deflate the heroic status gained by Dido. Virgil’s Aeneid reveals the differences as it offers a fairly sedate version of Dido’s story where the pyre was built in the centre of the city of Carthage and was presumed to be for her husband. The story is worth recounting in this respect, as these images break from the original narrative to offer alternative stories. The story by Virgil describes her death in the centre of Carthage, a city built on land which Dido herself had purchased. In one version the death is due to the loss of her lover Aeneas, who had incurred Juno’s wrath and been sent away. In another Aeneas is ignored and it is her loyalty to Carthage which is emphasized. Though Cutter argues that the Vatican images of Dido are somehow less remote than Greek or Etruscan examples,56 the relocation of Dido into the private domain would also be in keeping with the patriarchal ideology of Roman culture. Clearly, the Vatican image relates more to the second story, but the images apply to both tales in their interpretation. In the visual history of suicide, the repetition of Dido’s story emphasizes the ambiguities of suicidal death and the associated problems of analysis they provoke. There is never simply one reading. A study of Dido’s imaging in later periods expounds the development of ideas from suicide as heroic to suicide as irrational, destructive and clinical, and makes problematic the notion of spectatorship. The early history of the visual representation of suicide indicates the need to draw on interconnected practices in order to offer the beginning of a reading, and in turn, these practices give rise to multiple interpretations and contradictions. There are no images of the slaves or plebeians who are listed in Grisé’s work. The ordinary folk, the foot soldiers, the slaves, the plebeians, are missing. Barred from voluntary death due to their status as property they are also excluded from representation. The low number of female images might imply a similar status. In the earliest image which includes the representation of a woman, the case of the Gaul’s wife, she is peripheral. Furthermore the decision to die is not taken by her. Resoluteness and national characteristics belong to the central character and perpetrator, the male. The Gaul’s wife is killed by virtue of being his wife and nothing else. Her body is not given the peculiarities of a ‘Gaul’ but is a concept of ‘woman’. At this stage, the interpretation of the early history of suicide’s representation lends itself to the sphere of mentalités. Representa47

tions of suicide appear to be informed by the collective mentality of the period. That men had more power than women appears to account for their right over life and death. We are thus obliged to consider the values, beliefs and representations of a society or epoch in the way Jacques le Goff has described as pertinent to the practice of l’histoire mentalité.57 Moreover, my interpretation of the Gaul would imply that the system of values and representation of a society may be disguised or not perspicuous. The ‘racial’ aspect of this statue implies ties of blood were values of importance in antiquity. For me, it also captures the sadness, the bloodiness and violence of voluntary death, the finality, the end of human life and the birth of a shadow, a whisper that is powerful and iconic. In this respect, I have not become embroiled in philosophical questions as to the truth of a suicide; nor have I tried to seek to define an essence in the visual. To view the meanings of suicide as trans-historical would also be a pitfall in this argument, though these early images clearly invite comparison. The short historical survey of images of Dido referred to above demonstrates that the gap between signifier and signified is filled by multiple and changing discourses and practices which do not reflect the reality of suicide. Consequently, the discursive traces left to the historian from antiquity make problematic the changing relationship over time between representations of the natural and the social body. The differing visual articulations described above show the way in which suicide entered language, not as suicide in the way we know it but as a voluntary death. Though there is an absence of depressive or melancholic themes in ancient representations of suicide, in the death of Ajax they are hinted at; and though there appears to be a pejorative aspect attributed to deaths such as hanging, or as a result of incest, there is no apparent visual evidence that implies that hanging per se was seen as a bad death. Instead, a hierarchy of heroic suicide emerges that gradually divides into active and passive deaths. In addition, these early images show the ability of a society and its conditions to express a system of norms and values that may never assume an explicit nature.


2 Self-killing from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance

Any study of the historical internalization of images of suicide in late antiquity and Early Christianity will need to negotiate a prolonged silence. From antiquity there is a sluggish but changing evolution of suicide’s meanings which continues through to the early modern period, when quite concentrated challenges to its meanings occur after the period in which Hamlet’s soliloquy was written. Though there is an expansion of suicidal imagery overall, it is not great. The beginnings of this slow-paced spread take place in a period of dramatic change, the crossover epoch where Early Christian culture emerges from Jewish culture from around ad 200. The pattern that emerges of the sign ‘suicide’ in Early Christianity is imbricated and the extant images demonstrate that dissenting interpretations and contrary utilizations are at work, both in late antiquity and throughout the period of Early Christianity. This chapter charts the changing attitudes towards suicide from c. 350 bc to c. ad 1550, from late antiquity through the period of Early Christianity (ad 350–850), the Carolingian era (800–1050), the so called Dark Ages, the Romanesque (1050–1350) and the Renaissance. The extended chronology overlaps with the previous chapter in order to take in the absence of images in Jewish culture and to examine the later growth of suicidal imagery in sacred paintings, prints, and in the decorative arts in the medieval period. The images that illustrate suicidal narratives in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament clearly constitute a break with antiquity, though a thread of continuity may be discerned in the portrayals of the Old Testament hero Samson, and perhaps Saul. What was clearly persistent throughout suicide’s history was the fact that the suicidal deaths of the poor were always considered rueful, and common suicide was rebuked. Though not explicitly offering a condemnation of suicide, Christianity promoted a lifestyle that would inevitably bring about such a censure. Change was brought about indirectly by shifting attitudes to ‘quietus’ and the Christian regard for the secure transit of souls. 49

Indeed, in the medieval period, the complexity of the Christian nature of ‘passing away’, and of judgement, hell and heaven that brought with it the Ars Moriendi and fairly strict deathbed regimens, meant that the notion of dying with grace brought the idea that sudden or violent death was to be regarded with an obsessive suspicion and horror. In the later Middle Ages, Death was deemed to be walking just a few paces behind folk, and ‘his’ skeletal grin or grimace acted as an awful reminder of what was in store for all. Images of rotten and wormy corpses teemed in the period. Beginning in France, and spreading across Europe, the chilling danse macabre reminded folk of the immanence of death. When dying became an art, sudden death became a problem, and suicide came into its own as a signifier with infinite possibilities. Images of biblical suicide also broke away from the original stories in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament and played a greater role in constructing a pejorative meaning to voluntary death. Nevertheless, the outright condemnation of suicide was not an aspect of Early Christian theology. In fact the Scriptures do not take a judgemental position on the matter, and no images appear to exist from the period when the scriptures were written. Only when dying became an art did the art of suicide blossom. It was much later in the medieval period that Christian theology, and the patristic authors particularly, generated new and hostile meanings of suicide which deviated from the Early Christian view of voluntary death. Historical evidence implies that Early Christians saw voluntary death as an act that harms no one but the victim. But, by the end of the period in question, suicide was also regarded as self-killing and wicked.1 Jewish casuistry on suicide and euthanasia is sparse2 and the paucity of images from Judaic culture inhibits an iconographic survey. In fact the emphasis of Jewish art, like Islamic art, is geometric, and the human figure is not generally portrayed. In Early Christianity too, there is a dearth of images depicting suicide. The first images that occur, during the fifth century ad, are of the New Testament suicide of Judas. The whole period of Early Christianity is dominated by the production of that one suicidal image, that of Judas. Images of Judas’s death are, in a way, illustrative of the battle to distinguish the good death of a martyr (witness) from the bad death of suicide: Judas’s death offered the most potent of binaries to the death of Jesus. From Early Christianity the associative and interactive nature of the history of suicide as a process can thus be seen through the linguistic structuring of suicide and martyrdom. By drawing on the heroic 50

voluntary deaths of antiquity as a model for martyrdom and on Judas’s hanging for the sinful death of suicide, the beginnings of a pejorative form of voluntary death as self-murder emerged. Into this came ideas of temptation, as the Devil was always happy to pluck some pitiful soul from the arms of God. This transition was ably assisted by the already extant notion of hanging as a bad, vulgar or feminine death. As a result of the absorption of heroic voluntary death into martyrdom further contrariety occurred in that suicide began to be separated from a good death altogether and became associated with killing or murder. For pagan antiquity, Dido’s suicide offers a suitable locus classicus; for Christianity, Judas’s death became an exemplum. In respect of images for the period of antiquity and Early Christianity, it is highly significant that a key secondary study of the period, by Droge and Tabor, has an illustration on its loose cover which shows what appears to be the stoning to death, the punishment for blasphemy, of a Christian martyr.3 While not dissociated from their argument, this sombre etching is not referred to anywhere within their book. In fact, this is a recent image: designed by Dorothy Marshall, it signifies the process of martyrdom, regarded by the Church to this day as the ultimate in glorious deaths. The point is, of course, that like the suicide, the martyr chooses to die. For the purpose of the book it confirms the horror and yet the nobility of martyrdom and voluntary death among Christians and Jews alike in antiquity. This particular image thus offers what is not inside the main body of the text. In one respect it acts as a closure that points to the way the writers construct their narrative on suicide and martyrdom. Another facet is that the cover-image informs the reader of something absent from the text which would help to make sense of the events and actions of suicide and martyrdom in the period: that is, the scraps of visual evidence. There is little doubt that the failure of Early Christianity to come up with a term for self-killing, as opposed to martyrdom, was a symptom of an ‘ongoing squabble’.4 While theologians recognized the problem of moral uncertainty about the act of voluntary death, they failed to problematize the argument about it. A pejorative term for self-killing did not arise during this period, nor was there an agreement over what might constitute martyrium.5 The semantic shift to a clear distinction between martyrdom and suicide would have to wait. Within this shift, however, the question of the relative positioning of Jesus’s and Judas’s death in terms of suicide, martyrdom, voluntary 51

death, or as the result of criminal charges needs to be addressed. By the Middle Ages death was seen as a passage from one life to another (transitus) rather than an end (terminus): a deliverance, a release or even an escape. ‘How weary we grow of our present bodies’ complained Paul, ‘… but we wouldn’t like to think of dying and having no bodies at all. We want … these dying bodies to … be swallowed up by everlasting life’ (2 Corinthians 5:2–8, as translated in The Living Bible). For the medieval population of Europe the devil was always close to the dying – waiting to snatch them from God. In order to distance Jesus from Judas, the latter’s death clearly has to signify the bad in order to highlight the good, and distinguish the pagan from the Christian. For that to occur a signifying system of supposed mutually exclusive opposites which resolved the ambiguity in voluntary death was required – a system which antiquity did not provide. Visual images of the scapegoat Judas being plucked away from God by demons helped provide a useful but problematic binary. Where death had to signify a transition, rather than a termination point, for the Christian who died well and therefore ‘passed on’, Judas was denied a transition. The traces of visual art that remain show that it was during the late Gothic period that a cultural and social mentality developed that broke from antiquity to openly declare suicide a taboo. Suicide became a dishonourable death. This development was achieved in several ways. First, the story and image of Judas is repeatedly and cumulatively exploited, resulting in scorn and finally loathing for the victim. Second, by the end of the period, the heroic stature of pagan deaths was contested. The rotting corpse was topical in images of the late Middle Ages, but in respect of changing attitudes to voluntary death, it must be considered that Remiet’s fourteenth-century portrayal of the abject, worm-riddled body of Cleopatra is deprecatory (illus. 19).6 The image shows the wormy unburied body of Cleopatra rotting by the side of a river on which Antony is being pursued, having already pierced himself with his sword. It is unusual in the iconography of Cleopatra as it is her beauty that is more than often shown. It may be a sign of French Catholic dread of suicide, or be a deliberate attempt to impose a pejorative meaning on her death, or suicide per se; more than likely it is part of the new expanding iconography of death. The sheer number of abject images may well indicate an attempt by the Church and clergy to scare and horrify ordinary folk and make them seek refuge within the church. In spite of the apparent disapproval of suicide that can be read in these images it has to be said that the Christian Church was probably more 52

19 Pierre Remiet, ‘The Suicides of Antony and Cleopatra’, from Vincent of Beauvais, Miroir historial, 14th century. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.

concerned with recruiting the faithful than making an overt statement about suicide. Third, surviving folkloric notions of demonic or vampiric suicide and demonic insanity were set alongside and fed into religious discourses on suicide, and images of vice and virtue.7 Fourth, throughout the period legal sanctions were established against suicide as a form of killing. Fifth, it must be considered that the images of Judas and the Old Testament suicides helped to authorize the visualization of suicide among sacred themes. Finally, the phenomenon of suicide imagery is particularly Western, and in this respect European Christianity played a key role in the development and growth of suicidal imagery. It has to be said that the major deficit in imagery in Jewish and Early Christian cultures raises questions about the aniconic potency of these cultures, about idolatry, and the associated problems of the graven image.8 It was only with the period of evangelizing after the Lateran Council of 1215, which required all Christians to be instructed in, and to comprehend the scriptures, that biblical images began to take on their most powerful and central role in educating the masses in religious discourse. The first image of Judas, on an ivory casket panel now in the British Museum (illus. 20), at one end of the Christian millennium and Remiet’s vivid illumination of Cleopatra at the other are part of an antithetical discourse, signposting the consolidation of suicide as sin as well as a part of the process of Christianity’s historical legitimization.9 Both project negative connotations onto voluntary death; a death that in Judas’s case can never be heroicized and in Cleopatra’s is de-heroicized. In the first case, suicidal death is seen 53

20 ‘The Deaths of Judas and Jesus’, panel from an ivory casket, early 5th century. British Museum, London.

as a fitting punishment (or atonement?) for sin and, in the second, as the appropriate end to a immoral life. Though the formative years of suicide as a transgression are pre-eminently manifest in the imagery of Judas, the seminal stories in the New Testament versions are not always tirelessly followed, nor is Christian practice always compatible with its theory. In the following four centuries images are few, but from the ninth century the numbers begin to grow. By about 1500, towards the end of this millennial period, there is a major shift in Judas imagery which signifies the change from scribal culture towards print culture; from illiteracy to literacy, and a subsequent growth of suicidal imagery. The importance of the effect of this on the function and place of the visual image cannot be underestimated. The question of the target audience at whom images of Judas’s death were aimed is a real test for the power of thought. The Early Christian period was a world of theologians, thinkers; a world of speculative thought and of scribing. It may be, therefore, that the visualization of violent death was a part of this speculation, a taboo or deemed unnecessary. It may be that the absence of images signals the fact that such a death was not considered alarming or important. Moreover, Early Christian art appropriated pagan works until the Carolingian era (800–1050) whereafter a small number of images of 54

Judas’s death have been found. The actual development of Judas’s imagery took place in the Romanesque period (1050–1350). A stone capital relief from St Lazare in Autun shows Judas hanging. In order to ensure that the job is done properly, and to symbolize the despair that prompted his death, his enmity and the maleficial nature of his death by hanging, he is being throttled by two demons, one at each end of a rope (illus. 21). The biblical accounts of Judas do not include the demons, though it has to be said that these stories were not easily imaged. Endeavouring to depict the texts in images was fraught with difficulty.

21 Gislebertus, ‘The Hanging of Judas’, relief on a capital, c. 1120–40, stone. Cathedral of St Lazare, Autun.


The Old Testament contains five cases of self-killing, telling the stories of six suicides. Crudens’ Concordance to the Old and New Testament cites several other references to thoughts on voluntary death, where dying might be in preference to living. In addition, the Jewish chronicles describe mass heroic suicides such as the Masada incident of ad 73 where Josephus led rebel troops against the Romans (Jewish War 3.331). Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities and his Jewish War report two dozen incidents. Masada, described in the original Greek text by the term autocheira to depict own-handedness, does not appear to be illustrated at all until the eighteenth century, when Ramberg did a series of engravings entitled the Men of Masada. The heroic episode was much debated by defenders and by critics of voluntary death and self-killing, yet it is virtually ignored in visual culture. Mass suicide is depicted in Pierre Remiet’s fourteenth-century illuminations for the manuscript the Historie ancienne, and shows the suicide of the women of Cimbria who strangled their own babies and then hung themselves rather than face capture and degradation by the Romans. The consummate horror of the mass slaughter of woman and children is depicted. The theme is also taken up in a heroic engraving from c. 1543 bearing the initials I K and showing the women in the act of slaughtering their children (illus. 22). It shows on the right a woman suffocating a child, another with a baby suspended by its legs. In the foreground lies a noose below a hanged woman with arms outstretched. Other children lie dead on the floor and on the right a woman hangs just above the floor facing outward from the room. Reminiscent of the death of Decebulus and the Ludovisi Gaul, it calls up the violence of antiquity, the Roman and Greek ‘civilizations’ where clearly the look over the shoulder is one of fear and expectancy. The lack of images of this type may well indicate that these topics were considered too horrific or atrocious. The incidents themselves were far into the past by the time they were illustrated. Before examining the representations of biblical self-killings, and to provide a context for my survey of biblical suicide, I list the Old Testament suicides below and propose to analyse these fundamental texts to try and establish a biblical view of self-destruction – if such a view exists, and to discern if suicidal method and suicidal motive are linked. In each case, I have referenced the sources from the King James Bible. In addition, these texts have been checked against two Greek translations in order to seek out discrepancies in translation.10 None have come to light. They are as follows: In Judges (9:53–4) there is the story of Abimelech and his armour-bearer (the armour56

22 ‘I K’, The Voluntary Death of the Women of Cimbria, c. 1543, engraving.

bearer does not commit suicide but plays a role in Abimelech’s death) and in 1 Samuel (31:4–5) the story of the deaths of Saul and his armour-bearer. In Judges (16:28 –30) there is the death of Samson, in 2 Samuel (17:23) the death of Ahitophel, and finally, in 1 Kings (16:18), the death of Zimri. It is revealing that no word or phrase for suicide exists in the language of the Old Testament. It is also difficult to discern any patterns that link particular suicidal methods, such as hanging, with particularly evil motives, though there a clear link between suicide and bad characters or cowards. The Old Testament indicates that the motive for voluntary death was not a concern. That apart, certain methods of suicide, Ahitophel’s hanging for example, appear to signify a bad individual – though not (as yet) a bad death. What is evident is that to take one’s life was deemed to be a violent death, with masculine connotations. There are no female suicides in the Bible at all. These traits are exemplified in the case of Abimelech, a nefarious character in the book of Judges and a mass-murderer. In the biblical story, Abimelech had besieged the city of Thebez, but had been mortally wounded by a stone dropped by a woman from the roof of the city. The text tells the story of the final events as follows: And a certain woman cast a piece of millstone upon Abimelech’s head, and all to brake his skull. Then he called hastily unto … his armourbearer, and said to him. Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, a woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died.

Abimelech, rather than die by a woman’s hand, dies by the sword, though not exactly by his own hand. He orders his armour-bearer to 57

do the deed. The passage from Judges simply describes the act and makes no judgement on his self-killing, though the form of death could be deemed unmanly. A ninth-century illuminated manuscript in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana shows the woman on a high tower about to drop the stone (illus. 23). Intention is shown by the woman holding the raised stone over her head, and the real cause of Abimelech’s death, his loss of self-esteem in battle, is heightened by the suspense created by this halted action. The story of his death at the hands of a woman is consequently illustrated. The illumination shows the events leading up to his death and captures the moment before the face-saving act of his actual death by his armour-bearer in the biblical text. The real growth of these images, like those of Judas, came much later. Versions of Abimelech’s death appear in the fourteenth-century Queen Mary Psalter, and in the earlier Polish Roman Catholic ecclesiastics’ Parisian Maciejowski Bible. In the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of London there is a watercolour copy by Charles Stothard of c. 1819, after a thirteenth-century fresco in the Painted Chamber in the Palace of Westminster, with raised gilt detail, showing Abimelech’s death. Abimelech is shown wearing a surcoat semé with the goat’s head, an emblem of immorality (illus. 24). Over time, the actual motive for death is lost, and the nature of his death is bound up with his iniquitous life; the image converts his death from one that is to a large extent ambiguous, to one that hints at a nefarious past resulting in an evil ending. In the light of the noble deaths of pagan antiquity, one might make assumptions about the linkages between suicidal method and motive in these deaths, and judge Abimelech’s initial injury and self-killing as a noble death. However, the request to the sword bearer to slay him could also be seen as contemptible. The biblical text does not infer any such condemnation. Nor does it suggest a hatred for oneself. Abimelech’s shame rests not on his death per se but on his potential death at the hands of a woman. The particular form of his death loses some of the nobility of a voluntary death by means of a gladiatorial instrument and through time it takes on the stigma of the pejorative suicide. Compare this story to the death of Saul, who falls on his sword to avoid capture after his armour-bearer has refused to commit the act as Saul requested. The bearer then falls ‘likewise on his sword’. Saul, king of Israel, had disobeyed the Lord’s commandments. His undoing appears to be the result of irrational thinking, in particular his suspicions of David.11 In contrast to the deaths of Saul or Abimelech, Samson’s acquittal 58

23 ‘The Death of Abimelech’, from a 9th-century manuscript. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome.

24 Charles Alfred Stothard, Abimelech, 1819, watercolour with raised gilt detail, copy of a (destroyed) mural of c. 1292–7 formerly in the Painted Chamber of the Palace of Westminster, London. Society of Antiquaries, London.

of wrongdoing gains credence.12 After pulling down the temple on his mocking captors, the Philistines, with the words ‘let me die with the Philistines’, he is then ‘taken up’ and buried by his family. Saul, on the other hand, is beheaded by the Philistines and his body hung on the wall of Beth-shan. Samson’s plea can be read as a prayer to God for forgiveness for what he is about to do, and for a direct passage to heaven. A fourth-century sculpture of Samson can be found on the pavement of the Church of the Martyrs at Misis in Turkey, and from the ninth century Samson’s death appears regularly in illuminated manuscripts. This may give recognition to the argument that a good death as a ‘martyr’ was more readily represented and that there was a blanket of silence over the deaths of Abimelech, Ahitophel, Zimri and Saul, which were less popular. These absences are all the more salient in view of the emphasis which is given to martyrdom in Christian iconography. In the hush, these voluntary deaths were relegated to the sidelines while martyrdom occupied the foreground, and in time, perhaps inadvertently, ‘voluntary death’ became an imitation of the death of Judas, and led to the pejorative suicide. There is always bias in language, however, though we can assume that care was taken to avoid ambiguity and to make the distinctions absolute. Jesus, it must be recalled, was crucified under Roman law as a criminal. Ahitophel had joined David’s son, Absalom, in his conspiracy against his father, the patriarch David. When they were defeated Ahitophel ‘hanged himself and died’. The biblical story is recounted as prosaic, though the annotated biblical text refers to God’s appointment as cause. God’s determination is thus referred to with Ahitophel, and this slight linguistic difference could offer a clue to reading his death as a negative. Ahitophel does not wait for David’s judgement, nor for God’s. In contrast, Samson had asked God for help. There are apparent comparisons also between the death of Ahitophel and the death of Judas; in both cases, the perpetrator of an act of betrayal takes his own life by hanging. We have to wait until the twelfth century to find an image of Zimri’s death by burning (illus. 25). The illuminated manuscript shows Zimri burning on a tower surrounded by men on horseback. It could be an image of someone trapped by fire but the troops outside signify his defeat; the flames his imminent burning in hell. The biblical story describes this voluntary death as follows: ‘And it came to pass, when Zimri saw the city was taken, that he went into the palace of the king’s house, and burnt the king’s house over him with fire, and died.’ Rather than have the house ‘over him with fire’ the image shows Zimri on top of the house, thus enhancing his trapped state 60

25 ‘The Death of Zimri’, 12th century, manuscript illumination. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome.

while he burns in the flames. A clue to the nature of Zimri’s life is given earlier in the text where we read that Zimri was a sinner who ‘walked in the ways of Jeroboam, and had provoked the Lord’s anger’. Jeroboam was an idolater, a worshipper of graven images. Like Jeroboam, Zimri was also a murderer and had killed all the males of the house of Baasha. Zimri’s death is seen as an act of desperation, and his self-burning the deed of an evil man. Thus Zimri (the name means renown), is remembered as an evil man, and a self-killer. There appear to be a limited number of images of Zimri including another illuminated manuscript by Ohnerfurcht from around 1400 (illus. 26). The image shows the act of suicide and the act relates to his evil life. Zimri is watched by three soldiers, the flames signify the torment that is to come. These depictions from Old Testament stories evoke a mental image that invents a presence which is recognizable by attributes relating to the story. Such figurative art was clearly deployed for 61

26 Johann Ohnerfurcht, ‘Zimri’, c. 1400, manuscript illumination. Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris.

didactic purposes, to help a Christian audience to distinguish wrong from right, and give life to the biblical story and the persons of Zimri, Ahitophel or Samson through a sign. The presence created by the sign has important ramifications for suicidal discourse in that, from the twelfth century, the historian can discern an effort to find means to project onto voluntary death a contrived meaning. Visual art provided the perfect vehicle for this. The illustration of Zimri could have a different meaning. Zimri is, of course, not a Christian but a Jew; and though the image is from a Christian manuscript, it shows the end of a murderer and idolater who is pre-Christian. It has been noted elsewhere that there might 62

have been propaganda value in such images, which might be deployed to encourage anti-Jewish feeling.13 Otherness in terms of gender and race was thus visually constructed alongside pejorative meanings for voluntary death. It is more probable that it was to the biblical texts that artists turned to in order to find a pejorative. To draw on the pagan image would celebrate heroic suicide and pagan death; to draw on Old Testament texts was more readily acceptable. In any event, the reported nature of the biblical stories left them wide open to interpretation. These founding biblical texts do not offer a single term to encapsulate the pejorative suicide, but use a variety of matter-of-fact expressions which describe the act. Apart from these cases, where voluntary death is referred to it is linked to a wish to be in heaven, as in the epistle to the Philippians where Paul wishes to die in order to be with Christ (Philippians 1:20–23). The desire to die is expressed as part of a passing on from the material world to eternity. In these cases the will to live asserts itself over the death wish, and signifies a Christian attitude to staying alive. If Daube’s theory of the verb preceding the noun in the development of language is applied here, we are left with six deaths which are not suicide at all.14 With the exception of Abimelech, who was already dying at the hands of another, these deaths could be categorized as voluntaria mors. As Daube has indicated, voluntary death and its pejorative sense had yet to find a name. It had also to find other roles and other senses. Suicide is an infinitely variable experience, though linguistically it might well aim to refer to a single category or entity. Conceivably his analysis of the changing language of suicide is too abstract to explain the historical process of self–killing’s changing roles and meanings. His own theory is revealing in this respect. ‘Language’, Daube reminds the reader, is a noun, and his linguistic survey, though convenient, would imply selfkilling’s imagery as a thing, not part of a process.15 In this respect Daube refers to the failure of early Hebrew writers to coin a noun for ‘suicide’. The act of suicide was most often described by a verb such as to die or to kill. Daube, in ‘The Linguistics of Suicide’, argues that the use of ‘killing’ indicates a systematization and institutionalization confirming ‘suicide’ as a concept. Most of the images of Old Testament suicides show the act itself. Zimri is burning in the flames and, in a small image from the early fifteenth century in the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in Paris, Saul is shown pierced by his sword. The earliest images traced are to be found in illuminated manuscripts from the ninth century.16 In the fifteenth-century image Saul’s armour-bearer lies on the ground at 63

his feet, reversing the biblical story, and allows the king the stage. In the biblical story Saul dies first. In 1483, the Nuremberg Bible shows Saul’s killing and beheading. In the ultimate face-saver, an engraving from the Dürer Bible shows Abimelech dead at the feet of his armour-bearer and excludes the woman. Much later, on a Delft tile, Ahitophel is seen hanging in the background. From the twelfth century Christian aesthetics thus incited the viewer to follow in the ways of God, and the powerful notion of selfsacrifice that was carried in these images contradicted the heroic aspect of voluntary death. It was however, the New Testament story of Judas above all that attracted the patrons and ‘painters’. In the New Testament one ‘suicide’ is featured; that of Judas. The very beginning of Christianity’s story in the New Testament evolves from the death of Jesus and the accompanying death of Judas. Judas’s suicide is plainly reported in the biblical texts of Matthew (27:5) and Acts (1:18) and lends itself to a simple visual representation. Matthew ends with the story of the crucifixion and Judas’s death. The first book after the gospels, Acts, begins with Judas’s suicide. In the visual iconography of Christianity’s story there is clearly a desire to separate these two deaths and in the process of separation Judas’s death becomes the death of a sinner, and gradually a suicide. How is this done? Matthew tells the story as follows: ‘And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.’ In Acts, however, there is a difference: ‘Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.’ Acts does not actually mention hanging unless we take the expression ‘fall headlong’ to be a euphemism for it. Both versions refer to Aceldama, ‘The Field of Blood’ (Matthew 27:8; Acts 1:19). Most illustrations (illus. 27) show Judas hanging, as in the Matthew version, though one image has been identified, an eleventhcentury painting in the Vatican, where Judas is shown hanging and disembowelled (illus. 35). However, the subject’s popularity in the Middle Ages, especially with miniaturists, means a full survey has yet to be done. The latter image reconciles the two accounts. Judas’s disunity, multiplicity or duplicity is represented in this disembowelling. Judas is not caught between heaven and earth, as his bowels return to the earth. Where Augustinian philosophy does break from the biblical text is to add to the original crime, that of betrayal, the further crime of selfkilling. Augustine’s City of God misrepresents the account in Matthew by referring to the ‘traitor’ Judas and, crucially, by seeing 64

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35 ‘Judas Hanged’, 11th century, manuscript illumination. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome.

the death as a sin and not an atonement. Judas, according to Augustine, was heaping up further sin by his hanging. Augustinian terminology is of interest here, as he offers no term that indicates a deprecatory argument. Augustine’s work describes such a death as ‘rushing towards one’s death’ (ad mortem festinatio), or ‘voluntary destruction’ (interitus voluntarias).17 Though the term ‘destruction’ might carry pejorative connotations, Judas’s hanging was seen as a sign of his criminal nature: not a release; nor a determination by God, but a rebuttal of God’s laws.18 In Augustine’s polemic, not to condemn this death was to limit God’s power. The surviving images however, do not simply portray the act of his death; ‘suicide’ is a powerful sub-presence. The extent to which Judas’s story became embedded in Christian attitudes to self-killing was given further emphasis by the fact that by the sixth century Augustinian philosophy became canonical law. In particular, three church councils turned philosophy into law. In 533 the Spanish Council of Orleans denied funeral rites to self-killers accused of crime; in 563 the Council of Braga declared that any selfkiller must be denied funeral rites; and finally, in 578, the Council of Auxerre ensured the penalties were strengthened in relation to views on suicide in Christian doctrine. In 693 the Council of Toledo reinforced these laws. In Spain, at least, suicide was not deemed to be as severe as murder and this was indicated by the severity of punishment 73

for the latter. Theology thus broke from its fundamental text, that is to say the New Testament. Such a breaking occurred on many points but a central feature of debate in this respect was Judas’s hanging. Two significant elements are brought together in images of Judas: the rope as a fitting end for the execution of a villain and the stigmatization of suicide. His desperation is connoted and often his sin prompted by the Devil. Though hanging was already significatory of despair, desperatio, the most blameworthy of motives, this is signified in Judas’s death by other means such as the inclusion of a demon. The visual evidence implies by the repetition of this one image of Judas that his self-hanging was censured, and the depictions serve to act as a sign of his personality. The irreducibility of suicide’s meanings is evident in this case and in spite of the variations and the differing appropriation of the Judas theme, Judas himself remains recognized essentially by the rope. It is far too reductive to associate the quantity of images of Judas with Augustine severity, though the canonical acceptance of Augustinian thought and the proliferation of images do appear to coincide. Augustine’s Neoplatonism and his apparent loathing of the fourth and fifthcentury Donatists and their ‘wish to die’ meant that voluntary death was given meanings that wove together vanity and cowardice with a demonic death by people who gave ‘place to the demon within themselves’ and whose ‘daily sport was to kill themselves’.19 Yet for four centuries after Augustine there were no real decisions made on voluntary death. The presumed intensity of feeling towards voluntary death by Christians cannot be explained by biblical references to suicide. To question the orthodox belief that the period from the fourth century bc to the fifteenth century ad gave a negative image to ‘self-injury’ would be a pointless exercise, but that there was much in this period that later bore fruit within the medieval period is obvious; so too is the fact that the Judas image forms a prototype for self-killing as an evil death, but, I would extend this argument to examine the establishment of suicidal motive and method as intertwined. It is too simplistic to argue that the biblical suicides were seen as the consequence of sin, though, as an alternative, there is some mileage in the development of ‘suicidal’ law as part of a growth of antagonism to barbarian rule. The books of the Bible may break from what is deemed a pagan belief, but so too does the imaging, from its original tone and authority to invoke other narratives. From the third to the seventh century, the period of schism in Christianity, there is no evidence of suicidal imagery and it was not until after 1054, when the breach became 74

permanent, that the regular imaging of suicide occurs. These images reinforced canonical law from the twelfth century, when the notion of punishment fitting the crime of satanic martyrdom meant different methods might invoke different punishment. The growth of images of ‘Satan’s martyrs’ thus coincides with the rise of religious and civil condemnation of suicide. The ivory casket panel with the earliest-known image of Judas shows Christ on the right surrounded by two male figures and one female (Mary), and on the left Judas hanging, as a reminder of his treachery the bag of silver is spilled at his feet (illus. 20). Judas’s isolation is enhanced by his being placed separately from the rest of the group, whose heads are turned from him, leaving a visible space between him and the disciples around Christ. The central space is nearly empty, but the uncomfortable figure of Mary, mother of mercy, stands frozen in the artful gap. In keeping with the scriptures and prophecies, the image evokes a sense of desolation.20 The presence on the same plane of the hanging and the crucifixion functions as a constant memorial of his motive, his betrayal of Jesus, and of its result. For Jesus, the cross affirms his relationship with heaven and performs the role of a bridge to God. One does not get the sense of a Marian myth at work here, rather she is ‘bound to the earth’, separated from her son. In death, images of Judas must illustrate his misdemeanour, his ‘treason’ towards Jesus. Both Jesus and Judas are shown between heaven and earth. Jesus looks straight ahead, Judas’s head is broken and twisted upwards. By placing him in company with his victim, and adding the silver, his crime is evidenced and his punishment illustrated. The cross must point upwards and the rope must hang down. The tree acts as a scaffold. The placing of the two events together in this early image of a hanging is close to the written text in Acts and establishes a format for many of the images of Judas, though the bulk of them show him separate from Christ. Later, the format was also used in the imaging of traitors’ deaths which were seen as a Judas’s death. The configuration of dual personifications allows the artist to depict a simple binary opposition, separating the inferior from the superior. Towards the end of the period in question, Judas’s motive and his duality is shown in a fourteenth-century Italo-Hungarian illumination21 where he is seen hanging from a black frame by what appears to be part of his garment (illus. 36). The frame cuts him off from all around and amplifies his desolation. He appears to be dead, yet clutched in his hand is the bag containing his 30 pieces of silver. To his right is a group of four figures, which at first glance could be 75

36 ‘Judas Hanging’, Italo-Hungarian manuscript illumination, c. 14th century.

the chief priests and elders. The nearest to Judas holds an identical bag and unlike the others looks sideways. The hair and the undergarment are the same as Judas’s; and though the sidelong glance is turned across the priests, the feet are carefully directed towards the hanging figure. The hand holding the bag is a replica of the hand of the hanging Judas. It can be assumed that both figures represent Judas. This clever ‘identikit’ picture places him ‘in the frame’. These intelligent visual tricks of time appear to negate continuity. The ivory casket panel of Judas’s death and Jesus’s crucifixion place two events occurring at different times together in the same space: though one a consequence of the other, they are woven synchronously 76

on the same plane. Yet the fourteenth-century manuscript places Judas in two different time frames within one in order to show a continuity, to tell the story, to depict one act as the trigger for the other. Synchronicity, often designated as a property of ‘modernism’, is employed in these cases to reflect what was written, not to illuminate what was seen. The configuration foregrounds Judas’s materialism and in this case the transaction forms the foundation of the story. The image is not entirely what-is-written-to-be and breaks from the former images in another way. In this sense it denies its own redundancy by adding to the biblical story and giving meaning to suicide by adding the motive and tying it with the method. In the illumination, the inclusion of a small black demon above Judas’s right shoulder is significatory of the demonization of suicide in the medieval period or of the satanic instigation of death: Judas’s temptation by the devil and his eternal damnation. Satanic instigation is not inferred in the early images, though a woodcut from the fifteenth century shows a winged demon pulling Judas’s soul, imaged as a child, from his belly. In the medieval period these images mingle old folk stories, lay religious superstition and clerical thought. With print culture these horae were disseminated throughout Europe. The actual historicization of demonic suicide comes later in the early modern period when demons began to act as metaphors for other anxieties than psychical or spiritual ones. By 1677 William Gilpin’s Daemonologia placed suicide amongst discourses on demons and witches. Part of a dynamics of oppression, his text makes links with witchcraft, and therefore interweaves conceptualizations of Woman with demonic and suicidal discourse. Judas’s imagery was thus subject to variations, first schism, and then later in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, sectarian rivalry. If the nature of the biblical text’s reportage thwarted those who sought in the bible a justification for the condemnation of self-killing, they inevitably turned to the visual, and to the sixth of the ten commandments. Thus the law of God was used to proclaim the fact that Judas had taken ‘the law’ into his own hands. He had, in changing Christian belief, either committed murder on himself or usurped the power of death which the Lord alone had the right to exercise. Nowhere is patriarchal power more obvious than in the few images of women from the period, and these occur mostly at the end of this long history. In one of the series of paintings by Giotto in the Arena Chapel in Padua, a personification of despair, Desperatio, the binary of Hope, is represented as a hanged woman (illus. 28).22 A later image, of the impatient man throwing himself on his sword, can be found in 77

Comenius’ seventeenth century Latin dictionary. Published in Nuremberg, the Orbis Sensualium Pictus23 shows a woman with a lamb praying on the right and in the middle ground the frenzied man impaling himself on his sword. An exaggerated lightning bolt, symbolizing the stormy outcome of his impatience, erupts from a cloud above him (illus. 37). The personifications of anger and despair by Giotto negate any authority of likeness and deny the woman a nation and a name. This removes any referential aspect to anyone in particular, but refers to ‘woman’ in general. Giotto’s Desperatio is an iconic image where signifier and signified are problematized and the nature of what is signified (desperatio) appears to have a necessary relationship with the signifier (a woman hanging). Despair is also synonymous with suicide. In this example the heroic death of the besieged (the ‘no way out’ of antiquity or Durkheim’s suicides obsidionaux) is replaced by a death caused by desperation that offers no clues to motive or cause other than hopelessness itself. It would be difficult to apply Durkheimian notions of anomic, altruistic or egoistic suicide to these personifications, though it is tempting to infer that for women a particular ‘no way out’ is constructed in these images. Despair as a motive for suicide was in evidence throughout the late medieval to early modern period. Ovid’s story of ‘Procris and --_.-~

. . ......

37 ‘The Impatient Man’, illustration from Johann Amos Comenius, Orbis Sensualium Pictus (c. 1658).


Cephalus’ is one which has some similarities to Pyramus and Thisbe, though in this case it is Cephalus who kills his wife, thinking she is a wild animal. Procris has been informed that Cephalus meets a young maiden after hunting, though in truth he has been talking to ‘Zephyr’, the breeze. She hides herself in the bushes to watch and wait and hears him talking. Cephalus hears her sobbing, and thinking it is a wild animal he throws his javelin (which Procris gave him) into the bushes. Procris’ dying words are to beg him not to marry Zephyr. Bernadino Luini’s colourful fresco appends Ovid’s story with the visual tale of Cephalus’ despair leading to attempted suicide with a cord around his neck. His attempt is thwarted by a shepherd. The picture’s romantic theme is enhanced by the fact that Luini has painted blossoms and leaves on the plaster (illus. 38). The bind in which woman is placed is unequivocally illustrated by an exceptional image of the death of Haman, his sons and his daughter derived from the Old Testament. It is a most meaningful visual example that features a family: a father, his twelve sons and his daughter. From the book of Esther, the fourteenth-century visualization of the story shows Haman’s daughter sprawled dead at the foot of

38 Bernardino Luini, The Despair of Cephalus, c. 1520–22, fresco. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.


a tree, her arms indicating the tree with her ten brothers hanging lifeless from the branches. The tree is a parody of a family tree, the sort one still finds containing the precious family portraits on household shelves, and of the Tree of Life. However, the daughter does not appear in the seminal text. On the face of things, the legendary story is one of mistaken identity and tragedy. The girl, who is nameless, empties a slop bucket on her father’s head in the belief he is Mordecai, and then in shame and guilt hangs herself. Mordecai is described in the biblical text as an earthly representation of a chief Babylonian god, and cousin to Esther. He is the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, a Jew, and he takes charge of Haman’s estates (Esther 8:2). Haman, a plotter, and persecutor of the Jews, had built a gallows to hang Mordecai, but is victim of his own plot and is hung on his own gallows, his ten sons are then killed. This illumination adds to the biblical story by including the sons in Haman’s hanging, and supplements it with a tale of a silly woman who commits suicide as the result of a foolish error. The Hebraic illuminated manuscript shows the incident leading to her death in the bottom left corner. Dominating the right is the tree, and hanging on the top of the tree is Haman. On each of the ten branches hang one of his sons. This isolated image descending from Jewish culture, dated 1325, depicts a persecutor of the Jews and is evidence of the fact that in the Jewish world there was no set testimony on suicide. In the visual, Haman is humiliated by his daughter and death results for him and all his family. The condemnation of suicide is not evident in the image, indeed there is humour in the story. The self-killing of the daughter in this case is fictional. The unsigned mythical daughter is seen as the stimulus for the whole episode. Where these images are connotative, Judas’s image is in a sense denotative. Though not a portrait nor iconic, his images have a name which distinguishes Judas Iscariot from all others. At the same time his name and his death connote human failing. The myth of hanging as a bad death is also strengthened by the image, though equally it has to be recognized that suicide may have been condemned under Christianity because Judas, the arch-villain of the Christian story, died that way. Accordingly biblical suicide was an all-male phenomenon. In a non-biblical text, Prudentius’ War of the Soul, Ira in a battle with Patentia has a fit of rage, smashes her sword to pieces and stabs herself with the remaining sharp piece.24 Wrath turned inward as a cause of suicide goes back to Ajax, but no two deaths seem to be the same. No representations of these stories are known until the medieval period. In fact, visualizations of the biblical stories and of Prudentius arose 80

only when image-makers and image-making established themselves as part of an ongoing debate against iconophobia in the Middle Ages. Though Lucretia’s suicide was much discussed in the period of Early Christianity, no images of that period have been traced. It is with the advent of the Renaissance and an ‘artistic’ consideration for the beauty of the female body, and for the destructive outcome of her act (or positive in the birth of the republic), that the image is popularized. In a frustrating piece of scholarship The Rapes of Lucretia. A Myth and its Transformations, Ian Donaldson refers to several heroic images of Lucretia but gives no clues at all to their whereabouts.25 We have to wait till the medieval period, where it is not always her heroism that is pictured. In the hands of the medieval translator of Valerius Maximus’ Facta et dicta memorabilia, Lucretia’s antique virtue is coloured, tinged with vice (illus. 39). Remiet’s picture illustrating the text shows Lucretia in front of rather nonchalant rapist Sextus Tarquinius with his arms folded, confronting a crowd of male onlookers.26 Like the Augustinian condemnation of the raped woman this illumination questions Lucretia’s virtue and breaches the convention of her death as heroic. Augustine attacked and undermined the heroic view to argue that Lucretia was guilt-laden, and the guilt was the pleasure she received from her rape.27 Despite Augustine’s antagonistic references, Lucretia’s heroism survives the medieval period, and in the Gesta romanorum her sacrifice is compared to that of Christ. However, the heroism takes on a gendered aspect where, in literature, reference is made to a male soul in a female body.28 Pliny’s Naturalis Historia states quite emphatically

39 Pierre Remiet, ‘The Suicide of Lucretia’, illumination from Valerius Maximus, Faits et dits mémorables, 14th century. Bibliothèque Municipale de Troyes.


that there are no statues of women among the Roman heroes.29 Three depictions can be found on Etruscan funerary urns from the first century bc.30 The first statues appear to be dated from the twelfth century ad, though it is indicated that the growth period of painting was from the fifteenth century.31 The statue of Cleopatra that spawned so many poems and copies indicates a differing iconography to that of Lucretia (illus. 40).32 First recorded in 1512, it has been identified as Cleopatra by the snake bracelet wound around the upper part of the left arm. It has also been identified as the nymph Ariadne and as Dido.33 The reclining posture would rule out a Lucretia. Barbara Taylor’s essay on ‘The Medieval Cleopatra: The Classical and Medieval Tradition of Chaucer’s Legend of Cleopatra’ gives evidence of the rich iconography of Cleopatra’s death.34 The ambiguity of suicide and the growing divide in suicide’s history might well be witnessed in two very different versions of it. Of seven miniatures by Remiet in Vincent’s Miroir historial one illustrates the story of Antony and Cleopatra’s death (illus. 19). Where the wholeness of the body might symbolize the heroic and avoid anxiety around suicidal death, Remiet’s miniature shows Cleopatra laid out at the bottom of the picture surrounded by dragons and eaten by worms.35 The abject body lies exposed on the surface and refusal to bury the suicide in the river is connoted. In

40 Cleopatra, marble, Vatican Museum, Rome (Galleria delle Statue).



41 Lucretia, c. 1475, woodcut.

keeping with medieval superstition the dragons may well symbolize demonic temptation from within or without. Lucretia’s images, like Cleopatra’s, do not proliferate until the early modern period. Most depict her in a public space stabbing herself and demonstrate that even throughout the growth of Christianity, Lucretia’s power is not eroded. In fact, it may even have grown stronger. A woodcut from about 1475 shows Lucretia with the sword piercing her right through (illus. 41). This idiosyncratic image differs from most in that Lucretia is generally shown with the blade touching below her naked breast, as in the sixteenth-century image by Franz Zimmerman, or with the blade just entering the flesh, as in Joos van Cleve’s painting of 1515. Lucretia’s rape by Sextus Tarquinius, and her public self-killing, is maintained in plays, poetry and images as a heroic act till the nineteenth century. In most cases of this extensive iconography she is portrayed as a beautiful woman and intact, though the knife is there to recall the rape. A single painting of Lucretia by Dürer shows a partially naked woman (illus. 42). Dürer’s image of Lucretia is perhaps an image of anxiety and belongs to the era of severity designated for England by MacDonald and Murphy,36 though this may well have been the case for Germany too. It constructs a body that is contorted and a ‘likeness’ which has negative physiognomic properties. Writing a chapter on Christianity’s impact on suicide’s images is highly problematic. The writer is continually obliged to look for images in later periods to illustrate the biblical stories. The relation83

42 Albrecht DĂźrer, The Suicide of Lucretia, 1518, oil on lime panel. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

ship between the stories and pictures is also problematic, as the visual imagery acts as a supplement to the written word in the same way that the written acts as a supplement to speech. The images of suicide traced from later periods, then, tend to not just call up the gap in visual evidence but at the same time to fill it. There is clearly a historical danger in this process where these images of suicide represent what Derrida called the ‘anterior default of a presence’.37 In historical terms, this represents a slow depreciation of ideas from voluntary death to self-killing, self-murder and to the pejorative suicide. Accordingly, the reception of these images indicates a stigmatization process at work which signals a discontinuity with the antique and yet overlaps with it. It also indicates a slow but fairly resolute growth in canonical law and then civil law in opposition to suicidal death. New meanings of suicide arose alongside old ones, and a stratification took place. Above all, the image of Judas was utilized in the construction of suicide as a bad death. Judas was first seen as a criminal with his betrayal represented by the inclusion of his victim, Jesus, and his motivation by the portrayal of the purse. Then he was shown alone and his original crime of treachery was isolated, to be replaced by the additional crime of self-killing. Even so the motive of betrayal was taken to have a bearing on the method. Published in 1613, Reverend Tukes’s Discourse on Death provided a valuable slant on attitudes to self-murder in this respect. Tukes identified two sorts of ‘voluntary deaths’, one lawful and honest, such as the death of martyrs, the other unlawful and dishonest, where men have ‘neyther lawful calling nor honest ends’.38 In Tukes’s opinion, if the cause was honourable then so was the death. Yet in the period before Tukes’s useful guidelines were established there was an attempt by artists to portray the ‘word’ in ‘image’. Artists sought visual equivalents for the literary biblical text. The survey of these images above has demonstrated that the images form a language over and above the written. Trying to tie them to the biblical referent is perhaps a historical problem in itself. The extended chronological span of Early Christianity and its meeting with antiquity and Jewish culture indicates the complex nature of the historical problem in hand. The loss of chronological faithfulness serves to highlight central issues of the problems of such a history. Across time, suicide’s imagery forms a metalanguage which begins with its separation from words. Linearity is lost and though the logos of suicide clearly concerned itself with speech (parole) and the oral text, the images that aim to represent the written word finally break from speech to offer a differing sign system. The quietness is difficult to cope with. 85

St Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians are testament to the problem.39 In 2 Corinthians 3:6, Paul, a man of letters, warned of the abstractness of writing (langue). He states that it is the spirit which is important, ‘for the letter killeth, and the spirit giveth life’. This is extremely apt for the present study. The spirits or ghosts of these images of voluntary death might also be deemed to have killed, but in turn, the death and the image offer a life beyond death. This is clearly recognized in the story of the death of an early martyr, Perpetua, whose name is significant in discourses on martyrdom and readily applies to suicide also. Immortality was signified by death and another life began afterwards. The same can be said of the image. These potent apparitions of suicides have an afterlife. The silence surrounding suicide in Early Christianity was to be broken in the medieval period. The lurid stories of the Apocrypha such as that of Razis in Macabees (2:14, 45–6) whose initial suicide attempt fails, and who tears out his own entrails and throws them on the ground, is not imaged. The restriction of ecclesiastical patronage of the church to sacred themes from the Bible and an aversion to such macabre topics may well be the reason. Increasingly, however, self-killing as a form of death became branded as wrongful across European society, where death was a material and immaterial reality and dying had to be done with grace. The extent of the Ars Moriendi is evidence of the breadth of such gospel. To avoid the liminal stages between life and death by ending life was to usurp both the power and authority of the church and the power of death itself, of which no mortal was assumed to have the right to partake. In the wake of this, the layering of suicide deepened as other strata formed on top of the heroic death of antiquity, and a stigmatized form of suicide as self-killing began to form a thin crust over the voluntary deaths of antiquity. In the early modern period a further stratum of representation was laid down through a struggle between the idealization of a heroic voluntary death and the supposition that to kill oneself was a crime, or that such a death might be caused by melancholia, or a crying illness. 1644 saw the publication of John Donne’s Biathanatos, written and distributed to friends earlier with instructions neither to destroy it nor to pass it on. In 1621 Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy was published, and in 1637, John Sym’s Life’s Preservatives. Both opposed self-murder and indicated clearly competing discourses around self-murder at the time. Much later William Stikeley’s Of the Spleen (1723) and the physician George Cheyne’s The English Malady: or a Treatise of Nervous Diseases of all Kinds, situated 86

suicide within the beginnings of a medical discourse. The importance of staying alive, and the nature and links of melancholic illness with suicide are clearly reflected in the titles. Moreover, these configurations became entwined in the contrivance ‘crying crimes’ in order to combat the heroic; and lying deep within these discourses can also be located the effects of an historical shift in sovereign power, from God to ‘man’. However, emphasizing the continuous religious condemnation of suicide, the spokespersons for God underscored the vanity and criminality of suicide. Zachary Pierce’s A Sermon on Self-Murder (1736) opposed suicide on Augustinian grounds. The title of Caleb Fleming’s 1733 publication, A Book upon the Unnatural Crime of Self-Murder, speaks for itself. Suicide was aberrant, supernatural, wrongful. At the end of the eighteenth century, marking a distinctive move towards the perception of suicide as feminine, or at least effeminate, William Rowley’s A Treatise on Female, Nervous, Hysterical, Hypochondriacal, Bilious Disease … with thoughts on Madness, Suicide etc. … was published. In accordance with this shift, and pivotal to its development, are Vicesimus Knox’s Essays and Charles Moore’s Full Enquiry into the Subject of Suicide. Both these earmark men of sensibility for special treatment in this respect.


3 Conflict and Change in Early Modern Europe

In antiquity, suicide was inaudible, whispered, barely breathed. Later, as a source of anxiety for Christian theologians, it was silenced; and then the blackening of Judas, the New Testament’s only recorded suicide, acted as a binary for Jesus’s martyrdom. This allowed the criminalization of the act of suicide in canonical law from the sixth century. Crucifixion, initially the Roman punishment for subversion, for Christians came to symbolize a good death. In part this process involved a linguistic shift where ‘suicide’ developed from a form of dying to a form of murder or killing. Though the word suicida first appeared in the Middle Ages and was used to denote the killer, not the act, the term suicide had a while to wait before it was ‘naturalized’.1 In keeping with this, representations of suicide rendered the agent, the killer, though we, twenty-first-century viewers, tend to read the act. Alexander Murray testifies that there was an ‘elusiveness’ about suicide in the medieval period.2 And yet, though suicide was ‘too terrible to talk about’ and the medieval ‘secrecy of suicide’ described by Murray was manifest in a reluctance to chronicle or portray the suicidal deed, there are still some images of this ‘awful’ act.3 In contrast, in early modern Europe, the ‘truth’ about suicide was fought over openly by two contending powers and ‘philosophies’. On the one hand, there was a persistent belief in the heroism of voluntary death. On the other, suicide was seen as an unlawful and a sinful death. Irrespective of popular belief in the shamefulness of suicide, there was a growing recognition of the ‘medical’ nature of suicidal death: suicide was beginning to be understood as an act of insanity, though it was still judged to be a diabolical crime.4 Punishment varied across Europe but dragging, desecration and crossroads burial was practised throughout. Up to and into the twentieth century France refused burial to suicides. Medical opinion however, was that suicide, though shameful, was a sickness. In Poland, suicides were doomed to wander as spectres. In Germany, Lutherans integrated Lucretia into a ‘language of challenge’.5 In England, and elsewhere, religious condemnation of suicidal 88

despair as instigated by Satan offered Protestantism a useful recruiting device. If suicide was a product of diabolical temptation, then the Church could offer shelter or salvation from such evil. In England also, from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century, it was the amalgam of church and crown that dictated the law on suicide. Then, from the mid-seventeenth to the early eighteenth century, the hegemonic position of church and crown on suicide was contested by a growing popular sympathy for suicides. By the close of the early modern period, both heroic and diabolical suicide were marginalized in favour of a notion that people killed themselves for reasons other than glory or satanic despair. In MacDonald and Murphy’s riveting history of the early modern period, the change is represented as a gradual secularization of suicide motivated by Enlightenment philosophers and men of letters in opposition to the Anglican clergy, Nonconformists and Methodist preachers.6 However, even before the Reformation, Latin Christendom was extremely concerned with suicide as a product of despair. There is little doubt that the Ars Moriendi and the confessional were designed to help the tempted to resist disquietude. The energetic encounter between representations of suicide as a valorous death, a diabolical crime or a shameful illness or ‘crying crime’ was the same in Catholic and Protestant Christendom; in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and in England suicide was out in the open to be discussed. Despite the poverty of records for Italy and Germany, due in the latter to differing patterns of legislation, and the fragmentary nature of French records, the visual output of suicidal imagery in these countries is prolific. In England, our somewhat aniconic Protestant tradition offers a rich verbal documentation but, initially, a visual stillness. The continental images provide a valuable record of the fusing of thought and sense experiences, and evidence the consummate power of imaging to reveal what cannot be said in words. However, as a result of these competing discursive positions other meanings arose of suicidal death while the assumptions of artists in the various media circulated and predicated the assenting and dissenting knowledges of ‘voluntary’ and suicidal death. In England this powerful knitting together of differing beliefs was bolstered by Tudor governmental policy and meant that suppositions about suicide lapped over political and social boundaries.7 In France local jurisdiction of suicidal cases means that the picture is fragmented. Paradoxically, in spite of the severe condemnation of suicide by the crown and church in England, it was from within the legal system that a pathway emerged which facilitated the notion of suicide 89

as a product of illness and, in turn, a demeaning death. Increasingly, more and more cases were deemed to be non compos mentis. In spite of the shared presumptions of suicide across boundaries, the crown and church differed. In line with popular opinion, both treated suicidal death with severity. By the early seventeenth century popular belief and religious opinion agreed that suicide was not an iniquity per se. Three issues germane to the study of this period of transition are contained in the following extract from the sermon by the Renaissance preacher, the Reverend Mr Tukes. There be two sorts of voluntarie deathes; the one lawful and honest, such as the death of Martyrs, the other dishonest and unlawful, where men have neither lawful calling, nor honest endes, as of Peregrinus who burnt himself in a pile of wood, thinking thereby to live forever in mens rememberance.8

First, according to Tukes, martyrdom and self-killing are distinct. Second, they are made apparent due to the nature of the cause. Third, if the motive is good the perpetuation of the victim’s good name would be assured. Clearly, by the time of Tukes’s condemnation of suicide the repeated projection and logic of the Judas/Jesus binary meant that overlaps between martyria and suicide had, at least in Tukes’s mind, been erased. Or, perhaps it still needed resolving; hence his sermon? The repeated visual conceptualization of these deaths in Christian culture had led to a clearer definition of good and bad deaths, of martyrdom and suicide. Crucifixion and hanging as manifest signs of martyrdom and self-murder respectively had become part of visual and verbal ‘dictionary’. Nonetheless, I would argue that in the space between these polarities, in the gap signified by the stark opposition in pictures of Jesus’s and Judas’s deaths there existed a massive grey area of overlap and imperspicuity. Rather than confirming the ‘truth’ about suicide, the distinctness of the poles which aimed to extinguish any equivocalness between Jesus’s martyrdom and Judas’s self-murder paradoxically helped to nurture ambiguity and create anomalies. To scrutinize the field between these polarities is to bring to the surface the equivocations created by the Christian desire to suppress uncertainty. It is helpful in this respect to point out a loophole, and to make the addition of a fourth category to Tukes’s sermon in order to examine the character of suicide representations in the period. Intended or not and irrespective of pagan origins, in Tukes’s categorization the heroic suicides of antiquity and the continuity of voluntaria mors would figure within such a frame as lawful. If the cause was good, then so 90

was the death. Tukes’s main concern was that the rationale behind the motive should be good. Though he associated Peregrinus’ burning with a bad death, for Tukes the method is not the point in question. In his analysis, Peregrinus’ motive was wrong, and therefore his death was wrong too. Tukes’s discussion of Peregrinus also indicates the nature of the equivocation that arises in the conceptual space between a bad and a good death, or between vice and virtue. There is little doubt that the proliferation of verbal discussion of self-murder in early modern England indicates a discursive interest in suicide which encompasses wide variation.9 Arguing the case for and against suicide as a rational death, scholars, clergy and medical practitioners produced text after text on suicide which offered the reader a range of causes: heroic action, satanic instigation, spleen, vapours, melancholia, glandular distemper, hypochondria, lunacy and madness. The visual world also illustrated a variety of explanations, though visual representations of suicide did not entirely coincide with the opinions of scholars. Suicide as rational, irrational, demonized or diabolical was part of the language of current debate right across Europe in the period. So problematical were the views of suicide that individuals were divided in their own opinion. In one of the principal documents of seventeenth-century Epicureanism, Epicurus’s Morals, the apologist for Epicurus, Walter Charleton, was torn between the Epicurean acceptance of suicide and Christian religious beliefs.10 I am sure that this mixed feeling exists in all of us. The paradigm for Epicurean thinkers lay in the heroism of Cato’s death. In 1713 this was depicted in Joseph Addison’s play Cato: A Tragedy where the character Lucius, ‘played by Mr Keen’, proclaimed: ‘There fled the greatest soul that ever warm’d A Roman Breast, O Cato my friend!’ Epicureans like Addison saw Cato as the champion of Stoicism and his death as a refusal to bow down to Caesar. On Cato, Charleton agreed, and enrolled Augustine’s writings in his cause to attribute Cato’s voluntary death to ‘greatness of mind’. All the same, Charleton condemned suicide from a Christian viewpoint. Similarly, the French Jesuit, Louis Richeome, thought Cato’s act a folly.11 Little attention has been paid to the fact that the new industry of knowledge and a concomitant growth in high-art images of heroic deaths from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century may have helped to construct and set the conditions for heroic discourse in the eighteenth century. The angst-ridden humanists of the late fifteenth century and the thirst for knowledge associated with the Renaissance did much to foster interest in Stoic philosophy, and the shift to secular 91

subject matter in art meant the topic of suicide was more readily portrayed. From the fifteenth century the number of images of heroic female deaths escalated. Lucretia, Cleopatra, Arria, Sophonisba, Portia and Dido were the most frequently imaged of women; Cato, Brutus, Cassius, Plato and Seneca of men. Pyramus and Thisbe remained ever popular. Though mentioned in literary texts as bad deaths, images of Nero or Pontius Pilate have not yet been found. Secularization processes and portrayals of the profane in the visual world preceded the long period of mediation described by MacDonald and Murphy and here they clearly underestimate the long-term effects of images in giving direction to the processes they describe. Drawing on the visual precedents of antique models, Renaissance Humanism permitted the portrayal of male and female deaths, and many of these representations were very similar to their Classical forbears. In the early seventeenth century, the continuity of antiquity’s heroic deaths is apparent in the iconography of suicide. The subject matter of Rubens’s representation of Seneca is made very clear by its reference to the antique sculpture of the dying Seneca. Symbolizing, as much as anything, the European knowledge revolution, the painting depicts the old man standing in a bath as he bleeds slowly to death. He is surrounded by four figures, one taking notes in an attempt to capture his last thoughts (illus. 43). In Sandrart’s later work the attribute of a ‘vase’ was also included.12 In opposition to Epicurean philosophy in the period of Tukes’s sermon, and indicating suicide as an English malady, religious tracts such as the True-Hearted British Reader or Isaac Watts’s A Defense against the Temptation to Self-Murther argued, for the Christian reader, the need to preserve life.13 Ideas of suicide as a result of satanic instigation, or as a product of morbidity, also found an ally in the fight against Epicureanism in medical texts such as Richard Blackmore’s A Treatise on the Spleen and Vapours: Or Hypochondriacal and Hysterical Affections…, a book that discussed the removal of the spleen in order to resolve melancholy.14 Despite the awfulness of it all, there is a discernible shift from protagonist as killer to protagonist as victim, a shift wherein the demonic, supernatural aspect of suicide was slowly replaced with a notion of insanity. Yet in the period of history we are examining the two still mix uncomfortably. Alongside this, the flood of images portraying the deaths of heroic women demonstrates an array of structured and interrelated struggles to explore and define self-killing, its cause and its nature. The ‘affections’ referred to by Blackmore sat next to, or combined with, the religious and legal condemnation of self-killing to form a rela92

43 Peter Paul Rubens, The Death of Seneca, 1608, oil on panel. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

tionship in which, to a certain extent, illness was criminalized. By the late eighteenth century Rowleyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s thoughts on madness and suicide in his publication on female hysteria implied that suicide was increasingly seen as an act of insanity.15 From a survey of suicidal imagery, a typology has been drawn to illustrate the differences and the power relations that underlie these discursive positions. Across Europe, from the sixteenth century onwards, the question of suicide was out in the open, to be damned, punished severely, or condoned and forgiven. In particular, the Protestant designation of suicide as the Devilâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work integrated old folklore and popular belief in judging suicide as something evil. Competing with this was the re-representation of legendary heroic female suicides like Lucretia, Cleopatra, Sophonisba and Dido whose 93

images proliferate throughout the period. The continued depiction of the suicides of heroic and beautiful women by European artists throughout the period 1500 to 1660 precedes the period of stigmatization from the mid-seventeenth to the eighteenth century designated by MacDonald and Murphy as the era of secularization (illus. 44, 45). To some extent the expansion of these images was due to the resolution of medieval debates around iconophobia, and especially that of the problem of the representation of women, with its focus on the vice of luxuria rather than a concern for representing heroic women.16 In the process of suicide’s redesignation, luxury was to play another role and became intertwined with suicide’s motives. In 1774, at the end of the early modern period, John Herries blamed ‘luxury and depravity’ for the number of suicides in the metropolis. The ‘offspring of hell, the self-assassin’ as Herries described them, was above all ‘cowardly’, and suicide deemed to be ‘the dire attendant of guilt, remorse and despair [which] begins to infect … [and is] contrary to nature’.17 There is a marked change occurring from the decade of the 1770s where it is noticeable that sensibility entwined with luxuria is identified as a cause of despair resulting in suicide. It is no surprise at all that Herries’ cowardly offspring of hell are linked to the eighteenth-century phenomenon of sensibility. In the 1790s Charles Moore, the first ‘suicidologist’, attacked men of sensibility with moralistic zeal. A prime target for this attack was Goethe’s flower-gathering hero Werther. Moore had little doubt about his ‘luxurious effeminacy’ as a cause of his suicide, which ‘is generally bestowed on the sybarite’.18 The process which led to this notion of self-slaughter as a by-product of contaminated femininity begins to find a focus through the large number of images of suicidal women and the votaries of Epicurean and sensualist philosophy. Hypersensitivity of this kind was clearly an eighteenth-century phenomenon,19 yet in suicidal discourse it spills over into the nineteenth century. In the process the devil, too, lost significance as a spiritual force and began to symbolize a secular force.20 Male artists’ fascination with the deaths of beautiful women is apparent and the increasing conceptualization of suicide as weakness was part of a process of medicalization that tied itself to an idea of suicide that is represented as feminine. Images of Lucretia offer a suitable example of this, though not all representations of Lucretia stressed her sensuality. Dürer’s Lucretia has been cited above as unusual in the genre. More typical was the tragic beauty portrayed by Bruyn the Elder, or Francia’s Lucretia (illus. 45). Dürer’s Italianate image depicts a somewhat sullen heroine who appears quite awkward, 94

44 Niccolò Renieri, The Death of Sophonisba, c. 1500, oil on canvas. Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery.

45 Francesco Raibolini, called ‘Francia’ (attrib.), Lucretia, c. 1510, oil on panel. York City Art Gallery.

in contrast to the usual type of a beautiful woman, bare-breasted, or with one breast exposed, about to plunge a knife into her heart. Beauty is, of course, forever reconstructed, and Dürer’s picture of Marcus Curtius does not reveal a particular stigma. The ability of these classical themes to offer male artists the opportunity to paint the female body was clearly relevant, though in the complex process of signification the real body is lost in a symbolic order which links suicide with femininity. Underlying the ‘mastery’, the submission of emotional experience to order and containment is a real problem of anxiety. The convention is clearly evidenced in the images of the death of Cleopatra, which depict the queen with the asp held to her bare bosom. Guido Reni’s Raphaelesque Cleopatra in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence was copied by Sir Robert Strange in an engraving of around 1840, and is evidence of the continuing presence of Cleopatra (illus. 46). Reni also painted Pyramus and Thisbe, Sophonisba and Seneca. Reni’s image shows Cleopatra with the asp held at her breast, head thrown back in sheer ecstasy; the left breast is exposed and her gown is slipping off the right breast (illus. 29). According to one analysis she is swooning.21 The asp is curved, almost touching both its tail and

46 Robert Strange, Cleopatra, c. 1840, engraving after Reni (illus. 29).


Cleopatra’s nipple. Like the Oroborous that reconciles heaven and earth, it signifies life and death as a continuity and is an appropriate teleological symbol for suicide. Its symbolic value as a force of destruction and its phallic nature indicate the equivocal nature of the sign suicide. What was the purpose of her death? Was it for gain? For loss? To avoid being taken back to Rome? The result of vanity and greed? A quest for power? The erotic component of the image of the moment of death is clear. Similar questions can be asked of the representations of Lucretia, whose voluntary death was probably the most frequently visualized.22 Important to any understanding of representations of Lucretia’s heroic death is that the method, penetration by a knife, symbolizes the cause of Lucretia’s suicide. In 1534 Hans Schäufelein’s woodcut for Johann von Schwartenberg, the Lutheran jurist, places the heroine in front of an open window in her bedchamber in order to give emphasis to her reputation, her virtue and to the cause of her death. As a symbol of vengeance, death and sacrifice, the knife relates to the motive and the cause for the killing. Rather than being a Freudian symbol, the knife, commonly shown as having a blade of exaggerated length, refers to the gladiatorial sword and to the spiritual being of the swordsman. The consequence of Lucretia’s death also requires some consideration, for its deliberate nature gives rise to the theory that she may have been influenced by other motives. The result was a war against the Tarquins, the outcome of which was the birth of the republic. For Lutherans the power of passive resistance was connoted, and as such Lucretia’s story found its way into plays, prayers and pictures which opposed the ‘tyranny’ of the emperor. Thus her death simultaneously signals the power accredited to women’s suicide and the anxiety engendered by its suggestion of the cessation of the family and the importance of maternity. At the same time, the perception of the suicide of a woman as destructive of nature supports accepted notions of the female role, and denies heroic status to this death. By the end of the early modern period, it was considered more important to achieve fame in life than in death, and Lucretia’s appeal dwindled. In terms of suicidal discourse, these images of Lucretia and Cleopatra are also contemporary references. Though they hark back to old stories, they make statements that are present-centred around the social establishment and formulation of meanings of suicide. From the seventeenth century we find a visual system not so dependent on language as either earlier biblical references or the antique. The archaic component is missing and new meanings arise which in 97

turn are also contested. A closer examination of these images will show how they relate to their seminal literary sources and to contemporary historical notions of suicide in religious and secular intellectual circles. The myth of Lucretia offers an exemplar of the historically changing notions of suicide and immortality. Her story originates in the fifth century bc, and is remembered through the writings of Ovid (43 bc–ad 17) and Livy (59 bc–ad 17). During the Renaissance Lucretia’s image was extremely popular on Italian cassoni, functioning as a warning against infidelity.23 Dramatically portrayed by Titian (illus. 31) and most poignantly by Artemisia Gentileschi, herself the victim of a rape, the cause of Lucretia’s public suicide was her rape by Sextus Tarquinius, son of the despotic Roman Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. In Ovid’s story, Lucretia does not want her husband Tarquinius Collatinus to have a stained wife on his hands and, driven by what might be deemed ‘magical’ thinking (as expounded by Wahl in ‘Suicide as a Magical Act’), commits suicide in front of her husband and father after telling them of her rape. The end result is in a sense part of a delusion, chimerical and irrational, though the act is regarded as rational and heroic. By killing herself Lucretia gains powers and advantages not possessed by the living woman.24 This is explained in recent suicidology by the notion of ‘post-ego’ where it is argued that in only a small number of instances is the desire for death the sole motive for suicide.25 By killing off the ‘I’ of her experiences and pain, Lucretia perpetuates the ‘I’ of her individuality. Irrational or not, this delusional fantasy signifies a desire to control not just the future, death and life, but also to preserve a reputation that was chaste. The illogicality of this may be the very key we need to understand her motive. Central to suicidal thinking is the desire to perpetuate the ‘I’. The fictional image conjoins with the facts of her death to achieve this. Lucretia does not die so much as stops living. Canonized for dying rather than living as a defiled woman, Lucretia’s image acts as a metaphor for chastity, and as such a symbol was widely employed in high art and in popular visual culture during the period of the Renaissance and Reformation. Thus her heroic death was made secondary to her chastity. The continuing popularity of Lucretia images was assured by reason of their compatibility with Christian values. James Yates, in Chariot of Chastitie, an essay in praise of Lucretia, observed: ‘How Lucrece sate in heaven above her seate was thee bestowed … Lucrece … she would not have a body for her spouse unchaste.’26 Guaranteed a place in heaven or not, Lucretia’s dominant concern 98

47 ‘Lucretia Stabbing Herself through the Heart’, c. 1520, maiolica tile. Vyne House, Sherborne St John, Hampshire.

was with her own reputation after death: her impact, the survival of her memory and influence. The connotation is of her death as memento vivere rather than memento mori, the birth of the republic, the ‘child’ of her rape. The popularity of Lucretia’s image in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is evidenced in references to street signs such as that described hanging over Thomas Berthelet’s London printing shop in 1540.27 A small square maiolica floor-tile showing Lucretia’s suicide can be found in Vyne House near Basingstoke; a Tudor property that contains a chapel with Renaissance glass. Probably made in Antwerp in the early sixteenth century by an Italian émigré potter, and no doubt copied from a print or painting, it is evidence of the wide and enduring popularity of Lucretia’s heroic death (illus. 47). Encouraged by the phenomenon of ‘Epicurus in England’, the deaths of Cato and Lucretia were much discussed as a philosophical trend from the mid-seventeenth century and, in agreement with Epicurean literature, portrayals of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (95–46 bc) were popular from the mid-sixteenth century. In a small engraving by Pietro Testa, who himself committed suicide, Cato is represented surrounded by supportive comrades (illus. 48). Above him are two busts, which might represent Seneca and Aristotle as described by Cicero in his Tusculan Disputations (1.71–5).28 As the 99

48 Pietro Testa, The Suicide of Cato, 1648, etching with drypoint. British Museum, London.

result of his defeat in battle Cato, the arch-enemy of Julius Caesar, amalgamated the death of a philosopher with a gladiatorial death by the sword: after reading Plato’s Phaedo, he took his life. Testa also portrayed the death of Cato in a small engraving of 1648. Based upon his reading of Cato’s death in Stoic texts, the artist depicts Cato’s suicide as an exemplum fortitudinis. Testa’s Düsseldorf notebooks contain passages that include notes on the correct way to depict the death of Cato and Dido and record his intention to illustrate the Aeneid. Testa’s detailed interest in Cato bears out the continued presentation of his death as an ‘exemplum of heroic fortitude’.29 In an etching The Suicide of Dido Dido is presented as ‘the tragic object of our horror and pity’.30 In stark contrast to the depiction of the death of Cato in the print The Suicide of Cato by Pietro’s nephew Giovanni Cesare Testa, Testa systematically illustrates the pain and horror of Dido’s death. Cato’s composure thus serves to represent his heroic suicide in a sympathetic way. Other depictions of Cato’s death, such as The Sacrifice of Marcus Curtius by Luigi Garzi31 indicate similar sympathetic treatment and exemplify the sacrificial nature of Cato’s suicide. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe remained extremely popular. Two beautiful maiolica plates by Francesco Xanto Avelli remain in Urbino and Bologna. Further plates by Xanto are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, in Sèvres and in Berlin. In opposition to these visual versions of heroic suicide the French 100

and English clergy wrote their own version of Cato’s death. The English preacher Zachary Pearce laid blame on the Romans as ‘Advocates for Self Murder’, sermonizing that ‘it has been called a Roman Virtue, and Cato is placed at the head of this false heroism … a fashion which (as with us) grew out of the Degeneracy and Corruption of the Times’.32 Pearce blamed suicide on luxury and depravity. In contrast, the French Epicurean Sarasin insisted that ‘Cato, the great Stoic, … killed himself because it gave him less pain to part from life than to bow down to Caesar … and more pleasure to die than to live in ignominious servitude’.33 The French Jesuit Louis Richeome thought Cato’s death a result of false pride and vanity.34 Sarasin’s astute recognition of pleasure as a component of Epicurean death anticipates a much later aspect of suicide’s analysis: Freud argues that libidinal drive or sensuality and sexuality are bound to suicide by sexual wish fulfilment; both are in conflict with self-preservation (Eros/Thanatos). Of virtue and pleasure in Stoic philosophy Sarasin noted that: ‘It was not virtue alone which made them commit suicide, but love of “Pleasure”’ and also that ‘what they called “virtue” ought to have been named “pleasure”’.35 In Joseph Addison’s Cato: A Tragedy, Cato’s death was expressed poetically. ‘Let us bear this awful Corps to Caesar’, Addison wrote, ‘… And lay it in his Sight, that it may stand A Fence betwixt us and the victor’s wrath; Cato tho’ dead shall still protect his friends’.36 There is no doubt that these compelling images of self-killing can be equated with religious movements, economic change, battles of the sexes, contemporary misogyny, changing ideas of marriage, of women in the competing labour market in the context of developing capitalism, and the dynamics of oppression associated with witchhunting in the period. Indeed, witchcraft and suicide were both considered crimes of a supernatural nature. The sanctity of the family was clearly threatened by both, and the breakdown of family relationships was seen as a cause. The results of suicide for women and for men were apparently very different.37 In most respects Catholic casuists and English and Scots Protestants were unanimous on one issue; suicide must be condemned. While criticizing Cato’s death, Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici, written in 1635, attempts to divide pagan suicide from Christian suicide.38 The latter was to be condemned without question. In the same year as Sarasin’s publication, Isaac Watts, an English clergyman, simply wrote off the Stoics’ writings as ‘ranting discourses’.39 From the early seventeenth century the English clergy also demonized suicide as Satan’s work. John Sym, Minister of Leigh in 101

Essex, agreed that melancholy was to blame, but melancholy was the result of ‘persons haunted by Satan, … notorious wretches, mancipated to the devil’s service, and guilty of horrible crying crimes’.40 In the powerful combination of notions implied by ‘crying crimes’ are the germs of a medical reading, one that sees self-murder as a product of melancholia and depression, but still a depressive crime is denoted. In England, theological writing depicts despair as a constant feature of suicide’s representation in two ways: first through external and second through internal suggestion by the devil. The devil could get inside a person and take over their body and mind, or he could play the role of tempter urging people to commit self-murder. Gilpin’s Daemonologia Sacra described Satan as driven in the ‘design of self-murder’, in a direct way by urging man to destroy himself and in an indirect way by ‘terrors of despairing troubles of conscience … a wounded spirit’. In treating Lucretia and Cato he described their ‘heroick boldness’ and was careful not to mention demons when describing these heroic deaths: ‘Lucretia being forced by Tarquinius and not willing to outlive her disgrace, stabb’d herself. Cato not being able to endure the victory of Gesta put an end to his days.’41 Iconic references differ from these verbal utterances. In paintings Lucretia’s beauty works to sustain her heroism and nobility. In the story of Lucretia, body and mind are separated: the body is defiled but the mind is pure. The point is that Lucretia’s image is not a portrait, but an iconic reference whose name stands for an idea. The image acts as a sign of the person painted. Her noble features and beauty are maintained to symbolize her chastity. In this respect, the depiction of the moment before the act serves to highlight intention. In psychoanalytic terms, for the male artist and viewer alike, Lucretia remains intact to avoid the portrayal of the wound, thus alleviating the sense of guilt for the male spectator and removing a source of anxiety. This negates the fear of the hole (the wound) and anxiety around the abject decaying body. One of the most spectacular images, however, represents the moment after the withdrawal of the knife. Rembrandt’s Lucretia of 1666 captures the dramatic tenor of the subject to show her with a bloody white shift (illus. 49). The pose is the same as his clothed Lucretia, but the removal of her outer garments and the bloodstained shift evokes the violence of rape and suicide. Relevant to the study of these images was the application by artists of pseudo-Aristotelian philosophy which insisted that personality can be portrayed by somatic clues. Character thus becomes important in this respect. Lucretia’s image is sanitized and connotes goodness and purity. She is placed in an open space in order to portray her singular102

49 Rembrandt, Lucretia, 1666, oil on canvas. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

ity and her features are made noble/beautiful. Through these visual devices the heroic status of her death is maintained. In the paradigmatic type, Lucretia is shown like Cleopatra, bare-breasted, head turned upwards in a gesture of appeal, knife held under the heart. No demons can be found in Lucretia’s imagery, as the act must appear to be rational. The supernatural element is not relevant here. Lucretia’s motive for suicide is her wounded body. The demonic that filters into medical views of depression carries messages of a wounded spirit, or of someone who is a stooge, a dupe for Satan, one of Satan’s pawns. Lucretia is free from this, and her ability to symbolize, at different times, fortitude, humility and sanctimony may well explain the endurance of her heroic status. 103

The number and variety of treatment of works on Lucretia indicate her wide geographical popularity in the period as a topic for artists, and bears witness to their adherence to classical mythology. From the latter part of the sixteenth century it is possible to talk of a European world, and European thought. Artists were much-travelled and the art of suicide began to become part of a European imaginary. From the sixteenth century the expansion of literature on the treatment of despair meant suicide was represented across the territory in the visual, in casuistry and in medical and clerical texts. It was even earlier in Italy, probably through Boccaccio’s De claris mulieribus, that the story of Lucretia was rediscovered, though it was the story of Lucretia as an exemplum of virtue that was given emphasis rather than her part in the birth of the republic. In Germany too, translations of Boccaccio’s story can be found from the fifteenth century. In mid-sixteenth-century Germany Lucretia’s popularity was evidently more to do with her virtue than with politics. One must assume however, that the political agenda and context of Lucretia’s suicide lurked somewhere in the background of the many published plays and paintings in what was a period of repression. In the wake of the Peasant’s War the tale clearly reminded dissenters of their need to resist tyranny. Lucas Cranach, a friend of Luther, who had praised Lucretia’s piety, and whose earliest works were predominantly religious paintings, shows Lucretia with the tip of the blade over her heart and a diaphanous veil, signifying her vulnerability, covering a part of her face. The veil is draped over her shoulder, across the left breast and under her heart. The left hand is held forward in order to display the wedding ring on the third finger, and falls over her lower part, which is covered by a dark gown (illus. 32). For some Lutherans Lucretia represented a similar story to that of the Old Testament heroine Judith and in this regard she was rated eighth among the nine most loyal Romans and pagan women.42 Kristin Zapalac points to a diptych by Cranach from after 1537 which brought the two together. On the face of it, fidelity and chastity are connoted in Cranach’s dynamic representation. Yet the veil is unusual and complicates such a reading. In the symbolism of the veil is the duality of meaning of revealing (re-veiling) and covering. This veil is for seeing through. Karl Menninger’s work indicates that self-inflicted death has components of eroticism and of deadly narcissism.43 Cranach’s Lucretia clearly contains a sly eroticism emphasized in the half-closed eyes framed by the veil and given further emphasis by the serpentine nature of the veil, which curls around her body. Her adornment, a 104

bejewelled choker, is reflected in the pattern of the knife handle and a long chain falls loosely around her neck just above the breasts. The symbol of the chain is ambiguous, and though it may be thought to suggest the bonds of matrimony, it does not seem to serve such a purpose here. More than likely the chain stands for Lucretia’s involution and entanglement. The veil falls over the left nipple. The right shoulder is lightened, to bring forward the arm that holds the knife. It is, of course, feasible to contend that this glossy image was destined for the bedchamber rather than the gallery, and only purports to be Lucretia; however, what is finally portrayed and projected is a concept of ‘woman’. Salacious rather than sanctimonious, Cranach’s Lucretia has nothing to do with the Lutheran politics of virtue. The role of art in prescribing the feminine position as object of the gaze overrides the subject and the aesthetically pleasing image of Lucretia depicts a symbolic act wherein suicide, death and woman as sexual object are conjoined. Inscribed on woman’s body are the reflections of patriarchal culture; therefore the difficulty of reading women’s suicides is compounded from the outset by the arbitrariness of the depicted social body. This arbitrariness is increased over time. Other images offer much the same format, though they are not so erotically charged. A Hungarian Christian image by the ‘Master of the Holy Blood’ shows the blade penetrating the flesh. Blood flows down Lucretia’s stomach to disappear behind her otherwise revealing gown. Her left hand is held forward, displaying rings on all fingers but one. The image is described by Van Hooff as an image of a Christian heroine of chastity (illus. 33). A physiognomic reading of the image could indicate the construction of a similar guile to Cranach’s Lucretia, identifiable in the narrowed eyes which, in this example, are slightly turned. The compatibility of these images with Augustinian preaching where Lucretia’s duplicity is implied means that they can be read as expressions of either guilt or innocence. When Augustine slyly remarked that Lucretia may have consented to the act of rape as a result of her own desire, then her death became her own punishment of herself. These theorizations meant that her voluntary death could be read as a consequence of her adultery. Yet Shakespeare immortalized Lucretia in his poem, The Rape of Lucrece, of 1594. Ophelia, another Shakespearean ‘suicide’, is in a sense Lucretia’s counterpart, or rather her mirror image, being of sound body, but unsound mind. Ophelia’s story appears to anticipate modern psychiatry and the concept of suicide as sickness or the dissolution of self. Ophelia’s imaging is not found at all in the descriptive arts until the late eighteenth century and becomes popular in the 105

nineteenth century when the medicalized view becomes prevalent. One might theorize here that Shakespeare pre-empted the nineteenth-century medical view of suicide caused by a disintegration of the self. Above all, it is Lucretia who finds her way into painting, popular folklore, poetry and Christian mythology as both a heroine and an adulteress. The power of Lucretia’s trace is evident across Europe in the numerous and successive interpretations of her death by both male and female artists, though this is not apparent in England till the latter part of the century. Painted by Guido Canlassi, Artemisia Gentileschi, Rubens (illus. 30), Elisabetha Sirani and Sebastiano Ricci (illus. 51), Lucretia’s trace is subject to varying interpretations. Francia’s and Canlassi’s are exemplary of the general type. In contrast to the Hungarian image of Lucretia described above, most

50 Rembrandt, Lucretia, 1664, oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.


versions of Lucretia depict her with noble features. Rembrandt’s image of 1664 is unusual in that Lucretia is fully clothed rather than dishabille. Above all, her rationality is portrayed (illus. 50). Her face is turned towards the knife; her left hand is held up in front of her to communicate her resignation. Venetian Sebastiano Ricci’s Lucretia breaks away from traditional portrayals to offer an altogether different version. The much-travelled Ricci, whose work was known across Europe, depicts Lucretia in turmoil, a tempestuous, revengeful woman in total disarray. On the floor, serving to symbolize the rape, is a broken egg. The seed of generation and the mystery of life thus lies shattered on the ground. The egg, however, also symbolizes immortality, and in its broken state may serve as a denial of it. This unsympathetic image brings to mind Giotto’s earlier personifications of Wrath, in the Arena Chapel, yet in the insensitive handling of Lucretia’s death Ricci’s Lucretia says more about the cause, and the result, which others refer to symbolically by the knife. In this image the motive for death is represented as furore. However justifiable such rage might be in this case of rape, the image does not conform to the story. Nowhere is the cool deduction associated with the story more clearly depicted than in Sirani’s painting: Lucretia is shown on her bed,

51 Sebastiano Ricci, Lucretia, c. 1720, oil on canvas. Dayton Art Institute.


pondering her situation, her right hand resting calmly on the knife. This sensitive image of a woman, painted by a woman, suggests a thoughtful, sad and resigned person on the point of taking her own life. Several images include the bed, although in this image the bedchamber intimates a certain privacy that recalls the rape and looks forward to a quiet death. Cato’s self-killing undergoes similar discussion to that of Lucretia and painting in the period, as does Seneca’s, but neither is the subject of visual translations of the type described above. The constancy in visualizations of Cato and Seneca indicate that for men their heroic stature is maintained. Typical of Seneca’s images are those of Perrier and Rubens, which show him standing in the bath (illus. 52). The undated engraving by François Perrier and the painting by Rubens display distinct similarities in their portrayal of posture and garb. Perrier’s Seneca is a younger man, while Rubens’s is an old man

52 François Perrier, Seneca, c. 1640, etching after Beham. Wellcome Library, London.


surrounded by admirers. Bleeding is not depicted in the Rubens. The Perrier image shows Seneca standing in what appears to be an urn with a ram’s head around the side. Both the bath and the urn can be read as signifying purification, regeneration, or change and recreation. Furthermore, Seneca’s containment within the urn slowly filling with his blood is a highly pertinent symbol that makes links with the world of the feminine.44 The spilling of blood in this way has similarities with the bleeding of a pig in a slaughterhouse. Mary Douglas’s anthropological work, however, indicates anxiety around the spilling of blood or bodily fluids, particularly in menstruation where blood traverses bodily boundaries and may serve to indicate a threat to masculinity, or even an external threat to territory.45 Rembrandt’s Lucretia is called to mind here. In Kristeva’s theorization of Douglas’s work, blood can represent a gender threat and signify social or sexual danger within a society. If this can be applied at all to the deliberate spilling of blood, Seneca’s act depicts a disruption to the social and to the symbolic body; but the anxiety created is about the male body and its unity. The taking of notes of Seneca’s last words emphasizes his importance as a philosopher and the urn with his spilt blood attempts to contain and preserve in some way the symbolic masculine unity which suicide threatens. These images tell us that the diversity of opinion in Europe was even greater than imagined and that the picture was never clear-cut. In general, the social history of suicide has either tended to ignore visual images as historical sources, or afforded them a superficial connection with writing. In effect, social history seems to be part of an iconophobic intellectual tradition that has denied the visual image’s importance as evidence. It is my argument here that culture operates in all spheres to furnish society with symbolic representations of economic and religious circumstances as they limit or delimit specific social groups. Lunacy was by the seventeenth century increasingly referred to in coroner’s reports as a manifestation of sympathy with the suicide and the suicide’s family, and more verdicts of non compos mentis were given. No images directly linking suicide to lunacy have been found dating from before the nineteenth century though despair and lunacy may have been conflated. In general, the visual imagery of suicide does not directly indicate a condemnation of self-killing; there were other reasons for these portrayals. Notably, very few of the images are of English origin. On the whole, the later images, Ricci’s apart, are sympathetic and reconstruct 109

53 Master B P, Satire on the Papal Arms, c. 1538, woodcut. Kunstsammlungen Veste Coburg.

a heroic suicide, though the imagery of Judas indicates continuing Christian condemnation. In a Lutheran Satire on the Papal Arms, a woodcut by Master B P from c. 1538, Judas appears hanging from one of the broken keys of the city of Regensburg (illus. 53). This damning image depicts the pope hanging on the opposite shaft of the keys. The competing discourses in these images indicate a lack of agreement, so much so that it is historically impossible to see a signified agreement at all. One text above all challenged the dominant view of suicide, John Donne’s Biathanatos: A Declaration of that Paradoxe or Thesis, that Selfe-homicide is not so naturally Sinne, that it may never be otherwise, first published in 1644 but written earlier. In the context of the debates on suicide, it probably had little positive effect. His title is a strange one; it is derived from the Greek biaiothanatos (‘one who dies violently’) and thus avoids reference to murder and killing. Some suicides were, for Donne, permitted by fair implication; and in these cases the victims should be offered salvation. Skirting around Augustinian philosophy, Donne noted that voluntary death was not directly prohibited in the scriptures or old law. Donne’s work gives the sense of a realization of death as the limit of power, and a recognition of the struggle in all of us between life and death. Aimed at giving sovereignty to the individual, it was a much maligned text. Ignoring the sophistication of such argument, internecine bickering of differing denominations posited that the other was more prone 110

to suicide than themselves. Discourses on self-murder ran the whole gamut from serious debate to sophistry and sanctimonious sermonizing. Geographic and climatic factors are commonly cited as cause, and later find their way into satires of English suicides. In his Letters on the English and French Nations the Abbé Prevost, a writer of macabre stories and a man of many contradictions, pointed an accusing finger at a set of men whom he had no hesitation in identifying as a potentially suicidal group. They were those ‘who never laugh at all, and those are Presbyterians: they make laughing the eighth mortal sin’.46 Cutting across nation and religion, the Abbé’s sardonic writing was aimed at the English. Earlier, in a journal article in Pour et Contre the Abbé had mentioned that when short of material the British are always good for a column.47 In his opinion, suicide was a product of spleen and vapours more than ennui; and he also stressed differences in the motives and method of death between the strong and weak sex. It is difficult to refute his story as the scraps of French records that remain offer only a fragmented picture. In England a centralized judiciary means the picture is much clearer. There are numerous examples of difference connoted in representations of the capacity of particular religions to commit suicide throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At the beginning of the period Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, in reporting the sad tale of the demise of Plankney and Havington, two ‘stubborn papists of New College Oxford’, who drowned themselves, forms the other end of the spectrum; ‘their example is not unworthy to be noted, to see what little comfort and grace comes [to] those who follow the confusing doctrine and profession of papistry’.48 AngloCatholics were thus deemed susceptible to suicide. A third, most damning, statement spread the net much wider and decreed that all ‘blind atheists, Epicureans, mammomists, belly-gods behold what will fall of them in the world to come, unless they be warned’.49 Religious differences and the gradual secularization of suicide might well explain why the production of images of Judas seem to peter out by the end of the fifteenth century, the bulk being produced in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Clearly by this time Judas’s role as a scapegoat had been clearly established and may even have lost its potency. The decrease might also be explained within the context of changing forms of patronage and a challenge to religious ideas of suicide by a more profane or secular imagery. The contempt for suicide as a by-product of this visualization is clear, so too were the prevailing ideas of melancholy and despair as a cause. In the process hanging had become associated with guilt and the punishment for 111

serious crime. Female suicides appear to remain as separate sets of units, paradigmatic maybe, but for these images each type seems to mean something different in each syntagm. The death of Sophonisba, Cleopatra or Portia can have differing meanings within differing texts, though the overriding implicit meanings relate to their inability to live without their husbands or lovers. Sophonisba’s visualization gives further weight to the hypothesis regarding the abundance of feminine suicides portrayed in the early modern period. Sophonisba was a Punic princess, married to the king of Numidia who had been killed by King Masinissa of Laelius in 203 bc. Masinissa then arranged a marriage between himself and Sophonisba. However, chided by Scipio for marrying the enemy, Masinissa sent Sophonisba a cup of poison with a message indicating that he could send no more, but that it would keep her out of Roman hands. Sophonisba’s last words before drinking the poison were as follows: ‘I willingly accept this wedding gift, and if my husband can give me no other, I shall be grateful for this. But tell him I should have died better had I not married at the point of death.’ Death and femininity, loss and gain, the interchangeability of bridal gifts and death, all combine in Niccolò Renieri’s image, which shows her, with the letter from Masinissa, between two maidservants (illus. 44). On the left of Sophonisba is a lady in profile, flat and decorative and younger than Sophonisba, though less substantial, and on her right, face on to the viewer, is an effective memento mori, a very old, skeletal, wrinkled lady. She is either supporting or tugging Sophonisba’s arm. Sophonisba’s body is limp and the left arm has fallen forward to indicate her final moments. It indicates also an overturned scallop cup that serves as a gesture of defeat. The shell is a mystical symbol of the wealth of one generation arising from another.50 This reading would clearly be borne out by the images of old age and youthfulness at her side. This cup is spilt however, and the end of a line connoted. The aged figure foregrounds the process of aging, which will never occur for Sophonisba. The wrinkled old lady might also represent Death tugging at her arm. Sophonisba looks away, the young servant looks across the picture plane, the old hag returns the gaze, forces us to look back at Sophonisba, and thus her beauty is reinforced in death. There are continuities and overlaps too. Dido’s image was forever popular, as were those of Narcissus; and the sentimental suicides of Pyramus and Thisbe from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The last two stories were probably the most enduring. The former was resignified through Freud and the latter remained popular till the late eighteenth 112

century. A twelfth-century tympanum in the Cambrai Municipal Museum shows Pyramus lying face down, impaled by the sword, and Thisbe pierced on Pyramus’ back with her hand resting on her lover’s head. The mulberry bush winds around them and standing over them is a strange bearded figure, wearing what appears to be a cap with ears, possibly a personification of the lioness? (illus. 54). Ovid’s story compares the rush of blood to a pipe bursting, literally spattering the mulberry bush, a macabre element which is not seen in the extant images but is perhaps represented by other means. For example, one illustration shows a stream rushing across the diagonal of the picture. Similarly, in a woodcut in the Ovide Moralisé Pyramus’ sword appears to be between his legs and is penetrating Thisbe’s breast. On the left of the picture, life’s end is represented as a stream gushing out, and on the right a woman looks on. Our eyes are drawn to the woman

54 Pyramus and Thisbe (tympanum), 12th century, stone. Cambrai Municipal Museum.


spectator and through her we are taken behind the scene as a helpless onlooker unable to prevent or intervene in the death. The mulberry is to Pyramus’ right. From the fifteenth through to the end of the eighteenth century, Cutter records over 80 such images most of which are Italian, French or German.51 Continuing notions of chivalric morality may account for this pattern of production and distribution but it isn’t transparent. At differing times in differing places heroic women become popular or classical themes, for example in the 1640s in France particularly, but also across Europe generally. Dido features in over 30 images in the period 1400 to 1780. The earlier images place Dido back in the public space. In Liberale da Verona’s The Death of Dido she is represented as a noble figure posed on top of the pyre in the main square. The picture, probably from a cassone, centres the subject at the apex of a pyramid and as the focus both of those spectators in the frame and the spectator of the picture itself. She is surrounded by onlookers to both left and right. In her right hand is a knife, and she is about to plunge it into her heart. Her posture suggests she is about to declaim, and her height gives her prominence in what is otherwise a markedly horizontal composition (illus. 55). A similar image by Sebastien Bourdon depicts an outdoor scene, but with what appears to be an angel taking Dido up. Bourdon’s happy blend of Christian and pagan mythology retells the story in the light of contemporary Christian ideology, and represents an exagoge or Dido’s apotheosis. Demonstrating the continuing presence of Dido, a much later image by Fuseli shows a similar exagoge, but depicts an eroticized Dido, arms outstretched as if crucified and guided gently by an angel who is holding her long hair (illus. 34). The Rubens painting Dido shows her on the edge of her marriage bed, shrouded by a black panoply, mourning Sychaeus, her dead husband. In Virgil Sychaeus was killed by Pygmalion. The story here is therefore one of dolor suicide. The figure of Dido is in a contrapposto pose, twisted toward the viewer with a long knife pointed at her heart. One must resist the temptation to thread together these images across the diachronic span as changing examples of patriarchal discourse; this approach is made problematic by individual differences in the images, and is not supported in the complex visualization of these women’s deaths. To see Rubens’s tormented figure of Dido, or Ricci’s Lucretia, within the terms of a history of style as products of the baroque, or to give the credit for such drama to the hand of the artist, detracts from the study of how these texts take up aspects of the stories of a woman’s beauty, death and suicide and stitch them 114

55 Liberale da Verona, The Death of Dido, 1529, oil on poplar panel. National Gallery, London.

together. Rubens severs Dido from the pyramidic (classical) format, and from the public space in the heroic Virgilian story, to place her in her bedchamber. In keeping with funerary discourse in the period of Rubens’s painting, Dido is pictured with her dead husband, thereby emphasizing familial values and her dependency on Sychaeus. Feminine valour is overshadowed by feminine dependency. These earlier humanistic images of female self-killing coincide with the era of severity in Scotland and England, and suicide’s outright condemnation. This may account for the paucity of English images of heroic women. There is reason to believe that Catholic Continental countries were less strict and less severe in condemning suicides. Another interpretation would be that Ricci’s and Rubens’s paintings simply depict suicide as stigmatized. The continuing presence of the plague in Europe had brought about a consciousness of death and the consequent value of life that might well account for contemporary attitudes to suicide. From the high medieval period, the ‘Dances of Death’ appeared. These moralistic texts played a large part in popular visual culture, urging virtue against vice. Competing against the heroic in high art, the ‘Dances’ also supplanted the original biblical text’s ambiguity of meaning on suicide with one that was openly pejorative, and operated as a substitute for the Bible with the mass of the population. From the middle of the seventeenth century Delftware tiles depicting biblical scenes, including suicide, sold to the new middle class patrons in Europe who wished to buy themselves time and credibility. Delftware made in London and Liverpool was decorated with biblical scenes in the middle of the eighteenth century and these images were accompanied by graphic texts that affirmed the values and lifestyles of the growing merchant class. Jan Pluis’s book Bijbeltegels shows illustrations of two ‘Delft’ tiles from Utrecht devoted to the death of Saul. One undated 115

tile, by its pattern probably nineteenth century, shows Saul and his armour-bearer falling on their swords (illus. 56). Based on earlier popular German illustrations of the Bible such as Jan Luiken’s images in De Schriftuurlyke…, begun in 1649, and which depicted the heroic deaths of Saul and Samson especially (illus. 57, 58), these tiles belong to the tradition of vices and virtues, a tradition that goes back much further than Luiken’s book and can be found in German miniatures from the twelfth century. Such tiles would have been found in coffee houses, and round domestic fireplaces, where they could be ‘read’ to children. From the same Delft series a tile depicts Samson between the two pillars remaining of the temple; his captors are gone, and a tiled floor below him depicts the aftermath of Samson’s death while synchronizing his ‘existence’ after the event of his death (illus. 59). It thus captures the act and the essence of the nature of suicide, and forces us to read the death in terms of his freedom from captivity and his immortality. Eternity is a central feature of suicidal imagery, and of suicide itself. In this clever image Samson is moved forward in time and, though dead, lives on. Another tile shows Ahitophel on the gallows which stand out in the background. A second figure, which I presume to be the conspirator Absalom, beckons to King David on (illus. 60). This depiction, like the Old Testament story, is recounted as prosaic, though the annotated biblical text suggests his death was the work of God. It is on tiles such as these, and in the popular print market that worried the moralist Vicesimus Knox so much,52 that English attitudes to suicide and the new morality of the middle

56 ‘The Death of Saul and His Armour Bearer’, c. 1860, Delft tile. Tegelmuseum, Otterlo.


57 Jan Luiken, ‘The Death of Saul’, engraving from Luiken, De Schriftuurlyke … (Amsterdam, 1712).

58 Jan Luiken, ‘Samson’, engraving from Luiken, De Schriftuurlyke …

59 ‘Samson’, 18th century, Delft tile. Tegelmuseum, Otterlo.

60 ‘Ahitophel’, 18th century, Delft tile. Tegelmuseum, Otterlo.

classes are best illustrated. These prints were produced in multiple copies and reached a wider market than the Delftware tiles that decorated the stylish fireplaces of the middle classes. There is a reconstructed fireplace containing biblical scenes in the Singer Museum, Laren and another in Otterlo (illus. 61). One could imagine families gathered round these fireplaces on a cold night to tell moral tales while relating to their images. In France the picture was different. Current notions of Republicanism and actual revolutionary or patriotic suicides meant that deaths like those of Brutus, Cato, Seneca and Socrates were lauded 118

61 Reconstructed 18thcentury Dutch fireplace with tiles showing biblical scenes. Dutch Tile Museum, Otterlo.

during the French Revolution as acts of Republican liberty or Royalist sacrifice. Jacques-Louis David’s high-art images of the death of Seneca and that of Socrates (illus. 62) are examples, encouraging Republican virtue where the suicidal narrative takes on another aspect. In a history painting of this nature, the heroic position of suicide is connoted by its inclusion at the head of the hierarchy of genres. Richard Cobb’s study of revolutionary Paris reminds us that in the face of disappointment and poverty, suicide was virtually a contagion for the masses. However, these suicides went undepicted. In death as in life the poor, generally, remained unrepresented. It was philosophers and the like who went to the void in a heroic way. In keeping with Republican values, but in direct contrast to David’s heroic suicide of a Republican martyr, and breaking from earlier devotional images such as Holbein’s woodcut of Saul,53 Hogarth’s scathing final print from Marriage A la Mode shows the Countess dying from an overdose of laudanum (illus. 63). Hogarth does not show her intentions, though her self-destructive nature is witnessed throughout the moral story of six prints to illustrate the results and side-effects of her profligacy. It is to condemn such profligacy that is the moral purpose of the story; her death is a fitting end. The final 119

62 Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787, oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

63 William Hogarth, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;The Death of the Countessâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;, Plate VI from Marriage A la Mode, 1745, engraving.

print shows her dying in a dark and gloomy room, located on the banks of the Thames, in the heart of the commercial centre of the City in contrast to the earlier scenes of high life in the aristocratic West End. A tipped chair, bare boards, and a window showing the light outside, highlight the despair within. A closer look reveals that outside too the buildings are crumbling. The structures that symbolized the building of the relationship in the first print now symbolize its decay and destruction as a result of poor household management. A dog is eating the remains of food on the table. The Countess’s suicide takes place after her lover Silvertongue has been hanged as a result of his fight with her husband Squanderfield, in which the latter died. In this last print a child is being held up to the dying Countess. It is her child, a child not portrayed in previous prints. The girl has a caliper on one leg and is covered with black spots caused by mercury patches used in the treatment of syphilis. The signs of this congenital disease also act as a metaphor for the symptoms of luxuria and profligacy and the physical results of the Countess’s moral depravity. The end of the line is signified in respect of life and lineage. The inclusion of her father in the group around the Countess might serve to bring an element of pathos to this final chapter of the story. The fact that he, a merchant, is removing the wedding ring from her finger detracts from this reading , and it is more likely he is either usurping the legal taking of possession by the state or symbolizing its paternalistic nature. Reinforcing his merchant status and in contrast to the aristocratic portraits in the early prints in the series, Flemish ‘genre’ paintings hang on the wall and indicate her declining status as well as her origins. The surgeon with a stomach pump hanging from his pocket is dressing down a stupid servant for allowing her to obtain liquid laudanum. The perpetrator is a woman of high social standing. The popularity of such prints would have been assured with the new middle classes in order to affirm their rising status; but the decline of the Countess is noticeable not solely by the fact she is a woman of high standing but that she is a woman who has become pathetic and irrational. The taking of laudanum might be seen as an easy way out, a feminine death. Images like these accompanied an upsurge in medical and moral counselling for the suicidal, though just below the surface crust of these discourses was a molten Christian or bourgeois morality. The fatal mixture that led to this death was one of mental and moral weakness compounded by delirium. Any survey of such images will inevitably need to consider how the vast networks of culture, economics and social relations work 121

together in order to transmit differing ideas of suicide. It is perhaps as a consequence of this, and the long span of my survey of representations above, that the pattern emerging is hierarchical and overlapping. Increasingly, from the late eighteenth century, there appears to be less and less space reserved for a symbolic and heroic death derived from antique sources and the accompanying concern for heroic motive, and more and more for a display which indicated clinical problems, delirium, libertarianism or weakness of character. In this respect, Hogarth’s suicidal Countess is a forerunner of the notion of a flawed character as a cause of disintegration leading to suicide. In the visual field the stigmatization of suicide continued for a long time to come, though the gradual rationalization of suicide throughout the nineteenth century (as irrational to some extent) meant that discussion of suicide concentrated less and less on luxury and idleness as cause, and focused more and more on the gathering of statistics, anthropological discourse and finally clinical analysis. In this process the notion of sensibility was finally replaced by a concept of contaminated femininity. From the first representations of suicide in antiquity, the mental order which gave it meaning was a complex weave between words and images. Somewhere between these sign systems is the ‘sensation’ that is suicide. Yet both systems order language in their own way. The pursuit of a signified agreement between the two differing sign systems problematizes history itself, but should not prevent the historian looking for their coexistence. It is clearly difficult to hold down or keep in perspective an agreement between the two in the early modern period. My examination of the image-signs does not reveal the conformity to the simple binaries of the earlier Christian period, as is manifest in the Judas/Jesus oppositions, but a swarming in the gap between. Nor do these early modern images conform to the heroic suicides of antiquity. Specificity rather than arbitrariness may be a property of the visual but images of suicide show the potential for duality. Hogarth’s reworking of medieval superstition and the accompanying continental counterparts indicate a further rupture in suicide’s representation where suicide is given new political or social meaning. The essence of this whole period is, if we employ the readymade language of history, a battle between theology and rationalism. I wonder, in the light of the elusiveness of power and the overlayered nature of culture and suicide from the seventeenth century if these terms are adequate. Compared with Catholic countries, Protestant societies do not reveal markedly different traditions of representing suicide, despite 122

Protestantism’s claim to interpret the scriptures more narrowly. Yet in England, where suicide was stigmatized overall, suicidal imagery is less evident than on the Continent. From the fourteenth to the late eighteenth century, modes of dying, modes of killing and modes of murder interrelate and then break apart. From the beginnings of the early modern period suicidal discourse was fluid. Suicide was severely castigated, yet images of heroic suicide and sympathy for the victim abounded. The matrix which is evolving from my survey is one of a gradual iconography that moves women out of the heroic sphere altogether and at the same time de-heroicizes suicide. The new iconography that emerges is one of women as victims and sinners, and a waning of male images as suicidal imagery constructs and defines the loss of its heroic status. By the mid-nineteenth century heroic suicide fades from view to be superseded by irrational, satiric and depressive themes. Clinical suicide was yet to come. In the course of the eighteenth century, major changes were to take place in the representation of suicide. Ushered in by the image of England’s desperation from the 1720s and the graveyard poetry of Robert Blair and Edward Young in the mid-eighteenth century, from around 1780 to 1900 views of self-killing became charged with romantic notions of suicide and were greatly influenced by an actual suicide, the death of Chatterton. Before suicide was redesignated towards romantic love in the visual, and as effeminate, or as illness, the image of Chatterton became entangled with debates around Goethe’s ‘Werther’.


4 An English Dance of Death?

O Britain, infamous for Suicide! An Island in thy Manners far disjoin’d From the Whole World Rationals beside, In ambient Waves plunge thy polluted Head, Wash the ... slain, nor shock the Continents, But thou be shock’d, while I detect the Cause ... Blame not the clime ... expose the Monster’s birth ... I grant the deed is madness; but the madness of the Heart. edward young The Complaint: Or Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality

In 1743, the belief that Britain was a suicidal nation was clearly manifest in Edward Young’s poem Night Thoughts.1 Yet, the absence of statistical evidence makes this position uneasy, and in any case impossible to prove. The belief that the English were peculiarly prone to this strange death is, without doubt, associative; and, arguably, it could be seen as essentially a product of these poetic and other intellectual networks. In the same vein as Young and Blair’s graveyard poems, and published a year after Chatterton’s death, Thomas Warton’s poem of unrequited love, Ode on Suicide, popularly known as Warton’s Ode, lamented the death of a youth ‘whose genius high, Could build the genuine rhyme’.2 In France, the philosophes began to disassociate suicide from crime and Enlightenment ideas began to make effective the process of decriminalization. The rise of the popular press from the late seventeenth century meant violent deaths were reported widely and suicide became news. Across Europe the rise of capitalism, increasing urbanization and competition accompanied by notions of bourgeois individualism meant that risk-taking became a part of everyday life and suicide became associated with risk, with failure, and with weakness. Thus we are presented with two possibilities: that on the one hand, the large body of media and intellectual literature showing concern 124

64 Amusements des Anglais à Londres, 1814, engraved cartoon.

for voluntary death in Europe could have reflected a disturbing and inexplicable reality; or, on the other, it provides evidence of a fictionalization of the condition of life, which may itself initially have served to generate and subsequently to perpetuate such a belief. In either case, in the absence of reliable evidence, the very arbitrariness of European suicide rates would seem to argue that the nature of suicide’s meanings are, in fact, impossible to reduce to either universal cause or national character. However, it is nevertheless the fact that, as early as the 1720s, there was growing evidence in literature, at home and abroad, of a suspicion that England was the suicidal nation par excellence, the cause apparently being variously the gloominess of the English climate, its damp and fog, or even a strain of melancholy in the English national character.3 In France, war, famine and financial crisis from 1680 meant that actual suicides had increased.4 In 1709–10 this situation was worsened by a severely bitter winter. A century later, although suicide’s meanings had begun to be inscribed on another body, that of woman, a persistent belief in the melancholy of the English still provided an arena for argument, and for some a source of mockery, as apparent in prints like Amusements des Anglais à Londres of 1814 (illus. 64). Produced towards the end of the Napoleonic wars, the print cocks a snook at the English capacity for self-destruction. In England this was preceded some three years before by William Withers’ satirical guide125

book Some Thoughts Concerning Suicide, or Self-Killing; with General Directions for the more Easie Dispatch of the Affair. Withers’ guidebook on the art of suicide was aimed at the English upper classes whose leniency towards self-slaughter was well known. The French cartoon shows four fat Englishmen committing suicide at will, while a beaming fifth man holds up a copy of Young’s Night Thoughts. However, while Young’s poem was seriously concerned with ‘the importance of contemplating the tomb’5 in the didactic tradition of the medieval ‘Dances of Death’, which advocated a life of virtue over vice, this engraving, dated the year before Waterloo, appears more preoccupied with Anglophobic satire than moral education. It depicts an array of methods of suicide from drink (English beer) in the foreground to the figure who is throwing himself off a bridge in the background. All the suicides thus ‘amusing’ themselves are male, and all resemble the cartoon figure of John Bull. Whatever foreigners might have believed about the suicidal propensity of the English, there is evidence that some native-born Englishmen regarded suicide, like syphilis, as very much an imported result of vice. In 1736, Zachary Pierce’s A Sermon on Self-Murder had preached that the ‘greatest weight is laid by the Advocates for Self-Murder upon the Practice of the Romans: It has been called a Roman virtue, and Cato is placed at the head of this false Heroism.’6 Even stronger in its expression of the belief that suicide was a foreign thing was J. Henley’s Cato Condemn’d: Or the Case and History of Self-Murder of 1730 that attacked ‘Epicureans and Stoicks’ and their belief that ‘life is only a dull narrow Circle of the same Actions ... [who] seem to forget that the life of Man is a Progress in understanding and Goodness’.7 Describing suicide as a disease, ‘Orator’ Henley invoked the sixth commandment to accuse the suicide of acting out of cowardice, though he excused the act in a small minority of ‘Lunaticks’.8 From the early part of the eighteenth century there is a ground swell of argument and opinion which culminates in a period of intense debate after 1770 and the suicide of Chatterton and the publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther in 1774. These discourses bind together to form notions of romantic suicide which were international, but combined with Enlightenment philosophy and evangelical notions of the individual to culminate in a pivotal period of change wherein death itself was secularized, and after which a rash of suicidal imagery emerged alongside a neo-Gothic art which attempted to bring back the spiritual. During this short period up to around 1823, the textbook period of the so-called Industrial Revolution, and up to the suicide of Lord Londonderry, (the ‘Werther of 126

Politics’ as Byron described him),9 Neoclassical aesthetics dominated and reinforced Enlightenment ideas. As a result, new visions of hell emerged such as those in Blake’s Dantean images of tormented souls. The Wood of the Self-Murderers (illus. 83) shows several tortured metamorphosed bodies, part-tree, part human. Winged demonic figures occupy the branches. In Germany the Sturm und Drang was born. In France the Revolution ushered in a revival of classical ideas and the imaging of heroic suicide. Yet the array of differences that emerged in this period of romantic suicide ended in a period of overt moralizing. In England the traces of speech left alongside the visual and the perceived English capacity for morbidity and suicide actually appeared to lend coherence to the idea of ‘Englishness’. Suicide’s representations, and the resources of language which gave it meaning in the early eighteenth century, owed much to Enlightenment thinking, embodied in notions of suicide as a heroic act. In the philosophical writings of David Hume, suicide takes on an egoistic aspect where an obligation to God and to society impacts on Enlightenment deistic and social thinking, where suicide becomes associated with ideas of hopelessness. In Hume’s opinion, only God could win over the condition of life that causes such misery.10 Diderot, the French philosophe, thought that by encouraging optimism despair might be avoided and thus suicidal death.11 Holbach thought it was all right to quit the world if it was frightful. During the course of the eighteenth century suicide had been liberated from religious nomenclature; by the end of the period, however, strong feelings were still aroused by any attempt to remove its stigma, as illustrated by the case of a letter published on 3 April 1786 in the Gentleman’s Magazine, ‘by way of a response to a Mr. Forrest whose earlier letter to the column had attempted to remove the stigma justly fixed on one of the worst of crimes, Suicide’.12 The earlier letter, in the form of a written biographical sketch, had attempted to vindicate Forrest who had committed suicide some months previously.13 In contrast, David Hume’s realistic but radical view (no doubt aimed at baiting clerical opposition) was that no man ever threw away life while it was worth keeping.14 Later, these ideas were challenged by the resurgence of the early modern belief in suicide as a ‘crying crime’ and a product of despair.15 In 1792, the Gentleman’s Magazine published B. W. Oddy’s The Suicide, An Ode, which described suicide as a ‘grisly Monarch’, who struck ‘to the boldest heart appalling fear’.16 Oddy’s poem, like Young’s Night Thoughts, is in keeping with the didactic tradition of the visual versions of the ‘Dance of Death’ in which the ‘corrupted 127

but omnipotent body of death’ assumed various roles, such as a king or a servant constantly out to subvert the social system and trap all classes and ranks.17 This raffishness is a feature of the ‘Dances’ that lasts well into the nineteenth century and can be seen in the works of Rowlandson. It must be observed, however, that Romantic odes to suicide did not exhibit any kind of sympathy with suicide or suicidal behaviour; rather, they seemed intent on sentimentalizing death.18 However, one of their consequences may have been to pave the way for a freer discussion of self-killing. From the 1770s a fault line was appearing between suicide as despair and suicide as heroism, which, later in the century, resulted in a fracture in suicide’s meanings. During the period from Hogarth’s Death of the Countess to Reynolds’s Dido there is a marked change, and then from Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Seneca to Daumier’s Hanged One a final break occurs in meaning, marked by the introduction, in Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther, of the notion of suicide connected to the cult of love. As the century progressed, the representation of suicide underwent changes wherein the seeds were sown of the idea of suicide as romantic rebellion.19 Suicide thus began to be represented as an accusation against society; and most relevant in this context was the deployment of the death of the seventeen-year-old poet, Thomas Chatterton. The primary definers of this odd phenomenon and the nature of the changes in the conceptualization of suicide are visibly signalled in literary works and representations from the earlier period. The suicide of Chatterton helped polarize thought, and the suicide of Castlereagh helped change already existing discourses on the savagery and irrationality of punishment for the convicted felon. Both acted as important symbolic moments in the iconography of suicide. The discursive construct of an ‘Englishness’ whose essential property was deemed to be melancholy and a proclivity for suicidal death was visible internationally. The late-eighteenth and early-nineteenthcentury belief in England’s melancholic nature was not just confined to foreigners. It was an opinion that was widely held within England itself. Reinforced in the visual by popular prints like Hogarth’s Marriage A la Mode, depicting death by laudanum, or his later Gin Lane, a belief in the misery and corruptness of the English, and in their capacity for self-destruction, was in circulation from the early to the mid-eighteenth century. Gin Lane, which depicts a man hanging from a rope (illus. 65) is one of the earliest visual mediations of alienation, and provides compelling evidence that in England progress and reason was thought to be breaking down. 128

65 Detail from William Hogarth, Gin Lane, 1751, engraving.

The rope, considered the most demeaning and sinful of deaths, carried with it associations of punishment for crime, of Judasâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s death, and his betrayal of Christ. This is denoted in the body of the hanging barber, facing away from the church toward the distillery. Hanging also makes for a linguistic turn toward a violent and active concept of self-murder, in contrast to the more passive concept imbued in the Countessâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s swallowing of laudanum in Marriage A la Mode. However, in Dichtung und Warheit, Goethe noted that hanging as public punishment was taken lightly in England, and recalled the story of an Englishman who hung himself to relieve the tedium of having to get dressed and undressed each day. Implying that gin-drinking led to suicide and was irreligious, Gin Lane was an indictment of distilled drink, though hidden just below the surface lies a secondary moral discourse on drinking as death-byinstalments. Total immiseration is also represented as a cause of suicide. Confined in most cases to London, these representations of the self-destructiveness of the English were limited to a particular urban space; yet it can be argued that London stood in for and acted as a sign for England as a whole. In a fast changing economic order, the urban centre symbolized the national space and emphasized the misleading division between countryside and city pictured by Raymond Williams in The Country and the City, where he draws on the poetry of Blake to indicate the general condition of the unholy city.20 Despite the commonality of the city of London as the site for suicide, therefore, the city was seen to reflect national morals rather than be deemed the unique or singular cause of suicidal behaviour. 129

Nevertheless, urbanization was a real problem. Satan clearly found London an attractive place to visit. In a pamphlet from 1726, Isaac Watts proclaimed ‘Satan walks about through every street of this great city as a roaring lyon seeking those he may devour.’21 In 1715 a French writer, Georges Louis le Sage, had remarked that the people of England were, ‘the most unhappy people on the face of the earth’.22 In June 1720 the pages of the intellectual journal Mercurius Politicus expressed an anxiety that ‘suicide in Britain was so prevalent, or thought to be, that it constituted a national scandal’.23 The Gentleman’s Magazine, on 23 May 1737, contained an excerpt ‘by a foreigner’ claiming astonishment at the frequency of self-murder ‘among the English ... as the consequence of a black, gloomy troubled humour, and a savage Disposition unable bravely to support the Reverse of Fortune’.24 Earlier in the same month Fog’s Journal had carried an almost identical article by ‘a foreigner’ discussing the nature of the problem of England’s excessive suicide rate.25 In the 1730s Orator Henley thought Englishmen ‘ought peculiarly to guard against the great foibles, being obstinate and dissatisfied’.26 Henley assigned to the suicide a cowardice which courage and honour could overcome, and believed lunacy was not generally a cause of self-murder. Others demonstrated the fact that suicide was no respecter of class. Much earlier, William Gough astutely remarked that ‘Clergie, Laity, Learned, unlearned, Noble, meane, Rich, poore, Free, bond, Male, Female, young and old … could fall foul of this desperate inhumanity’.27 The quoted purpose of George Cheyne’s The English Malady, published in 1733, was to examine the ‘reproach thrown on this land by Foreigners to encounter the late frequency and daily Encrease of wanton and uncommon self-murderers’.28 In August 1732, the Gentleman’s Magazine retorted that ‘whether it was the changeable nature of the soil, the variety of diet, or in the animal temperament ... we have more instances of lunacy than any other country’.29 Lunacy and suicide are conflated here, though the causal factors of that lunacy lay with climate, soil and diet. Reportage of suicides was frequent. Most often it was the moral slant that was evident, but others assumed ‘love’ as a cause. Class and social position were also depicted as having some bearing on the matter of cause and, quite often, the means. The accounts contained within Peter Kalm’s Visit to England on the Way to America in 1748 reaffirmed the belief that the English killed themselves willy-nilly.30 Kalm, a Swiss naturalist, thought the climate was not entirely to blame. It is worth noting in this context the defensive strike launched by Charles Moore, who 130

observed in Dr. Moore’s Travels through Switzerland that suicide was very frequent in Geneva. This national propensity for self-murder was also examined in the context of representations of the national and behavioural characteristics of others less prone to suicidal death, or those motivated by greater heroic cause. The growing British press with its expansive readership may well have helped construct a view of suicide that was reinforced from within the country as well as without. In 1737 the Gentleman’s Magazine indicated that the heroic motive of voluntary death still existed, and suggested that the high rate of suicide in England was an aspect of fashionable Pompeian neo-Classicism.31 Implying a disgust for life as a cause of suicide for the English, the writer stated: ‘Never did Greek or Roman, of old cut his throat in a fit of melancholy, or purely through any particular disgust.’32 A few years later The Connoisseur claimed: ‘I do not hear that men dispatch themselves by dozens in Russia or Sweden, or that they are unable to keep up their spirits even in the total darkness of Greenland.’33 Voltaire, in his Philosophical Dictionary and Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws both compared the high rate of suicide among the English to the Romans. Montesquieu thought that the English ‘killed themselves most unaccountably, … even in the bosom of happiness’.34 By way of comparison Montesquieu included a short section on the perverseness of the Japanese ‘who set nothing before their eyes but judgments, menaces and chastisements’.35 The Scot, David Hume, thought that the English, however, were ‘as a nation soon elated or depressed’.36 A year earlier than Peter Kalm’s account, Abbé Prevost had launched a shaft at a single group of English Protestants rehearsing the accustomed view of the melancholic and suicidal tendencies of the English, but also introducing a new element to the debate.37 Open to history and to change, the tactical elements that put into play meanings of suicide are forever contested; and the sectarian divide which followed in the wake of the Reformation in England provided a promising new arena for conflict. After the loss of Purgatory described by Llewellyn,38 death itself became a focus of attention where, once again, ‘bad’ deaths were separated from ‘good’. As a result, suicide became a locus of debate just when Christianity itself was challenged by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, and death thus became the limit of life. In an attempt to separate out martyrdom from murder, and mark off ‘good’ from ‘bad’ deaths, the pages of Foxe’s virulently antipapist History of the Actes and Monuments of the Church (popularly 131

known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) distinguished ‘good’ deaths, invariably those of Protestants, from the ‘bad’ deaths which, unsurprisingly, were equally invariably those involving Catholics. In support of this division, the case was cited of an arrested Roman Catholic, Bishop Hales of Kent, who attempted to destroy himself with a penknife and finally found means of drowning ‘in shallow water’.39 ‘Stubborn papists’ ‘were evidence of the little comfort the doctrine and profession of papistry allowed’.40 And as evidence that conversion led down the same unfortunate path, Foxe added to the list of suicidal papists ‘Henry Smith ... a lawyer perverted to popery ... found naked, hanging, strangled by his shirt to the bed post’.41 It was not only the church that found itself concerned: from the mid-eighteenth century the growing number of cases reported in the Gentleman’s Magazine indicated that suicide was seen as a real threat to social order. ‘A farmer who had lain with a young girl, but refused to marry’, ‘a gentleman of plentiful failure’, an Islington man through guilt over an affair, John the glover after being imprisoned, a young woman servant who threw herself over a cliff and was thought to have had a love affair, and a young gentleman who was in love with a girl of inferior rank who shot himself with a pistol through the heart.42 The French chronicles tell similar tales but in both there is a failure to note the fact that servants often suffered blatant mistreatment and physical and sexual abuse.43 Even in matters of life and death, it seemed, social hierarchies had to be maintained, and, for the suicide, status and class was often signified by the means chosen for the deed. The Connoisseur, describing the Mohocks’ and Hell Fire Club’s absurd bravery, thought ‘a man of fashion almost always dies by the pistol’ but complained that ‘foreigners might be led to imagine that we are the most lunatic people in the whole world���.44 By the 1770s Caleb Fleming thought the ‘increased numbers of self-murder about this great city (London) ... and in other parts, is irrefragable proof of the deep depravity of the morals of our country’.45 John Herries’s public address on the ... Frequent and Enormous Crime of Suicide was concerned with ‘the number of fatal instances of suicide ... in the Metropolis’.46 Hume, quoting Rousseau, thought ‘mankind ... at present [was] in a state of the deepest corruption and depravity’.47 Later in the century Knox confessed that the English nation was ‘characteristically grave’, but thought the ‘increase of wealth had changed things’.48 Charles Moore’s attack on luxuria detailed the case of a young woman who had amassed a fortune and hung herself with a gold and silver girdle. Moore lamented that ‘the 132

ennui of the English and high contempt of death ... quiet sensibility joined with gravity of temper ... the great degree of constitutional liberty [were] a source of impatience and suicide’.49 The French press suppressed suicidal death, in England suicide was hot press, and the rash act of voluntary death became popular news in the course of the eighteenth century. This also meant suicide was losing its supernatural aspect. Popular literacy and individualism grew side by side, and reading news became an increasing part of popular culture. While on one level this indicated widening participation in the culture of writing and reading, on another it suggested that, for the time being at least, there was a concomitant exclusion from the visual. Well supported in writing, the visual production and regulation of England’s misery was also much in evidence in the period. The mythical foreigner’s identity as ‘other’ was assured, as the symbolic entity of England was prescribed as self-destructive within the context of a changing Europe. That difference should be articulated through a nation or religion’s capacity for self-murder within the increasing state control of life, where death marks out the limits of that power, is understandable, though a much larger survey would be required to assess the scale of the marking out of that symbolic territory. The growth of national states in Europe, accompanied as it inevitably was by both internal and external conflict, resulted in the equally inevitable development of centralized mechanisms for control.50 The regulation of birth, death and changes in family structure was accompanied by increased mobility, where the conflicting demands of state-making and capital were contested on a European scale. In the face of these changes, high art looked backwards to antiquity. Pompeian neo-Classicism depicted the heroic in general, and employed the past to represent a new heroic present that helped affirm the status and identity of the new bourgeois as a liberal and utilitarian individual. Robert Tourniere’s Hero and Leander; Henry Fuseli’s or Joshua Reynolds’s Dido; Boulanger de Boisfremont’s or Antoine Rivalz’s Cleopatra; William Blake’s or Johan Platzer’s Samson; Henry Fuseli’s, Gavin Hamilton’s or Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini’s Lucretia; Angelica Kauffman’s or Francesco Bartolozzi’s Sophonisba; Johann Nahl’s or Mathias Oesterreich’s Pyramus and Thisbe are representative of academic values. Here, however, the retention of the ancient heroic component has less to do with cynicism or Epicureanism than with academic principles and practice. In effect this meant that the Academies reinforced the hierarchy of 133

genres which was predisposed towards the genre of history painting and therefore classical and didactic themes rather than a resurgence in the belief in heroic suicide. In terms of contemporary suicidal discourses, these paintings are thoroughly infused with a particularly backward-looking ideology. For visual evidence of suicide as a social issue, we have to look to the sphere of popular culture, and in particular to the print market, where the question of the social nature of death and suicide was beginning to be critically addressed, and where, at the same time, heroic academic representation was being challenged. In writing, where the addresser/addressee relationship is clearer, evidence of belief in England’s suicidal nature is more evident than in the visual sphere. Du Suicide, a small book published in Paris in 1797, listed fourteen causes of suicide of which the ‘Premiere Cause’ was disgust and a satiation of life.51 Barely past the first page, the writers declared that the English in general were affected by this above all. ‘Their climate contributes without doubt, but their political habits and morals contribute also.’52 More pertinent here is that this literary battle to establish the nature of suicide became enmeshed with a whole range of associated issues: the secularization of suicide at ground level, a growing belief in the social nature of suicide, the highbrow debate which developed in the wake of The Sorrows of Young Werther and the extraordinary public response to the boy poet Chatterton, whose death in 1770 at the age of seventeen caught the romantic imagination of painters and poets as a symbol of alienation and opposition to utilitarian values. Though Chatterton’s death did not affect the general conviction of England as a suicidal nation, it did deflect overt criticism, and shifted the blame from a national body onto an economic and social one. Mary Dawes Blackett prefaces her ode to Chatterton, Suicide : A Poem, with the following concern: The frequent and alarming acts of suicide, which have for a series of years struck terror into the hearts of every thinking being call for a most serious consideration … that the people of this country are notoriously eminent for the commission of this crime, is a truth that has long been admitted.53

Though Blackett begins by admitting the ‘eminence’ of the English in committing suicide, the poem then attempts to vindicate Chatterton. Along with Blackett, and apparently unnerved by the preoccupation with Chatterton’s pathetic end, literary scholars such as Vicesimus Knox and Charles Moore began attempts to establish the masculinity of staying alive, and the femininity of death and suicide, more with the aim of protecting English masculinity from romantic 134

and dangerous notions of suicide than with a deliberate resignification of suicide or of masculinity itself. Moore and Knox drew associations between suicide, luxury, idleness and effeminacy. In addition to climate as a cause of suicide, Moore was convinced that, ... ennui, habits of indolence and sedentary employment, [and] ... animal Food all caused nervous affectation ending in melancholy and lunacy … [though] luxury and idleness as causes of suicide were thought to be prime factors influencing the high rate of self-murder.54

Despite the extremely interesting dietary aspects of Moore’s argument in his references to ‘animal food’, which may well look back to medieval superstition which connected animal spirits and despair, creeping into these suicidal discourses was the moral notion of luxurious effeminacy which caused a rupture in the belief of heroic suicide. Vicesimus Knox described suicide as exemplifying the ‘danger of submitting to the warm emotions of the heart in preference to the cool deductions of reason’.55 John Herries had blamed luxury and depravity above all, and designated suicide as cowardly. The particular depravity referred to appeared to be displayed by men of sensibility, who were according to Herries ‘the offspring of hell’.56 In the eighteenth century, sensibility was thus deemed a major cause of suicidal tendencies: sensibility, according to Knox ‘rendered a man detestable and a woman ridiculous’,57 and he was quick to cite Hogarth’s humorous prints mocking effeminacy in support of his argument. The coexistence of the verbal and visual meant that the power Knox attributed to the visual gave further credence to his argument. The ‘sister arts are known to possess the power of exciting ... of rousing the mind to manly virtue, or relaxing it to vice and effeminacy’.58 Knox’s use of the feminine gender to describe the arts emphasizes the patriarchal ideology that informs his writing, and though his employment may well imply the purity of artistic pursuit, it expresses also an uneasiness concerned with temptation and man’s fall. Described by MacDonald and Murphy as a saccharine author, Knox’s essays actually make farreaching statements about meaning ‘caught at a glance’ which epitomize debates about imagery and interpretation. Knox was concerned that images of suicide would tempt people to kill themselves. What had been a national problem and therefore ‘masculine’ increasingly became one linked to social, economic and mental problems, and through these the aspect of gender was relocated. The gendered nature of suicide had been consciously evidenced as early as Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1628) which suggested clinical motives for male and female suicides, while Bernard Mandeville, a 135

Dutch physician who had come to England because he thought it the best place to study his specialism, had in 1713 published Hypochondriack and Hysterical Passions, which tied both categories to suicidal deaths, and added that these mental states were ‘vulgarly called the Hypo in men and Vapours in Women’.59 The juncture at which suicide changed from being represented as having particular causes and outcomes according to gender to being regarded as predominantly associated with the feminine is not clear, but that it arose from a mixture of medicalization and notions of individualism which insisted that man took control of his life and maintained it is more apparent. In the visual, the notion of England’s propensity for suicidal death was countered by other means. Rowlandson’s The English Dance of Death includes two suicides. These moral stories, in the same vein as Hogarth’s, contain a satire, ‘She Died for Love He Died for Glory’, which might be seen as resistant to the belief in the English as the suicidal nation par excellence. The scene, a dissipated version of the story of Hero and Leander, depicts the irrationality and foolishness of suicide in a pact by two lovers. It may well be that Rowlandson’s image is a direct reference to the story of Hero and Leander. There are many visual references to the story in European painting from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth. Carracci painted it in the sixteenth century. Rubens’s version of 1605 is a dramatic piece depicting the lovers in a swirling torrent with nymphs taking the bodies. Tourniere painted the theme in the eighteenth century, and in the nineteenth century Turner painted a version. In Rowlandson’s aquatint Death is shown as a skeleton sitting back and wiping (his) brow. Death’s role in the dance tradition is predominantly an active one, one that from the plague years warned of the immanence of death, but here he is passive (illus. 66). The caption below the aquatint gives further weight to his passivity: ‘Death smiles and seems his dart to hide, when he beholds the suicide.’ Crucial to Rowlandson’s playful morbidity is William Combes’s rhyming caption, which describes the events as follows: Alas I’ve such a tale to tell Of one who lov’d but lov’d too well, The Fair was graced with every charm, ... and virtues self was seen to shine In the warm breast of Caroline, The Youth to whom her heart she gave was noble, generous and brave;60


66 Thomas Rowlandson, ‘The Suicide’, from The English Dance of Death, 1814–16, colour aquatint.

On the face of things the tale is one of Henry trying to save someone in a turbulent sea, and drowning in the process. Caroline then throws herself into the waves after her lover. The story represents in gendered form the two types of suicide: for the man, a heroic voluntary death and for woman, dolor suicide as a result of irretrievable loss. Caroline is wearing a white diaphanous gown in the style of antiquity, and a red sash which might imply that the image is of a ‘foreign’, Republican or Epicurean death. The mental concept triggered by this visual image is of suicide as a foreign thing. Exteriority is forever at work in these representations, and the image may be part of the attempt to remove the stigma to (an)other. The change to a different designation for suicide was signified in works such as Charles Moore’s A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide, Vicesimus Knox’s Essays Moral and Literary and Caleb Fleming’s A Dissertation upon the Unnatural Crime of Self-Murder: Occasioned by the Many late Instances of Suicide in this City (and) caused by the deep depravity of the morals of our country. Particularly zealous in trying to fend off accusations that English(men) were prone to suicide, the writers take pains in these essays to ensure that the deed was given a moral dimension. Cause was redesignated towards ‘the love of trivial pursuits, … habits of dissipation and luxurious modes of living’, combined with ‘a melancholic and a desponding state of mind’.61 137

In this case, the change was more pronounced in popular than in high culture and, in both the written and the visual, popular culture demonstrated a difference from high art, where an effective silence was maintained on contemporary debates on suicidal death. In popular culture and in writing the act of suicide took on meanings of mental instability and of alienation. Also, women’s identity was seen as fragmented: feminine deaths either erased identity or reaffirmed it. In high art, those meanings were silenced and a heroic death was depicted. Chatterton’s image falls dangerously on the resultant fault line between the two. Much later Wallis’s celebrated Death of Chatterton perpetuated the myth of the romantic artist and Chatterton’s ‘medievalism’. Wallis’s depiction of the boy poet’s death in painting moved the focus away from effect towards cause, and offered other meanings, more related to the nineteenth-century myth of the ‘artist’. I would contend that in the painting, suicide is secondary to the topic of alienation. Depicted in the work is a boy whose only way to freedom was through death. These romantic notions of suicide broke from the idea of suicide as ‘national’ and brought together the two different concepts of martyrdom and heroic suicide in one image. Above all, they pointed an accusing finger at ‘society’ as the perpetrator and Chatterton as its victim. When Flaxman, much influenced by Swedenborgian ideas, created the drawings which were the seminal source for the painting (see title page), he modelled for them himself, and envisaged himself as the underpaid artist in the infamous rookeries of London. Wallis used his friend Meredith as model (illus. 67). Meredith was uncannily like Chatterton in that his own ambitions of literary success had been thwarted. However, the visual cult of Chatterton began with Flaxman’s drawing of around 1775, and from the beginning the boy poet was depicted as a martyr. Flaxman’s ink drawing Chatterton taking the Bowl of Poison from the Spirit of Despair depicts a youth in a nightdress offered the cup by a crouching swarthy spirit and then being taken up by a goddess in a chariot. Like Herakles of antiquity, Chatterton is bypassing death to become immortal. Chatterton’s death also provided a vehicle for debate on the causes of suicide. ‘I am aware that the climate has been urged as a reason;’ wrote Mary Dawes Blackett in the preface to her Suicide. A Poem, ‘... but if the argument holds good, why are not the nature of other countries inhabiting the same parallel of latitude affected by this horrid Mania’.62 Blackett’s insightful comments are then followed by reasons for the death of Chatterton: 138

67 Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton, 1856, oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London.

Madness and frenzy siez’d thy tortured brain, Full in thy view the ready weapon laid Despair suggested, and they had obeyed!63

Suicide as a result of impulse or intuition thus became added to the list of causes, in opposition to ideas of suicide as an exercise of intellect and reason. In the history of the death of Chatterton is figured the change towards suicide as an effect of (temporary) insanity. It was the verbal and visual representations of Chatterton’s suicide that marked the beginning of its modern interpretations. His sensational death at so tender an age inspired a body of writing which was sustained for over 170 years and which finally petered out as late as 1959.64 From the work by Flaxman in 1775 to Wallis in 1848, and onwards into the twentieth century, the road of the historian of suicide is littered with ‘Chattertonia’. No other death has been immortalized in the same way. A memorial handkerchief depicting the poet in his garret was offered for sale in 1785 (illus. 68). As befitting an item of of memorabilia, it is not an image of the suicide but of the body intact or the resurrected body of the poet contemplating in his garret.65 The handkerchief bears the title ‘The Distressed Poet or a True Representation of the Unfortunate Chatterton’. The text that accompanies the image claims that it was drawn by a friend. In the centre is a portrait of the boy poet at his folding table, and the bed is pressed up 139



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68 A reproduction of the ‘Chatterton Handkerchief ’ of 1785.

against the wall, indicating the lack of space. Bare, apart from a bottle on the table, the room has no carpet, curtain or furnishing. The bottle may be intended for a candle, alternatively, it may be the bottle of arsenic, or it may be a symbol of salvation taking on an ironic meaning within this dark claustrophobic scene. The brickwork is exposed through the plaster where damp has leaked in. The latticed window offers no view. In fact, it is sealed from the outside world, promising no redemption for society’s victim. Nothing can penetrate the space within. No door is shown to allow exit or entry. For Chatterton, there is no possibility of a way out. There is little doubt that the indexical tinder which sparked the idea of suicide as a result of feminine affectability was Goethe’s poem Werther. Reprinted seven times in English translation before 1806, Werther the popular flower-gathering hero was also a focus of highbrow English moral abuse. So influential was the Werther/Chatterton debate that MacDonald and Murphy devote several pages to describing the visualization of Chatterton and the catalysing agent for his legend, Werther.66 140

Against a background of opinion that luxury and depravity was bringing about a crisis of suicide in England, and the backlash against sentiment and sensibility, the death of Chatterton shifted the debate on suicide in another direction and mobilized a case for which the moralists could argue. That the feelings of Werther, who died for love, should be likened to Chatterton’s clearly offended Charles Moore, who thought the ‘marvelous boy’ was to be admired, not for his death, but for his innate and early-ripened abilities.67 Moore, a vicar, had much to say about love and madness and, drawing on Virgil, finally concluded that suicide was but a cowardly and effeminate revenge.68 Vicesimus Knox described Chatterton in the following eulogy: He had all the tremendous sensibility of genius ... Even his death, unfortunate and wicked as it was, displayed a haughtiness of soul, which urged him to spurn a world, where even his exalted genius could not vindicate him from contempt, indigence and contumely ... Unfortunate Boy!69

Unwilling to condone suicide, yet accusing Chatterton’s victimizers of insolence, Knox blamed a cruel world for the poet’s death. In doing so, he unwittingly pointed the way forward in suicidal discourse, to the identification of a social cause for suicide and the resultant ‘Durkheimianism’ of a century later. It was the fact of Chatterton’s youth that touched people’s hearts, inspired poems, and helped to sell Herbert Croft’s sensational Love and Madness, which wove Chatterton’s death into a story of murder and deception. Chatterton had become a symbol both of romantic suicide and of a death motivated by a lack of recognition rather than a desire for fame. In France his death was written into a play, by de Vigny. At the other end of this 50-year period of change stands the case of Castlereagh, Marquis of Londonderry. Arguably, the death of Viscount Castlereagh was a significant marker in bringing about changes in the reception of suicide per se. Breaking the legal mould by challenging the verdicts of non compos mentis and felo de se, the Coroner’s verdict was that Castlereagh had committed suicide during a moment of temporary insanity: On the 12th August 1822, and for some time previously, under a grievous disease of the mind ... and by reason of the said disease, became delirious, and not of sound mind ... and while labouring under such disease ... did strike and cut and stab himself on the carotid artery.70

On that day in August, Castlereagh, then Leader of the House of Commons, got out of his bed, interrupted his breakfast, which he grumbled about, and went off to his dressing room. He then called his personal doctor who arrived, moments later, to find him bleeding to 141

death from his carotid artery. Castlereagh had severed this main artery with a small penknife.71 The outraged response to Castlereagh’s burial in Westminster with all honours demonstrated the gulf of meanings of suicide that existed between academic opinion and popular belief; between government and clerical religious belief on the one side and the popular masses and lay religious belief on the other. How could his death be described? To image it as an egoistic act would have indicated a weariness of life. To portray it as self-sacrifice would have constructed a death that raised questions about Conservative politics in a period when the current values of utilitarianism meant that his suicide might well be seen as evidence of the freedom allowed an individual. Artistic intention is notoriously difficult to discern, but I would guess that the imaging of Castlereagh’s death was designed to evoke sympathy for the dead man (illus. 69). It did the opposite. The ‘nation’s response contained elements of moral outrage at the verdict of temporary insanity and his burial in Westminster, and the political view that his death signalled the death of old European conservatism. The case of Castlereagh thus acted as a modifier. In death, the Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons whose political life stood as a symbol of Conservatism caused a political scandal and a legal and moral dilemma. For the English at least, with Castlereagh’s death, perhaps the old, somewhat effete, nation was symbolically killed off, to be replaced by a new, more bourgeois, masculinity. E. H. Carr once said that the historian deals in a multiplicity of causes. Before I am found guilty of reduction under the ‘crux of Cleopatra’s nose’ clause,72 then, allow me to explain the importance of this event. To some extent, like Chatterton’s death and its ensuing publicity, the death of Castlereagh and the events following the coroner’s verdict and burial in Westminster Abbey helped polarize popular thinking and legal and intellectual debates on the nature of suicide. My argument is that it was clearly important in the hierarchy of causes that brought about changes in suicidal discourse. Castlereagh’s suicide was deployed as a marker of a shift away from suicide as a national concern to suicide as a product of insanity (temporary or otherwise) and, inadvertently, towards the perception of suicidal death as feminine. George Cruikshank’s image of the suicide was published widely in a memorial book to evoke sympathy, and highlight the ‘temporary’ insanity behind Castlereagh’s death. The print after Cruikshank shows Castlereagh’s doctor supporting the bleeding Viscount, who still grasps the penknife in his right hand; his wife hovers in the doorway, clasping her hands together. Castle142

DEATH of 1:heMARQUIS of LONDONDERRY. '13rtnklwat!.let-1n e .Fall.upony ow- Arrn._'TiY all ove-r'~ 69 Death of the Marquis of Londonderry, 1822, print after drawing by George Cruikshank, hand-coloured frontispiece to T. P. Fitzgerald, The Political and Private Life of the Marquess of Londonderry … including Most important and authentic Particulars of his Last Moments and Death … (Dublin, 1822).

reagh’s face is contorted, but the drawn features reflect a tortured mind rather than the pain of death. Even in extremis he retains a trace of ideal, aristocratic decorum. The pose, despite his slumping figure, is reminiscent of Reynolds’s academic portraits of the period, in which the Apollo Belvedere was interpreted. One leg is thrust forward, one arm slightly raised. The spectator’s eye is drawn from the left of the image to the horrified wife framed in the doorway, then to the physician, and finally to Castlereagh, to focus on the blood gushing from his carotid artery, and then down to the open pen knife. The graphic nature of Cruikshank’s image was clearly a part of the new nineteenth-century realism, imbued with its ideology of verisimilitude; but, the graphic reality of the image functioned to show the horror of the death and to connote a disturbed mind. Castlereagh is holding the penknife, and Cruikshank clearly shows the gash in Castlereagh’s throat. The point that the image was designed to evoke sympathy for the victim is strengthened by the depiction of his horrified wife in the background. The strategies employed by the coroner’s jury, and by the archTory parliamentarian the Duke of Wellington, were aimed at confirming Castlereagh’s delusions, and a verdict of felo de se was thus avoided.73 In the notion of ‘temporary’ the verdict of non compos mentis was also excluded. This important event signified a change in the legalities of suicide as a criminal act; though it was a second related event that aided and abetted the general cause and added a further modification to the history of suicide. A year after Castlereagh’s death, an apprentice law student, Abel Griffiths, was judged a felon de se and buried at a crossroads. The public outrage that followed ensured his was the last ever recorded crossroads burial. Public sympathy for Griffiths was universal. Yet in Castlereagh’s case, the public refused to sympathize with the victim. Radical political opinion, represented in the scathing passages of Byron’s Don Juan, describes a particular conservative sensibility, and reports ‘the syllables of dolour yelled forth by the newspapers ... the harangue of the Coroner in the eulogy over the bleeding body of the deceased’.74 Perhaps the ‘sickness’ of sensibility embodied in the character of Werther found a cure in the nineteenth century with Carlyle’s ‘everlasting no’, where suicide came to be seen as an act of disobedience or moral cowardice that transgressed notions of heroic and religious suicide. (It may come as no surprise that Carlyle thought Byron a ‘Werther’.) The political sensibility of Castlereagh was represented as born of aristocratic privilege. His death gave radicals hope, but also 144

signified a changing attitude to suicide, where a particular backwardlooking sensibility was seen as causal. Through the deaths of Chatterton and Castlereagh the act of suicide was publicized and politicized. In the former, death was attributed to contemporary disregard for the poet, and more than anything else, Chatterton’s authorship was brought to the fore as a result. In the latter, the hand that held the knife was represented as guided by forces that signalled the death of the ancien régime, though, once again, the death was deployed to make change. That suicidal death should be exteriorized, displaced or relocated on to a regime, or on to one national body, is explicable as a symptom of cultural pressure, where suicide, England and the English were posited by other nations as ‘what-we-are-not’. By operating to cement together other national identities where suicide was not so readily put to press, England became a mirror that offered stability and control for others. At a symbolic level, the debates on the Englishness of suicide not only represented a contest for meaning itself but also for the authorship of meaning. From the death of Chatterton onwards suicide was resignified, and by 1823 suicidal discourse broadened to include other configurations.


5 Preserving Life and Punishing Death

In the nineteenth century, the myriad evidences of suicidal discourse imply both that its compass was widening and that its representations resist simple compartmentalization. In fact, during the course of the nineteenth century and forward into the early years of the twentieth, the superimposition, one on another, of the many ideas conveying ‘suicide’ imply it had no leading sense; it still remained part of moral discourse but many other things too. Rather, it imported variant and very different constructions. The competing voices of the lexicon by which nineteenth-century artists and writers openly addressed the issue of suicide obliges a more thematic analysis. This chapter will thus investigate a series of differing writings and images with linking themes: suicide and the city; suicide, gender, prostitution and drowned women; drink, dishonour and falling and fallen women; pornographies of violence; satires of suicide; the death of the heroic; public abasement; contaminated femininity and vampiric suicide; demonic ingression; suicide as illness, suicide as feminine and lunacy. In the nineteenth century these variant constructions formed a topology whereunder heroic suicide becomes buried as the century progresses. In the period stretching from late medieval to early modern times, visual images of suicide represented this form of death as rational, reasonable, heroic and praiseworthy, in the face of a competing religious discourse on death that represented its suicidal form as irrational, bewildering, sinful, stigmatized, in some cases demonic but, above all, as punishable. Many ‘old stories were retold’1 in representation: for example, the fourteenth-century miniaturist’s version of the twelfth-century story of St James’s Pilgrim by Gautier de Coincy. The story is of a man who castrates himself and dies. In the Marian myths he is rescued by Mary, though as a eunuch who is made to wear a red thread around his neck, and lives long enough to do penance. Mary thus circumvents God’s justice. Rather than image the castration, Jean Pucelle’s illustration of around 1334 shows him stabbing himself in the throat. In the absence of records for the French case, 146

these stories and images provide a useful source of evidence of the continuing presence of suicidal discourse. Roman law appeared to be more sympathetic to suicides in its judgement yet, if proven guilty, the severity of treatment was greater. It was common to find competing versions of the same story; and subsequent translations further operated to inhibit stereotyping. Murray’s account of the representation of the death of Henry of Hohenstaufen, King of the Romans, confirms that differing versions existed of the same death, each tale with a history of its own. In his analysis, motive was varied and ranged from ‘jealousy’, ‘remorse’ and ‘inopportune love’ to ‘repugnance’.2 In the early modern period, the hidden grammar of suicide was iconographically represented and discursively constituted in an engagement between the criminalization and mystification of suicide, set against its decriminalization and demystification. In the course of the nineteenth century the rational image of suicide was challenged by the notion of suicide as the product of an unsound mind. By the 1840s suicide was also seen as sad, comic or downright bizarre. Yet old ideas of suicide did not disappear, but survived alongside the new. The actual recognition of the links between suicide and mental illness is a modern phenomenon. Until then, from the earliest Protestant notions of self-killing as mortal sin to the Hogarthian view of suicide as an effect of luxury and self-destruction, the stigma remained. In the course of the nineteenth century there was a dramatic shift away from notions of the heroic to conceptualizations of suicide as irrational and medical. In contrast, some thought that death by suicide represented a rational choice on the part of Christian and Epicurean alike. This may well be explained by the philosophical principle that thought itself, whether Christian or Epicurean, was deemed to belong to the individual and was therefore an aspect of being. In 1832, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge published eleven volumes of Religious Tracts, of which the third volume, Against Particular Vices and Errors. Sermons and Exhortations to a Religious Life, contained a short piece entitled ‘Suicide: Its Guilt and Punishment’. This condemned suicide by means of two case studies of female servants guilty of some ‘material act of carelessness’. The first told the moral story of two women who drowned themselves in their master’s garden. Adding what appears to be an element of pure fiction to the tale, the writer claimed that ‘one had repented and tried to free herself but was dragged down by her companion’. The second case also involved two female servants who had ‘connected themselves with some workmen (one of whom was a married man). Both walked 147

blindfold into the river – one with a child.’ The problem of servants in respect of suicide has been mentioned already and so too has the silence around the strict regimens of punishment and abuse servants often suffered. Georges Minois reports similar cases for France.3 Mary never appeared to intervene in these cases, though it has to be said that miracula appears to be part of Catholic discourse. Shameful and sick, these servants had succumbed to the Devil and as usual he was there to help drag them further down. However, it is in the period of the nineteenth century that we begin to see illustrations of these deaths. At the same time a growing relationship of suicide with mental alienation can be seen in images such as Etienne Esquirol’s Maladies mentales of 1839 or manifest in the growth of manuals in Britain warning of the potential danger of suicide for depressive patients.4 Quoting from an earlier article in The Courier of 1817, and skilfully embellishing The Courier’s reportage, the SPCK pamphlet made much more of the linguistic notions of being ‘dragged down’. The emphasis on the blindfold also served to indicate the foolishness of the cause of the death though, according to the writer they had no excuse, as ‘no possible degree of insanity could be brought ... for them’. Moral stories like these abounded in religious pamphlets, particularly in the year after the death of Viscount Castlereagh when suicide became a topical issue and debates in parliament succeeded in securing the abolition of the crossroads burial. Female suicides by drowning were frequently reported as motivated by ‘disappointed passion’. In the same SPCK pamphlet collection, female ‘deaths’ were contrasted with male ‘suicides’, such as that of a bankrupt tradesman who took deadly poison, a farmer whose crops failed and who hanged himself and a mechanic with a large family who could not maintain them and cut his throat. The violence of these male deaths is contrasted to the more passive female mode of drowning. This difference is not reinforced in the visual. The motive for male deaths appeared to offer a parallel with heroic suicide, in that it was represented as a lost battle, though in this case a battle against natural, cruel, or unbearable economic forces. Female deaths were attributed to disappointment in love or the loss of chastity. The latter was thus seen as shameful and sick. Summarizing, the writer of the SPCK pamphlet gives a useful template for the analysis of the gendered representation of suicide: male suicide is linked with pecuniary distress, female suicide with disappointed passion. For the pamphleteer the motive in both cases appears to be an avoidance of punishment, which is offered as evidence of sanity. The opinion is clearly one carried over from earlier 148

religious discourse, and serves to illustrate the multi-discursive nature of suicide in the period. There are, however, very few references to satanic incitement to self-murder in these religious texts. Clearly, these arguments can be placed within the context of the economic and philosophical changes taking place in the period, and viewed as a product of the Protestant, scientific and essentialist belief in progress, in opposition to the fragmentation and dissolution implied by suicidal despair. Also underlying the religious essays on suicide published by the SPCK are assumptions concerning the work ethic. In this instance, the semantic energy of the changing vocabulary of suicide can be located within a pragmatic agenda that urged on the new working class the value of moral, sexual and financial caution. While religion continued to condemn all aspects of suicide, what came to the surface in the course of the modern period was the continued and increasing identification of lunacy as a cause of suicide. This replaced the earlier idea of suicide as linked with ‘thought’ and rationality with one where the association was with ‘unthought’ and irrationality. The movement away from a concern with natural science towards biology, and a concern for the body as an object of knowledge rather than nature, resulted in a change in the typology of suicide. In the wake of this, the nineteenth century saw suicide become the object of detailed historical scrutiny, manifest above all in the works of Morselli and Durkheim and in the governmental collections of suicidal data and statistics with their underlying claims to relational truth. It is useful here to pause and consider that what I am claiming as a sea change in the representation of suicide in the late eighteenth century can be contextualized within what Foucault describes as emergent new modes of ‘being’. To apply such terms to the changing meanings of suicide from the mid-century onwards would mean that the similarities and differences demonstrated in our earlier iconography would be replaced by representations that gave credence to a study of ‘man’ as a being who is physical, mental and social rather than spiritual. Chatterton, as one of the most popular icons of the period, was, in fact, portrayed as youth alienated from a cruel and increasingly bourgeois world. Nowhere is this clearer than in de Vigny’s play where he is framed as the victim of a modern society. Nineteenth-century images of suicide thus revert to the representation of an authority similar to earlier theological texts, but in the tales retold, a shift was occurring in the designation of responsibility from God, or the Devil, to Man, and from Christianity to the new religion of work. In effect this is a shift from representation to self-representation, 149

which allowed the depiction of the ‘Other’, and the bringing together of mental process with being. During the nineteenth century ‘man’ was perceived as a combination of thought and being. The very nature of this combination meant thought and unthought were given specific consideration, and out of this arose the strange construction of ‘feminine logic’ with its attendant discourses of suicide as irrational, suicide as a product of feeling and, therefore, suicide as unmanly. As an effect of this, representations of suicide became concerned with cause and process rather than the deed itself. It is historically feasible that the late eighteenth century’s large body of suicidal discourses gave shape to this shift, and also made it plausible. The perceptibility of suicidal imagery and discourse was, on the one hand, a manifestation of a concern for life and its preservation; on the other, it gave rise to an expression of such uneasiness that late-eighteenth-century preaching on suicide might be seen to have heralded a new era of severity. However, it was more likely that it signalled the dying gasps of value-driven signs of suicide as symbols of either heroism or unholiness. Such was the nineteenth century’s growing belief in the power to sustain and control life, yet punish death, that suicide’s imaging ceased to be about humankind, and instead became a didactic lesson turned back on the spectator. Throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and through the whole of the modern period, suicide remained criminalized, though increasingly sympathetic coroner’s juries began to bring in verdicts of non compos mentis or, for those ‘unfortunates’ fished out of the Thames, of Found Drowned. This notion is depicted in George Frederick Watts’s huge canvas of 1848‒50 (illus. 84). Such a verdict avoided altogether the issue of suicide as a felony, and attempted to circumvent the established stigma, which associated a drowned woman with prostitution or unwanted pregnancy. Towards the end of the century, Henry Mayhew’s accounts in the Morning Chronicle of needlewomen forced to take to the streets verifies the reality of the desperation felt by women in the casual labour market.5 It was, however, the Regent’s Canal rather than the oft-pictured River Thames where the reality of suicide generally occurred.6 The political nature of this phenomenon can be seen in visual representations of Thomas Hood’s poem, The Bridge of Sighs, which aimed to discredit the New Poor Law, and referred directly to the case of Mary Furley, a seamstress who had tried to drown herself and her children after her purse was stolen.7 Furley was tried for infanticide at the Old Bailey on 16 April 1844. The Times leader on 20 April 150

declared that the New Poor Law had ‘brought this poor creature to the verge of madness’.8 In response to the case Dickens published an ironic but savage letter entitled ‘A Threatening Letter to Thomas Hood from an Ancient Gentleman’. In it he attacked the judge. Later, he recalled Furley’s case when he wrote The Chimes.9 In the light of the emphasis upon family values and motherhood under the new system of work, these representations were deployed as propaganda for the social institution, where the family was designated as a site of primary socialization, or as part of what Louis Althusser called ‘ideological state apparatuses’.10 In Althusserian terms, such a valued institution as the family would be disrupted by suicidal death, and the hegemony of the state would be usurped and challenged by those who took their own lives. Though an analysis of the cultural signs of the mobilization and construction of the family in the visual is not the topic here, it is important to raise it in this context, since the usefulness of the mother/child/suicide format was internationally recognized, and employed at different times to broadcast very different messages.11 Indicating the broader European nature of these stories a parallel German case can be seen in Max Klinger’s series of prints Eine Mutter of 1881. Klinger’s story is of a family thrown into poverty by bankruptcy, which leads to the wife’s mistreatment by her husband, a drunkard. In total despair the mother throws herself into the water, dragging her young son with her, and the child drowns (illus. 70). The mother is rescued, and is subsequently prosecuted for manslaughter and attempted suicide. The minute realism of Klinger’s prints detail the city as the backdrop for this melodramatic scene, demonstrating how the rhetoric of realism was a forceful tool in picturing the social and economic problems of urban modernity. Klinger’s Eine Mutter expresses the fate of someone affected by the changing economic climate; but it also appears to represent a loss of faith in the concept of progress and the ability of economies to sustain themselves. The Great Crash of 1873, which followed a huge boom in Germany, was believed to have triggered the breakdown of the very institution the new economic system had so confidently projected as the norm. Right up to World War I, the city is represented not as the locus of urban civilization, but rather as the site for themes of demonic ingression and elemental inundation, as a dystopic machine or a space characterized by madness. Later it was deemed a cause of madness in itself. In Norway, in 1895, the theme of anxiety as a product of modern urban life was taken up by Edvard Munch in The Scream, in which his screaming, sperm-like personification of 151

70 Max Klinger, Eine Mutter, 1881, etching.

anxiety is placed on a bridge, outside Oslo, favoured by suicides. However, in the context of fin-de-siècle Germany, anxiety was not entirely due to moods or expressions of alienation. After the FrancoPrussian War, Germany experienced extremely slow economic growth interspersed with periodic recession. The problem was particularly intensified in the cities after 1873. The notions of dystopia described later in Simmel’s The Metropolis and Mental Life are relevant to an understanding of images where the city was visually expressed as a cause of alienation and psychological disturbance. Suicide as pathetic and, above all, suicide as linked to the city, where the public madness of modernism takes place, is a recurring theme in these images. In the cases of Furley and Eine Mutter, it is clear that the emphasis on birth, death and propagation in the nineteenth century meant that the round of life was subject to regulation and control. In the course of that shift towards control and regulation of the body and its health, woman’s role as mother was re-emphasized and women’s suicide lost its heroic aspect. The proselytizing of family values and the process 152

of feminization were also tied in with the advance of medicalization. Into a weave of earlier medical beliefs of women as weaker beings and women as abnormal men, where feeling became feminine and reason masculine, the suicidal propensity of femininity was drawn together with earlier notions of sensibility to make a picture of woman as a dead object. By the mid-nineteenth century, suicide had become a concern that fell within the realms of the ‘condition of England’ question and, indicating the social nature of suicide, Olive Anderson cites the several images that visualized the ‘arch of suicide’.12 In keeping with the genre, Spencer Stanhope’s oil painting Thoughts of the Past of 1858/9, now in the Tate Britain, shows Hungerford and Waterloo Bridges in the background. Waterloo Bridge was a popular spot for suicide since a person could slip unnoticed into the water from the steps. In the foreground is an image of a kept woman in a dockside building. In the bare room are the fragments of her past life, and a torn lace curtain at the window signifies her own disjuncture. Implicit in this sad image is her possible decline into prostitution, while the cold Thames backdrop connotes her liquidity and signifies the probability of her suicide in the river. Despite the verisimilitude, there is a significant difference here to the graphic realism of Eine Mutter.13 The major difference, in this and many similar images, is that the suicidal women are not simply depicted as social victims, but also placed on display: the female is presented as the object of a masculine gaze. A prime example of this is the treatment by English imagers of Thomas Hood’s poem The Bridge of Sighs, the source for many illustrations of the period. While Doré’s melodramatic version in the Victoria and Albert Museum shows a windswept figure poised on the bridge (illus. 85), the etching by Lord Gerald Fitzgerald in the 1858 edition Passages from the Poems of Thomas Hood, shows a scene under the arches, with a drowned woman pulled from the river by a boat hook, and a policeman shining a torch in her face. The event is watched by a small boy. Abraham Solomon’s painting Drowned! Drowned! exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1860 features a horrified male masquerader gazing upon the dead woman. The painting is illustrated and described in the Art Journal in June 1861. In the Athenaeum a year earlier, a reviewer had complained that Solomon’s drowned woman was not as beautiful as Hood’s.14 Common to many of these images is the depiction of the ominous womb-like archway in the background, a format that is repeated throughout the century. Like the proscenium arch of a theatre, or an altar, the arch frames and presents these beautiful female bodies to the spectator. There is a 153

simultaneous sense of theatre and of sacrifice in the way the dead women are displayed: sympathy mingles with sexual desire, as their saturated clothes allow the artist to highlight or expose the female form. Even in death, ‘woman’ is destined to be consumed. To assume a pre-existent context for these images is perhaps to ignore another role, their power as cultural refractors. In spite of these ‘realist’ texts forming part of an ideology of verisimilitude aimed at such a historicization as that amply described by Anderson, these images are replete with meaning other than the social. Images of female suicide are part of a male cultural obsession with dead women, and such images are so influential that they signpost a route to Ruskin’s recognition of a discourse around seduction, prostitution and suicide in Hunt’s Awakening Conscience.15 In the mid-century, suicide fell within the scope of a radical and modern realism, and though this realism might have raised the lower groups to the position of subject matter, in the way described by Clark,16 as part of an aesthetic and social protest, suicidal representations from this period are nevertheless highly gendered, and they produced their effect by a powerful combination of Renaissance perspective and nineteenth-century narratives around self-murder. It is no wonder that Olive Anderson states that the most effective visual works were juxtaposed with writing.17 The reader may have a strong desire to believe in the narrative but the interplay of words and the image with its purported iconic link hides as much as it shows. The ‘Victorian’ viewer was obliged to take a step back from the image to engage with the story and allow the authority of the narrative to tell him/her what to think. At first glance falling somewhere between the readerly and the writerly, a closer look tells us that these realist texts demand from the viewer charitable thoughts (and possibly actions); from the reader an action, yet paradoxically, a degree of readerly passivity. Both viewer and reader are to a large degree foreclosed from the play of signification by the author; and this is signified in the obligation to step back and passively sympathize, rather than empathize. Hood’s poem ends with the following remarks: Owning her weakness Her evil behaviour And leaving with meekness, Her sins to her Saviour.18

Like the images, the poem defines suicide as weakness (and woman), suicide as evil and suicide as an effect of sin. In conjunction with the visual such a poem must have at once appealed to the commonsense 154

view of suicide and been active in its formation. During the course of the nineteenth century suicide also became associated, for both men and women, with moral decline and worldly dishonour. Unwanted pregnancy, prostitution or disgrace as recurring themes in suicidal narratives have been well covered in the period. Where popular culture and the yellow press played on the ambiguities of suicide, the authorial yet maudlin narratives of high art attempted to leave little unsaid. The last of Augustus Egg’s series Past and Present depicts a fallen woman, with a bastard baby, sitting under the arches (illus. 71). The spectator’s eye is drawn to the moonlit water behind her. A particular notion of chastening is apparent in these representations of drowned women, and is evident in Mary Watson’s lengthy poem The Suicide Prostitute which begins with the following verse: These joys again, pale vice denies to me, Doom’d to remorse, to pain, and infamy; To live by guilt, and for detested hire, Lust to provoke, and to affect desire; A female injur’d, menac’d, and distrest, Provok’d with insult, and with wrong opprest; Sent forth each eve, stung with disease and care; Soon as black shades invest the mantled air, (For silent glooms the Prostitute invite), As suits the murderer’s deed a moonless night.

It ends: The struggle’s o’er! my soul disburthened flies, Quits its polluted clay, and seeks the skies: May heav’n the penitential spirit own And streams of mercy from the awful throne Expunge it’s sins, and leave no trace behind of impure errors, and a tortured mind; May it transform’d and chaste as virgin snow, Or shine an Angel, or a Seraph glow.19

Watson’s poem is an example of the working-out of a particular discursive subjectivity on social disease and vice. The language of the verse implies that while the unfortunate victim has been driven to the river by ‘impure errors and a tortured mind’ to ‘expunge’ the ‘sin’ of prostitution, her chastity is regained through death. In the poem, Watson relates prostitution directly to death, and suicide by drowning as a relief from sin ‘leaving no trace behind’. The middle section 155

71 Augustus Egg, Past and Present, No. 3, 1858, oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London.

describes the ‘swollen corpse and frantic sunken eye, the writhing anguish and laboured sigh’. Dedicated to ‘Earl Percy of St. Johns College, Cambridge’, the poem images woman in several roles; as a focus of earthly lust and desire, as corpse, offering, victim, ravaged/ravager, martyr/suicide. The death is metaphorical and offers purity. The suicide prostitute is represented as a split subject that relates the ominousness of sexuality and death in the way described by Lacan.20 Woman is constantly given meaning against the signifier man in the sense raised by Bronfen in her reading of Delaroche’s The Young Martyr where the ‘no-fixed-abode of woman is illustrated in the symbolic order’.21 Delaroche’s young martyr (illus. 86) floats in a similar manner to Millais’ Ophelia, but where Ophelia holds her hands up in a gesture of helplessness the martyr’s hands are tied, implying her death was not voluntary – a saintly halo hovers above her head, which is turned to the viewer in a gesture of appeal. The ‘split subject’ may be seen in a different context in the representation of the suicide of Margaret Moyes.22 Described as an ‘attractive woman’, her ‘case’ was covered by the press, which reported her death and the subsequent inquest in minute and gory detail. Her suicide note simply stated at the climax, ‘... I have made up my mind to make away with Margaret Moyes’. As Barbara Gates’ 156

72 George Cruikshank, ‘The maniac father and the convict brother are gone. The poor girl, homeless, friendless, deserted, destitute and gin-mad commits self-murder’, engraving, 1848, Plate VIII from The Drunkard’s Children (A Sequel to The Bottle).

fascinating research into the case has shown, the signature at the end and the absence of the reflexive pronoun myself draws together the agent as perpetrator and victim. Moyes thus authored and signed her own death. An absolute opposite is found in Cruikshank’s limp, ragged figure of the Drunkard’s Daughter, which shows the girl plummeting from a bridge (illus. 72). Alongside the iconography of the fallen woman, that is the drowned woman, the falling woman was one of the most enduring and oft-repeated themes in the portrayal of women’s suicide. Despite Hogarth’s or Cruikshank’s representations, actual links between alcohol abuse, depression and suicide had not really been formulated, and alcoholism was not recognized as a disease till the latter part of the nineteenth century.23 In order to illustrate the continuity and geographical spread of the falling woman in suicidal imagery, two images similar to Cruikshank’s have been selected from the Illustrated Police News (illus. 73, 74). Where images of drowned women had a salacious aspect, these flying and falling women were frightening and clearly disturbed the viewing public.24 The inclusion of the crowd also indicates the sad but accompanying aspect of spectacle associated with ‘jumpers’. Cruikshank’s print does not explicitly denote a fallen woman in 157

73 ‘The Suicide of Alice Blanche Oswald’, from Illustrated Police News, 21 September 1872, wood engraving.

74 ‘Suicide of Two Girls’, from Illustrated Police News, 24 October 1868, wood engraving.

sexual terms, but a different order of ‘social’ victim. In the context of social protest Cruikshank’s image stands in moral judgement of a particular individual and a particular vice rather than as a critique of an unjust social system. Evidently, the repeated image of falling women may refer back to Cruikshank’s judgemental text, but by the end of the century the same image was mobilized for very different purposes. Prurient rather than moral, pornographic rather than political, sensational rather than social, these images heralded forms of journalism far remote from Cruikshank’s ethical stance. In the 1860s Cruikshank’s format was employed constantly in the yellow press. Cheap literature hawked on the streets of London was full of sensational images that performed the dual purpose of warning off the potential suicide and highlighting the importance of keeping one’s place, while articles from broadsheets and police gazettes which carried such images verged on the macabre. The text that accompanied these graphic illustrations deliberately played on the ambiguities around the deaths, describing them as ‘deplorable mystery’, or claiming that a particular case appeared ‘inexplicable’ as it seemed to be the suicide of a respectable woman (illus. 75). In these graphic images, social cause and effect were lost in a genre best described as a pornography of violence. On the whole, the writing is bad, the stories banal, and the graphic illustrations of these ‘murders most foul’ bizarre in the extreme. Yet it has to be considered that they just might signal a growing ambivalence in attitudes to suicide. A change was occurring in suicidal discourse, though this is more pertinent to the English case. In France such news was suppressed. Above all, in England, suicide was newsworthy. The massive circulation of such publications as the twopenny Illustrated Police News indicated the popularity of the bizarre and grotesque for the public and the curious attraction of morbidity. Despite their crudeness, there is a distant echo of the ‘Dances of Death’ in these representations in that other folk’s deaths or despair reminded those left behind that they were very much alive and well, though life, it would appear, was cheap. Where Pissarro’s woman falls, the images of women in the Illustrated Police News fly. They are more like witches or angels. Söran Kierkegaard’s notion of a ‘leap of faith’ is recalled, as these images can be interpreted as showing willpower or wilfulness rather than the lack of will connoted in the images of drowned women.25 The graphic image (illus. 73) of Alice Blanche Oswald’s suicide, for instance, depicts a witch-like Alice flying, soaring rather than falling. The accompanying report includes the full content of the 159





75 ‘Suicide on a Railway’, from Illustrated Police News, 23 December 1877, wood engraving.

suicide note, ‘found by William King, inspector of the Thames police’, and testified that the crime of suicidal death did not compare to the present misery Alice was suffering.26 For Alice, King thought this was a reasonable way out. Social misery was indicated as the cause and the death therefore acceptable. In 1855 Alexandre Brière de Boisemont made similar comments on the problems of ‘materialist interest’ and the privation caused by the industrial revolution in France and its capacity to drive people to ‘ruins’, and inevitably, suicidal death.27 The Illustrated Police News reports also include the case of a decapitated woman on a rail track (illus. 75), lurid depictions of crucified and guillotined men and a variety of bizarre or spectacular deaths and suicides (illus. 76‒8). The image of a man about to guillotine himself plays on the moments before death. The suicide of a Frenchman by guillotining, or the unsuccessful attempt by ‘a working stove-fitter of Chateau Thierry’ to crucify himself 28 (a particularly French death and an execution), indicates that the process of exteriorizing suicide was not entirely inscribed on the female body. Yet it was the female body that carried the brunt of representation although, through its crude graphic realism, the image of the decapitated woman on the railway line denies the spectator the voyeuristic pleasures of the imagination gained in high art. These images were to be upstaged by mechanical reproduction, though the authoritative ‘reality’ of photography also created a problem for publication. The graphic representation stood in for the person – the photograph was too shocking. In the first instance the advent of photography in the early twentieth century for recording news events may have created a problem for the older suicidal narratives. Photographic realism may even have affected the newsworthiness of suicide. Unlike death in war, photographic images of suicidal death could not carry notions of nation or manliness but, instead, messages of morbidity which the censor would contain. The text which allegedly ‘reported’ the deaths and which accompanied these lurid images deployed a language aimed at representing the description as accurate and was reinforced by the use of a quasilegalisms: indeed a ‘legal’ status was conferred on the text by the language of police reportage. The written text signifies the category of the stove-fitter’s suicidal death as atrocious. These images are at once exciting and awful. Yet, the frequent use of the term ‘melancholy’ in these articles does indicate that suicide was thought to result from a sad or disturbed state of mind. A great deal of space was given over to the reportage of inquests, especially those that resulted in a 161

A MA.N CRUCIFVLNC4 HIMSELF 76 ‘A Man Crucifying Himself ’, from Illustrated Police News, 26 June 1869, wood engraving.

77 ‘Singular Attempt at Suicide’, from Illustrated Police News, 24 June 1876, wood engraving.

78 ‘Suicide by a Guillotine’, from Illustrated Police News, 12 February 1876, wood engraving.

verdict of ‘death while of unsound mind’. Crude and bizarre as they may appear, it would be too easy to pass over these images without noting their complexity. In the nineteenth century, alongside the bizarre, the world of suicide’s representation was invaded by humour and, interestingly enough, suicidal depictions of the middle classes were more likely to be found here, in caricature and satire, than in either high art or the yellow press. Class differences here show how the status of voluntary death was always open. The comic response to middle-class suicide was thus pitched against the horror and pity of workingclass death with its accompanying ‘official’ language; the satires offering a safety-valve. The wood engravings for Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby by Hablot Knight Browne (‘Phiz’) include cartoons which show the demise of rich and poor alike, but caricature the upper-class propensity for selfkilling. In one illustration, the absurd fop, flatterer and womanchaser, Mr Mantalini, is shown in ‘Mr. Mantalini Poisons himself for 163

the Seventh Time’ (illus. 79). The dubious Mantalini is surrounded by a group of gossiping women and supported by a male friend. In the story Mantalini has pretended that he has poisoned himself in order to gain sympathy from Mary King. Two pictures of dancers hang on the wall symbolizing Mantalini’s theatrical lifestyle and the melodrama of his pretence suicide. Although, in representation, the ‘felon of himself ’ was more than likely a woman, men did not escape the satirist’s gaze. Indeed, the visualization of male suicide belonged more to the domain of the popular print or cartoon than to high art. In the class-specific satires and ‘Hogarthian’ moralizing of the kind found in Cruikshank or Rowlandson, which continued right through the eighteenth century and into the next, the visual target was generally men (illus. 80). A small, highly detailed engraved cartoon after Cruikshank, titled A Cure for Love: No Cure: No Pay, shows a aged and rather ugly fat man

79 H. K. Browne (‘Phiz’), ‘Mr. Mantalini Poisons himself for the Seventh Time’, engraving from Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (London, 1839).


about to hang himself in his outhouse. His vanity and masculine authority are symbolized by his wig,29 which has been thrown to the floor and trampled under his left foot. Fragile masculinity is connoted, as a man without his wig was an object of universal humour. His right foot is mounting a milking stool below a noose hanging from a beam, and the caption indicates that a woman is to blame: ‘Oh my hard Fate!




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Why did I ever trust her ever? What story is not full of Woman’s Falsehood.’ In the centre foreground is a letter signed ‘Polly Perkins’, threatening to reveal his misdeeds to the public. The reader is thus given two sides to the story. First, the physiognomic suggestion of rural stupidity on the features of this red-faced man implies his gaucheness, and the caption suggests that he has been betrayed by a woman. Second, the letter indicates culpability on his part. It is a poignant image despite its vulgar humour, for it suggests that there is never a simple answer or a single reason for a person to take his own life. However, it is difficult to pity this man. The lack of emotional response evoked by the image is aided and abetted by the complexity of the information in the letter and his ‘suicide note’ contained in the caption. Evidence from medical journals implies that the satirization of the suicide of men who had failed in marriage or love was supported by a genuine concern from medical practitioners for male ‘honeymoon suicides’ who took their lives due to sexual problems.30 Across the channel, the picture is the same. Daumier’s Sentimental Passions series includes two Goyaesque lithographs, The Drowned One and The Hanged One. The latter depicts a dejected man sitting on a branch ready to hang himself. In these biting yet humorous cartoons, with their emphasis on the irrational nature of suicide, it is still the intention to commit the act that is displayed, though the mould is broken by an early nineteenth-century cartoon by F. Deeves (illus. 81). The title disguises the historical complexity of this image, and the pictorial structure indicates the problems of readings based purely upon perception. The pointing man is Percy Kirke, appointed to quash the Monmouth Rebellion. Kirke’s reputation as a butcher was confirmed when he marched into Taunton escorting a convoy of prisoners and cartloads of wounded. He at once hanged nineteen prisoners in the marketplace. Implied here is that this ‘suicide’ is a metaphorical result of following the ill-fated Monmouth. In 1839 Bentley’s Miscellany contained a joint satire on the English propensity to commit suicide and the growing market for insurance. The journal included a three-page section floating a new insurance company ‘The London Suicide Company’, with a list of directors that included ‘Reuben Graves, Esq., John Knell and Ephraim Bone’, under the chair of Lord Viscount Gravesend.31 The ‘company’ aimed at facilitating suicide, and offered exclusive sites for convenient exercise of self-murder. The offer included the promise to open up the Penitentiary of Millbank for ‘deepening the gloomy feelings of such of the subscribers who may not have completely made up their minds’.32 In 1885 Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado satirized the idea 166

81 F. Deeves, Colonel [Percy] Kirkeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Brutal Conduct to a Lady Who Solicited the Life of Her Brother, 1803, engraving with etching after Hamilton. Wellcome Library, London.

that the death sentence should be given for attempted suicide by hanging Nanki-Poo for trying to take his own life. Satires of this kind indicated the growing ambivalence towards suicide and helped alleviate the anxiety relating to suicidal death. However, the laughter disguised a real public anxiety about selfmurder. In contrast with the romantic view or moral stance of the late eighteenth century these sometimes scathing images could be said to punish the victim further. They acted as an abasement. In 1773 Caleb Fleming had indicated that the regularity of the phenomenon of suicide was clearly a deep source of anxiety and concern but not an object of humour.33 What was it that brought about these changes? Just how the felon de se was regarded in the nineteenth century was influenced by a growing concern for preserving life, the long-term process of the regulation of the social body and an emphasis on fertility, birth, life, good constitution and longevity. The historical â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Durkheimianismâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; of much suicidal scholarship is the result. As a result of this, Lucretia and Dido virtually disappear as subjects, signifying the demise both of heroic suicide, and consequently of their heroic status. To be sure, the picture is never that simple. In England, one of the last images of female heroic suicide is an idiosyncratic sketch by Richard Dadd that shows Lucretia clutching a huge knife (illus. 82). This unusual profile portrait gives emphasis to a hooked 167

82 Richard Dadd, Lucretia, 1854, sketch. Bethlem Royal Hospital, Beckenham.

nose and fashions a self that flies in the face of the agreed tradition of the visual predicate of Lucretia. It is extremely difficult in this case to ascertain if the hooked nose acts as a crude visual clue for a particular physiognomy: either Roman or Jewish? In the early part of the century, the more usual heroic image was retained in the Royal Academy and in France where, prior to the Revolution, the didactic tradition persisted and where moralizing and ideological debates encouraged heroic subjects. Jacques-Louis Davidâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s images of Seneca and Socrates are a fair example of this trait. In contradiction to the changing conception of suicide as cowardly, heroic suicide was temporarily brought back into the domain of high culture. What is evident through all these shifts is that suicide so confounded a society determined to enforce control over life that suicide and death were brought to the centre of discourse alongside sexuality. At the same time, the growing acceptance of depression and mental illness as a cause for suicide meant that religious penalties for suicide were abandoned in 1823 and secular punishments in 1870. The Burial Act followed in 1880, and in 1882 the right to carry out 168

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ritual disgrace was ended. The death sentence as the ultimate regulator for those who took life into their own hands not only acted as a warning to the would-be murderer, but also symbolized the overweening importance of life and denied the individual the right to choose death over life. That capital punishment should be carried out by hanging also resounds noisily in the iconography of suicide, since it stands as a reminder of Judas’s death as a fitting end to a wicked life. Throughout the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century French and English moralists, influenced by Christian dogma, felt obliged to comment on suicide’s punishment. Typical of the late eighteenth century were the Abbé Bergier, who thought self-killers lacked virtue,34 and Caleb Fleming, in his A Dissertation upon the Unnatural Crime of Self-Murder, which showed the author’s concern that the suicide be punished and that the penalty should fit the crime. Fleming was able to argue that the forfeiture of goods had a manifest severity to it, since it affected the criminal’s wife and children, who were innocent.35 His proposed solution was to abandon the forfeiture of the convicted felon’s goods, but have the naked body of the suicide exposed in some public place: over which the coroner should ‘deliver an oration on the foul impiety; and then the body, like that of the homicide, be given to the surgeons’.36 Dragging, impaling and crossroads burial were discussed as suitable punishments across Europe. In England, the argument that the suicide’s body should be dissected and dragged through the streets to a crossroads for interment was discussed in popular magazines right up to 1823. Such punishments were sometimes carried out. Cutter’s book illustrates the small unlocated and anonymous engraving The Desecration of the Corpse (illus. 92) It shows a horse dragging a naked man through the streets with a stake through his back, watched by horrified women and a small child. The female spectators are watching – and we watch them as they view the horror of the desecration. This image illustrates the actual abasement, which would be followed by burial at the crossroads. Women’s bodies, however, were kept whole throughout the history of suicidal imagery. The public abasement or public display of the dead female body has, for the art historian, an altered significance to it. The naked or semi-naked bodies of the pseudo-Cleopatra or Lucretia are, in effect, portraits of dead women re-presented for the male, the ‘ideal’ spectator, and are twice removed from the construct of women in the everyday. On one level, images of female suicides, such as that of Lucretia, fuse eros and thanatos. On another, the penalty of exposure and the death act as a ‘chastening’. Suicidal 177

92 The Desecration of the Corpse, 1769, engraving.

images of Lucretia or Cleopatra act for the masculine spectator as a threat or a comfort but operate to stitch or place the female spectator in a bind. In Doane’s terms, for the narrativized female spectator, there is an ‘over-presence of the image – she is the image’.37 The predominance of the masculine position is confirmed in Lombroso’s The Female Offender where the female suicide is described as lacking virtue and the maternal instinct. To the criminologist Lombroso the female offender was powerful and erotic, though, unless scorned, she was less likely to kill herself than the male.38 Given the nature of these images the feminine position must either involve a passive identification or masochism. A similar case of abasement can be made for the ritual of crossroads burial with its old folkloric and vampiric associations. (The victim was buried with a stake through the heart.) In England, the crossroads burial became common law from ad 967 in the reign of King Edgar. In some cases, to ensure that the spirit did not rise up, a heavy stone was placed over the body. As with hanging, the corpse was left in limbo. An image from a novelette published in the 1820s, which precedes a dark story entitled The Suicide: A Tale found on Facts (illus. 93), serves 178

to enhance the mysteriousness and ambiguity of suicide by its paratext, which alludes to the story as ‘fact’, then gives neither an artist’s name for the illustrations nor a writer’s for the text. Playing on ‘truth’ and anonymity the introduction to the story claims that ‘It is a Tale founded on Fact ... with numerous engravings by an eminent artist’. The image preceding the text is entitled ‘The Suicide’s Grave’ and shows a group of thirteen people in the background and seven in the middle-ground. In the foreground, to the right, is a man with a stake or a spade in the ground. To the left, an upturned coffin displays its emptiness. The body is already out of sight, buried in the ground. In folklore the vampire is disallowed a Christian burial, and the crossroads site prevents the malevolent spirit from finding a way, were it to rise up. The vampiric connection is made clear in the text that follows: At the period in which the history we are about to lay before our readers took place, this unfeeling and foolish custom of burying the unfortunate who had made away with themselves, in cross-roads, and driving a stake through the body, was common enough, more especially in the remoter parts of England and Wales, of Ireland and Scotland ... The bodies of persons supposed to be vampires were treated in a similar manner in Germany not above a hundred years ago.39

Needless to say crossroads burial was still practised in England as well as Germany in the period of this Gothic novelette’s publication. The identification of ‘remoter parts’ adds drama to the story and marks off the peripheries of otherness. The absence of a named author and

93 ‘The Suicide’s Grave’, Plate 1 from The Suicide: A Tale found on Facts, by the Author of ‘The Red Barn’ (London, 1820).


artist heightens the unintelligibility and connotations of suicide, and the disagreement over who or what is to blame. The sad tale that is told of Percival Denham is not directly linked to the paratextual image, but leaves the grave open for anyone. The story is prefixed by mystery but, in contrast, the tale itself is fairly clear on motive. Percival Denham, the ‘hero’ and victim, is at first portrayed as a virtuous and educated man with a flawed character: the writer describes him as: ‘A young man of the highest promise, highly gifted nature, highly improved by education, high in moral worth, high in talent; polished as a courtier, sincere as the simplest child of nature.’ The eulogies to Denham highlighted by the positional adverbs and adjectives are then followed by the linguistic indicators of excess which the anonymous author piles on: Denham is ‘too lofty in conception, too deliberate in feeling, too refined in taste, and too romantic in sentiment, to go through this sordid, and bustling, and callous world without imminent danger to the happiness of his life’. Denham, a ‘child of nature’ possesses gifts evidential of his fragmented and injurious feminine susceptibility. ‘He is [too] romantic, lofty, deliberate in feeling and incapable of surviving a life which is tough.’ This susceptibility is juxtaposed with ideas of demonic ingression, connoted in the illustration of the vampiric funeral. The vampiric links with the feminine and has romantic sexual implications, while the notion of Denham’s effeminacy looks back to the eighteenth-century phenomenon of ‘men of sensibility’. Somehow, it appears that Denham is not quite a man. It is no surprise that he should kill himself. To associate suicide with sensibility and mental instability was therefore to associate suicide with woman. In this respect the fragmented identity of Shakespeare’s Ophelia provides the ideal subject to portray woman’s fluidity (illus. 94). In Millais’ Ophelia there is a further tension between the signifier and signified of women’s suicides, where the message of a heroic death is lost in the erotic, and the invalidity of woman is implied. In an image like Ophelia motivation is misplaced and the heroic is freed from its signifier. Suicide, once a sign of female heroism, is substituted for a sign of femininity in itself, though even in Shakespeare’s text ambiguity surrounds Ophelia’s emblematic death. The poisonous nettles and the profusion of flowers, (analogy rather than offering), the dead men’s fingers, the ‘long purples’ and orchis (commonly called fools’ ballocks), and the ‘dissembling daisy’, have been designated as connecting the characters and throwing a backward glance at the absent hero. It is an important image, however, since it signifies both women’s fluidity and a medicalized suicide. 180

94 John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851–2, oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London.

In the numerous nineteenth-century images of Ophelia, the rational motive for suicide is replaced by a demeaning motivation associated with illness, weakness and the disintegration of self. Woman’s identity is even further questioned and punishment is continuous and patriarchally instituted. Visual narrations of female suicide, such as Millais’ Ophelia, interpret and construct suicide as part of woman’s hidden identity: imperfect, fluid, weak, fragmented. Caught in the process of the ‘wake’, we the subject/spectator view the liquid body of Ophelia. Her garments resemble the bright colours of a dragonfly, or an angler’s ‘fly’ skipping the water; the bait. Like a bright-coloured stain on the water, watery against the water, a flower against the flowers, ‘Ophelia’ mimics the background and fuses with nature. Ophelia is caught in the process of a transition. Laying down the body in bright colours the painter portrays Ophelia at the terminal moment. Overflowing the body limits and confirming outside-with-in, Ophelia’s image also conforms to Kristeva’s notion of the abject.40 Ophelia is thus portrayed as a deathly monument to lack (the phallus), a drifting currency that precedes all other lacks.41 In Millais’ image of Ophelia’s suicide, nature, life, death and woman is ‘con-fused’. Prior to Millais, Fuseli’s ink drawing of Ophelia shows her body merging with the water; her face is featureless, blank, connoting her madness, her loss, or lack of character, and she holds onto a thin branch of a broken willow (illus. 95). The boldest detail is the strong curve of the river. The lack of detail creates a sense of dissolution, the feeling of 181

someone caught up in the current, unable to resist, will-less. Even prior to the nineteenth century, there is an astonishing array of debate and opinion surrounding the subject of suicide. The selection of texts discussed above demonstrates just how arbitrary is the nature of self-murder, and the quality of such arbitrariness implies we are in the realms of myth. From the eighteenth century onward, madness and melancholy are constantly evoked as reasons for suicidal death. At the same time the motivation for suicide takes on a connotative and gendered signification. The play of signification in womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s suicide is a manifest sign of patriarchy, where woman becomes myth. In the period in question heroic identity breaks down and the surety of the heroic motive is replaced by questions of chance. Chastity and defeated love, which once validated the heroism of deaths such as those of Lucretia, Portia or Dido, were further condensed to bear meanings related to an absence of self for women. In the nineteenth century world of visual and verbal representations, heroic suicide is purged and suicide is given a social and moral meaning. Women therefore, appear predominantly in high art, and jump or

95 John Henry Fuseli, Ophelia, 1770, sketch. British Museum, London.


drown themselves for reasons of chastity or rejection. In contrast, in popular culture, men hang, shoot or poison themselves as a punishment for failure. A violent ‘masculine’ death is thus contrasted to notions of a ‘feminine’ death, which signifies an easy way out. The downward slope for men was never portrayed as easy (illus. 96–100). Frith’s series The Road to Ruin, drawn for The Art Union of London in 1878–9 and etched by Leopold Flameng, traces the demise of a rich young man, whose concerns are sensual, from his days at the University of Cambridge to a garret in London and his suicide with a gun. An examination of Frith’s pencil, chalk and wash drawings has revealed that important changes occurred between the drawings and the finished lithographs. The changes exaggerate the decline of a once sophisticated man into the depths of dissipation and despair. This process of change is particularly evident in Frith’s treatment of the final scene, which is more sympathetic than the graphic illustration. Frith’s drawing situates the man in his dressing gown at home in his drawing room. The final published illustrations show him as a desperate man in a garret and his gown discarded. I have argued elsewhere that this image is not about suicide as such but a peevish representation of Whistler, Wilde and Swinburne and the aesthetes.42 The moral of Frith’s story is that art cannot triumph over death. Ironically, we might wonder whether, for the ageing Frith, art may have lost its meaning. Significant changes in attitudes to suicide, and in its visual representations, are evident between the 1780s and 1914. Then, after the mass slaughter of World War I, ideas of death changed dramatically. The attitudes to suicide considered above may not have had the severity of the early modern period, when suicide was regarded as punishment-deserved; in fact they signal the growth of an attitude which, while more sympathetic, was even more demeaning towards selfkillers than that which had opposed suicide as criminal and heinous. It was above all the death of the poet Chatterton in 1770 that shaped the nature of representation in the following period and gave publicity and meaning to notions of contaminated femininity and to the social causes of suicide. The poems of Mary Dawes Blackett and Mary Watson help to highlight two further aspects of suicide: first, that temporary madness – in this instance the madness associated with Chatterton’s death – became represented as a cause of suicide, and second, that prostitutes (and poets?) were particularly susceptible to self-murder. Underneath the criminality and the wrongness of it all was a recognition that personal distress can unhinge the mind. This is 183

96 Leopold Flameng, ‘College’, print no. 1 from The Road to Ruin (engravings after drawings by William Powell Frith), 1878–9. British Museum, London.

97 ‘Ascot’, print no. 2 from The Road to Ruin.

98 ‘Struggles’, print no. 3 from The Road to Ruin.

99 ‘Arrest’, print no. 4 from The Road to Ruin.

100 ‘The End’, print no. 5 from The Road to Ruin.

clearly exploited in the coroner’s verdict on Castlereagh’s suicide, when the jury decided that he had killed himself while temporarily insane. In another sense, the image of Castlereagh’s death anticipates the later preoccupation with graphic ‘reportage and realism’ discussed above and the fascination for morbidity in the burgeoning yellow press after the 1850s. In the Illustrated Police News, images of ‘An Extraordinary Suicide’ (illus. 101) and a ‘Shocking Suicide at Crystal Palace’ (illus. 102) show in vivid graphic detail the bizarre cases of a man using a candle to burn through a guillotine rope, and a man hurtling from the Crystal Palace. Exciting and dreadful, but neither evidence nor fantasy, these shock news images test out the boundaries between fact and fiction. The text and image claims to report a real suicide, a death, or an attempt at suicide. Yet, in some way, these vivid representations of those suicides are transformed into fiction, partly as a result of the media employed, partly by the fact they depict the act; the unnamed victims are lost to us, and only the fiction survives in reality. It was probably after World War I that such topics of ‘human interest’ found their way into the realms of photography, and photographic realism killed the lithographic image stone dead. 186

101 ‘An Extraordinary Suicide’, from Illustrated Police News, 19 August 1876, wood engraving.

102 ‘Shocking Suicide at Crystal Palace’, from Illustrated Police News, 25 May 1867, wood engraving.

At the same time links between suicide and sexuality had become established within medical discourse. In the pages of The Lancet and the British Medical Journal, or in Morselli’s II Suicidio of 1879, there is an ongoing dialogue which reflected earlier discourse and images of prostitutes and promiscuous women as a high-risk group. This is countered by the suicides of impotent men who thought themselves to have failed sexually. In the 1860s and 70s there was also much discussion about male masturbation, which was thought to lead to insanity and death; though this too was a view challenged by medical practitioners. The evidence suggests that the artist’s brush remained still on both these issues. Yet death was given a differing aspect in discourses on masturbation where a petit mort is connoted. It is curious that within a few decades the clinical example was to turn about face. Freud’s notion of drive (Trieb), and in this case the death drive (Thanatos), as intimately bound to sexuality (Eros) meant that, from Freud onwards, suicide and death have become inextricably bound up with sexuality and with wish fulfilment; the ambiguity of death is once more heightened by those who never meant to kill themselves but only to cry for help. Depression as a cause of suicide also became associated with one particular image, that of Ophelia. The popularity of Ophelia as subject matter for visual art really begins in the nineteenth century and is significatory of a shift in the meanings given to suicide, towards suicide as a result of sickness. The widespread popularity of Hamlet in the nineteenth century indicates a European fascination for this dissipated Oedipal plot that culminated in Freud’s writing at the turn of the century. Ophelia, portrayed as problematic, liminal, transient and mutually exclusive from man, was the ideal subject for the portrayal of suicide as feminine and as a leurre, a trap for the gaze. Fuseli’s drawing of the subject heralded the depiction of a change from stigmatized suicide to the portrayal of an irrational theme and through its iconography it helped move suicide’s imaging towards a depressive theme, which by the twentieth century had changed again as a result of a growing ambivalence towards suicidal death. However, the stigmatized and irrational image of suicide lasted well into the nineteenth century, overlapping the heroic, and was replaced by themes of sadness and depression, and a representation of suicide motivated by illness or apathy. Missing from these representations is a concept of ‘assisted suicide’, though Fuseli’s depiction in 1805 of the strangling of a Medici duke, on the order of his wife, as a relief from pain can be read as an image of assisted suicide or euthanasia. Cultural collapse was signified in the fin-de-siècle, and with the 188

crisis of culture in the 1890s the dehumanization that led to suicidal death was represented as brought about by the rational/technical world. The object and the subject become intertwined, and the ideology of suicide’s gendering began to be peeled away. Yet, it was some years before the ‘crime’ of suicide was expunged from the statute books, and by the time the law was changed in the mid-twentieth century, suicide as an aspect of sociology had already been replaced by its own field of study, suicidology. In a broader European context, this change can be seen in Doré’s lithograph, The Street of the Old Lantern, depicting the suicide of Gérard de Nerval, author of The Black Sun, which so influenced Kristeva, and which symbolized his depression; or Manet’s The Suicide, but accompanied by the equally condemning image of the capitalist system in Max Klinger’s Eine Mutter, discussed above, or the anarchist Pissarro’s series Turpitudes Sociales; Lautrec’s La Pendu (1890); Vallaton’s woodcut Le Suicide (illus. 103) and Rops’s Selbstmorder bei Scittya (c. 1890). Camille Pissarro’s album of 28 drawings documents his strong political beliefs and contains a drawing of a man hanging, Le Pendu, which carries the inscription: ‘A millionaire is too heavy, he troubles the harmony of interests, he disrupts the equilibrium of rights, he crushes the poor’ (illus. 104). Clearly, for Pissarro, the capitalist millionaire is a Judas. Slightly earlier is an engaging piece of work by the Italian sculptor Adriano Cecioni. Il Suicida is a plaster of a young man about to thrust a knife into himself. Stood against a slim broken tree trunk symbolizing his youthful but imminent demise, his right arm holds the handle of the knife, his left holds his twisted gown which is pulled up to his face in a gesture of torment and hopelessness (illus. 105). The projection of suicide in the period of the ‘sign’ suicide has been shown to have many different aspects, where the iconic is made problematic by the symbolic and ambiguous nature of suicidal death. The discourses and debates on suicide indicate a multi-discursivity where suicide is coloured by the visual and is polysemic. In the middle of the stark oppositions, life and death, where ritual and taboo arose was continuously placed a representation of ‘Woman’. For me, Grasset’s dark and erotic lithograph of a woman injecting herself, The Drug Addict, symbolizes and sums up the vast changes taking place in this field of representation at the end of the nineteenth century. It stands on the edge of the twentieth century not simply in chronological terms (illus. 106). Counter to history it might be, but I would rename it The Modern Lucretia. It is not a suicide at all, but a ‘millennial’ image that heralds the twentieth century’s main preoccu189

103 Félix Vallaton, Le Suicide, 1894, woodcut.

pation with humankind as irrational and self-destructive, where clinical pathology gets tied up with consumption and with the active production of new meanings of life and death and a new and real concern with death-by-instalments. One of these was the recognition of the unconscious wish to die. At the same time, too late perhaps, Tissot’s illustration of Judas in The Life of Christ looked backward to remind the Christian reader of the outright condemnation of suicidal death (illus. 87). This stark image shows Judas in a desolate landscape that pre-empts later painted images of war torn Europe. Pertinently, Freud stated that the unconscious behaves as if it were immortal. For the study of suicide this is particularly apt. If Freud’s 190

104 Camille Pissarro, Le Pendu, drawing from Turpitudes Sociales, 1889â&#x20AC;&#x201C;90, pen and ink over pencil on paper. Private collection.

challenge to history is to be fully realized, the imprint of history as ideology that has been a prime concern in this survey will need to be problematized even further. The unconscious will require a history, and the nature of ideology as it has been employed will need to be contested. If this is to be achieved, the psychodynamic approach must stand side-by-side with the social. It is evident that the visual world 191

105 Adriano Cecioni, Il Suicida, 1865, plaster. Galleria dâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Arte Moderna, Florence.

106 Eugene-Samuel Grasset, The Drug Addict (Morphinomaniac), 1898, lithograph from Ambroise Vollard, Album des Peintres-Graveurs (Paris, 1897).

clearly played a functional role in ‘making’ suicide. From Ajax to the unnamed suicides of the late nineteenth century, the imaging of suicide’s story is not so much a past definite, as a past-in-the-present. Throughout its represented history each image tells a story, each interprets the story, and each constructs further fictions. What happens after 1914 makes this problematic. The history of the variety of iconographic and other traces of the kind that objectify suicide constitute a history of representations from which it would follow that every age offers new and unique configurations of suicidal death. In addition, a second level of representation emerges of suicide as a construction that has a clear relation to discourses and visual practice. In the twentieth century, the visualization of suicide changes again to express, first in a self-conscious way, a personal reaction to death; and from then on the signifier suicide is set free from its referent, leaving the spectator to choose.


6 The Century of Destruction

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide … an act like this is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art.1 albert camus Without God, death becomes simply the end: brief, flat, final. The heart stops, the body decays, life continues elsewhere. This is ‘tomorrow’s zero’ … 2 a. alvarez

Reaffirming nineteenth-century views of urban life as chaotic, Rilke’s The Notebook of Matte Lauride Brigge of 1910 represents the city as simultaneously a site for the discovery of the alienated self and as its cause. The subsequent dissolution of self takes place as a result of isolation and alienation and leads to the protagonist’s suicide. Rilke relates the story of a man roaming the city to uncover the fragmentary nature of his self. In the story, modern reality is reinforced as something short-lived and frail. There is something in these romantic representations of city life as a web, a snarl for the sensitive soul, which recollects the sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies’ separation of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (where the failure of the former to overcome the latter leads to madness, death, suicide), Georg Simmel’s analysis of the stifling rationality of the modern city in The Metropolis and Mental Life, or Weber’s pessimism about modern life expressed in his description of the ‘iron cage of modernity’ and his bitter complaint that modern life was full of ‘specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart’.3 In Simmel’s critical analysis, the city was read as a site for the struggle for gain, and therefore, for some, loss must ensue.4 Significant loss is a continuing aspect of suicide’s representation where loss is represented as a motive for suicide. For women, the victims and sinners in suicidal representation, the loss is of a loved one, or the loss 194

of purity; for men, it is pecuniary loss in the gamble of life, especially in the period of bourgeois capitalism. In a situation where gain is accorded maximum credence, loss is inevitable and risk-taking becomes associated with suicidal behaviour. As an effect of this, in representation, the conscious social aspect of suicidal motive intermingled with deeper unconscious desires as psychodynamic motives were also ascribed to suicide. Loss or deprivation is represented as a factor in both conscious and unconscious motivation. In the early part of the century Simmel thought: ‘With each crossing of the street, with the tempo and multiplicity of economic and social life, the city sets up a deep contrast with small town and rural life with reference to the sensory foundations of psychic life.’5 The city as a locus for suicide has a long history, but Simmel’s analysis goes beyond earlier representations to see the uniformity and indifference of life in the modern city as having an effect on the psyche. In Simmel’s thinking, modernity had created a split between the world of emotions and the rational-technical world, so much so that the city dweller became a cog in a vast machine. As a result of this unbearable pressure, the subject would then reassert the sensuous side of life which placed its emphasis on the social body, in dress, style and leisure. In Weber’s critique, this is a superficial sensuality, in response to which death becomes less of a threat than ageing, whereas art constantly looks for and re-evaluates the experiences of life, and aestheticizes it. In a sense, Boccioni, the Futurist and follower of Henri Bergson, who idealized technological change, was right when he insisted that in modern art the spectator would be put in the picture.6 For Breton, the Surrealist, internalization was the only way for art to go, and for inspiration he turned to Freud. At the same time, suicide became interlinked with depressive illness and the Freudian world of the unconscious. As a result the picture and ‘painting’ of suicide changed. In the twentieth century, as Camus said, the act of suicide was ‘prepared within the silence of the heart like a great work of art’. One could go further, to state that suicide became art, and art suicide. Art, which had once mirrored life, had now become life, or rather, in the early part of the twentieth century, it illuminated life. The ‘art of suicide’ now formulated a critique of society, while art itself waged war against art and attempted to destroy ‘itself ’. In a peculiar sense art showed signs of self-destruction and its forthcoming voluntary or assisted death. When art ceased to represent, but instead acted as a provocation, suicidal imagery then spoke for the subject, the author, the self: it consciously questioned modern death. Marinetti’s Futurist 195

Manifesto proclaimed the apocalypse and death of ‘museums, libraries and academies of every kind’. Likening museums to cemeteries or absurd abattoirs where painters and sculptors slaughtered each other,7 Marinetti’s aims probably had more to do with the elevation of Italian art than the destruction of art and artists, and was connected with Italian nationalism in a way that hinted at the relationship between nihilism and fascism that emerged later in the century. For the art of suicide, the claim that the gallery is akin to a cemetery resonates throughout its history. The spectral images of the dead that haunt the holy space of the gallery may well provide immortality; timelessness for those who took their lives, but as we have seen, the gallery is an unquiet grave, purgatorial; a waiting room for hell or heaven; a place of pain, a place of expectation and hope; a connotative space wherein the signifier suicide is not allowed to rest. The conceptions of voluntary death that we bring to our interpretation are added to, they constantly supplement the original. They may have moral or intellectual signification, or be to do with our concept of what is right, or the result of our innermost fears and anxieties, or curiosity, morbidity, or pleasure. There has yet to be a major exhibition of works of art that depict the theme of suicide; such an exhibition might well resolve the sense one has that social interpretations of suicidal death are lost in the gallery where individualism is enhanced and collective meaning marginalized. Suicide is seen as a highly individual act. The objects, artefacts and sculpture of suicidal imagery in the twentieth century speak volumes about the subject. The suicidal subject images suicidal death as a part of a life experience for his/her self and ‘others’. In the process, the signifier suicide has been continuously emptied out and refilled, perhaps for each individual. The work of art has become a part of the world-text, attempting to capture and hold onto the sense, the feel, the experience of suicide. Images of suicide have always contained an element of presentcentredness. In the processes of modernity this relationship was absolute. The ambivalence towards suicidal death contained in latetwentieth-century images implies a further change, where resistance is at a minimum, and a new experience of death is depicted where the aesthetic becomes ‘anaesthetic’, as in the works of Andy Warhol. It is clearer in the twentieth century that the cries for help are reflected in the painter’s work as signs of desire and anxiety arising in the artist. Paradoxically, where the process of the aestheticization of life takes place, the signifiers art and suicide suffer erasure. Man Ray’s personal explanation of his celebration of mechanical art, and the death of 196

painting, the abstract airbrush image Suicide (illus. 107), which was later featured in André Breton’s ‘Is Suicide a Solution’ in La Révolution Surréaliste, was that the painting was intended as part of his own suicidal act.8 As an effect of Man Ray’s despair at the poor reception of his mechanical pictures, and with his personal life, he intended to point a loaded gun at the picture and set it off with a string while he stood behind it. He decided against this, and instead, he continued to ‘shoot’ and dismember the female body in a celebration of another mechanical art, photography.9 In another way, the text referred to avant-garde art and its close relationship with life itself, and therefore death. Underlying Man Ray’s painting and his explanation lies his frustration at his lack of success, attention-seeking and a cry for help. Accompanying the notion of depressive illness leading to suicide, the twentieth century saw self-injury, suicide or parasuicide as a call for help. As part of the massive growth in suicidology in the 1960s,

107 Man Ray, Suicide, 1917, airbrushed tempera on cardboard. Private collection.


Shneidman and Farberow’s work The Cry for Help was in itself an optimistic representation that gave explicit expression to the concern at rising suicide rates and implicitly the lack of a meaning in modern life; the lack of what Sartre called ‘essence’.10 Recognizing the linguistic nature of suicide, and the difficulty of definition, Schneidman suggested, as a final solution, that where voluntary euthanasia was practised, suicide would be eliminated. Cutter’s documentation of works of art imaging self-destruction is underpinned by the naive idea that these images of suicide and self-destruction may be of use in public health education in order to avoid clinical suicide. Ignoring their role as cultural refractors, he optimistically observed that ‘Minimal suicide rates are approachable in the United States’.11 So what happened? Cutter’s analysis falls within what can be classed as a ‘phenomenological iconography’, where it is presumed that the mind, self-destructive or otherwise, has a coincidental relationship with the images he writes about, and assumed that the knowledge of the image and its message might lead to suicide prevention. The story of the art of suicide has indicated that the cultural sign system ‘suicide’ has actually manipulated and defined suicide, and that, in some cases, readings are possibilities only. In each historical and social context one finds competing interpretations. Without some understanding of the class, gender and national nature of these ideological representations, however, an effective reading of suicide becomes meaningless. Cutter’s engaging survey would be extremely apt if the works of art discussed were univocal. They are not. On the contrary, they are fluid and open to interpretation. The mass suicide of Heaven’s Gate at Rancho Santa Fe, in 1997, and the still images of the bodies of the 39 victims taken by the American Photo Syndicate which were distributed on the Internet, or the suicide in Quebec of five members of the order of the Solar Temple, are a sad and chilling reminder that simple solutions to the nature of suicidal death will inevitably be proven wrong, especially where the consensual will to die is strong. In the late twentieth century, suicide, rather than being an individual and lonely act, has recalled the mass suicides of Masada: the threat in this case imagined, mystical, and death seen as a release in the same manner as philosophical death. Expressions of anxiety and of the alienation of urban modern life were not entirely lost after World War I; but as the century progressed they were replaced by a sense of imminent global disaster, genocide, atrocity, and the constant fear of annihilation. Out of this were born theories of chaos. On the one hand life appeared to have no meaning, 198

and on the other, death appeared to have no cause. But if death has no cause then suicide becomes a futile gesture.12 In the face of this, a growing ambivalence developed towards the suicide. It is no wonder that the late twentieth-century artist scraped away the layers of paint on the flat surface of the canvas to evoke or look for traces and memories of life in a depthless world. The regard for surface which has replaced the ‘passion, anxiety and decision of individual man’ of which Sartre spoke, and the accompanying desire to know for certain that we exist which manifests itself in the quest for ‘purpose and projects’ that will justify our existence is part of a simulacrum.13 In Sartre’s analysis we are born, we exist, and then we search for an ‘essence’. In such metaphysical philosophy, suicide might seem a fitting way out for those failing to find an essence to life. Or, personality can only realize itself in death.14 For Sartre, however, we have to decide our own being, pour soi in relation to the alien world, en soi: what Iris Murdoch describes as man’s useless futile passion.15 It is no surprise that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Munch’s modernist images of The Suicide and The Scream and Masereel’s series The City of 1925 show the city either as a background or as a site for sickness and death. Munch’s images reflect the alienation and anxiety of the age. In a peculiarly Durkheimian way they refract the relationships of alienation, anomie, unbearable isolation and dissolution. Munch’s Scream is the internal cry for help that the homunculus on the bridge cannot hear, or if you like, a picture of the ‘inside-out of the self ’ that Frederick Jameson described so well in ‘Euphoria and Annihilation’.16 After Nietzsche’s declaration that ‘God is dead’ a growing ambivalence developed towards suicide. Suicide clearly lost a source of meaning. As a result, the suicide, male or female, was seen as pathetic. Initially, however, suicide was placed in the realms of medical and psychoanalytic analysis and seen as a result of depressive illness. The French and the English had been ruthless in sentencing the cadaver, and right up into the twentieth century the French refused burial to suicides. Across Europe suicide was decriminalized from the nineteenth century, and finally in 1961 The Suicide Act removed the penalties and restrictions from suicidal death in England, and in so doing recognized that it was not entirely a clinical matter and handed over the right of choice to the individual. Liberal, but last as usual in making change, England gave up sentencing the suicide, and rather than having something to do with changes to legalities per se this signified a fairly complex shift from public to private sphere in terms of decision making.17 The control and political economy of death 199

hinted at by Baudrillard has yet to come.18 In the early part of the twentieth century, suicide in the public and highly gendered space of modernism, the city, was regarded as part of the sad spectacle of modern life (illus. 108). In one of Masereelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s serial images of death in the city, the anonymous crowd is pushed to the very touchline of life itself, a uniform mass configured as spectators looking upon death. The illustration shows a dead man on the roadside; in the background the city buildings reach to the very top of the picture plane, obliterating the sky and leaving no breathing space. The feeling of urban claustrophobia is enhanced by the passive crowds viewing the dead man, who is framed in a triangle of light between the city, the well-dressed bourgeois crowd and the cold black

108 Frans Masereel, untitled woodcut from The City, 1925.


triangle of the road. It is not clear whether the dead man is the victim of an accident or a suicide, and it does not seem to matter. The welldressed spectators stand with their arms dependent, hands clasped in a gesture that implies either helplessness, or the loss of desire to ‘help’. A pace or so away lies the dead man. No one shows a sign of movement. What appears to be a black police-wagon stands off to the side. The crowd closes ranks in front of the towering dark buildings, the front group holding back those gathering behind. A small child breaks the uniformity and peeps curiously from behind the spectators. The viewer is not put in any position to participate, but is held back as a spectator on the opposite touchline, spectating ‘life’ – watching death. In contrast, in the same series, Masereel shows an industrial accident, with a man’s body at the foot of the scaffolding of a tall new building. One of his workmates cradles his head, while others stand around shocked. Three bosses, recognizable by their bowler hats, stand at the back in deep conversation with a fourth, and appear separate from the main group. In the first image, the city is seen as a site of alienation, and death is witnessed as a spectacle where a loss of cause is connoted. In the second is depicted the sheer futility of modern life, where the cause of death is itself an aspect of modernity. Indeed, reading these representations of death and suicide in the period of high modernity, brings to mind the perishability, capriciousness and invisibility of reality described by Foucault and influenced by Nietzsche’s Will to Power. By the late nineteenth century it was already clear that suicide was losing its meaning, or rather, in representation meaning was becoming elided. For Camus, it was life itself that had become absurd. If suicidal imagery in the nineteenth century was either a product of anxiety, as in Millais’ Ophelia, or in Frith’s The Road to Ruin, a peevish finger pointed at the aestheticism of Whistler and Wilde, in the twentieth century representation of suicide became truly problematic. In the godless remains of Europe after World War I, suicide’s meanings were primarily linked with depression; subsequently suicidal representation took on a certain ambivalence, as if life itself were deemed pointless. It was in Germany, and above all in the anxious images of Expressionism, that the theme or motif of suicide was most prevalent in the first part of the twentieth century. The response of the German Expressionists to suicide and death was probably a result of moral indignation levelled at modernity; it was also a reflection of the deep-rooted malaise of what Camus in L’Homme Révolté called the century of destruction, which manifested itself in a desire to 201

picture death. At the same time death was being systematically put under control and the dying removed from sight. The existentialist philosophy of free will offered by Camus’ existentialism or Sartre’s Marxist humanism insisted that man must make choices without reference to any pre-established values. The underlying philosophy, of the need to begin again, and the liberating existentialism of Camus is given meaning in his Myth of Sisyphus. Both Sartre and Camus resisted the idea of suicide as an answer to the eternal question of whether life was worth living. Camus’ justification for living was that the absurd was a rejection of suicide; ‘It escapes suicide to the extent that it is simultaneously awareness and rejection of death.’19 To be or not to be. In Expressionism, moral indignation at suicide and death replaced the idea of the spirituality of death, and represented their fury at a world full of immorality. This was a world that the War had filled with politics, which had led to the new and depressing knowledge of the irrationality of humankind expressed in Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Denying historical specificity, but providing ample food for thought, Deleuze and Guattari argued that by the 1930s, with the ‘realized nihilism’ of Fascism within Germany – a state heading for destruction, the ‘suicidal state’ was born.20 In this regard we have come a long way from the antique personification of defeated Gaul, but the comment does have an uncanny resonance to it. In an artistic sense, the Dadaists acted out the stupidity and violence of modern warfare, and gave expression to the contemporary mood of futility, in an art which was all about the worthlessness and the psychotic nature of self. Paradoxically, Dada nurtured a belief in art that meant that actual suicide was avoided, though the path from Dada led to Jean Tinguely’s auto-destructive works, which killed themselves. Such works of art deconstructed aesthetics, but gave emphasis to the historical subject and threw light on the problems of individual status in the modern world. When Picasso painted the body of his friend Carlos Casagemas in the Goyaesque Burial of Casagemas, after Casagemas had committed suicide with a pistol in a café, he signalled very clearly that for Casagemas life was over (illus. 109). The painting of the white, shrouded cadaver is clearly that of a corpse, the body after death. The trace is gone, though the shrouded image evokes a tinge of regret or a feeling of pity for the victim. His face is blank, featureless, and there is an open tomb to the right, with what looks like a shadowy figure walking into it. The eight mourners in black shrouds are also featureless, and adopt various positions that gesture their despondency. However, in 202

109 Pablo Picasso, Evocation: The Burial of Casagemas, 1901, oil on canvas. Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris.

the heavily painted sky (one that refers to Expressionism and parodies it), detracting from the sadness of the front scene, two nude female figures stand together, and three dishabille female figures watch another naked woman kissing what appears to be the dead man on a white horse that faces upwards towards heaven. Two children face outwards arms outstretched, and a further cloaked figure, with a baby held tight, cuts across the picture plane. In the manner of the first exegesis of Herakles, Picasso has painted the nineteen-year-old Casagemas on his way to heaven. In spite of this reference, the heroic component is lacking. Picasso’s image lacks contingency, and looks backwards to call up the Almighty for his dead friend. The equivocal nature of the painting is manifest in the white horse which doubles as a symbol of desire and instinct, and as transport for the dead body. Picasso’s idea of transformation, signified by the heavenly steed, is also a motif in the early writing and visual works of Ernst Barlach, where conflicting notions of suicidal death can be found. Both include ideas of resurrection. Influenced by theosophy (thus having parallels with Flaxman’s Swedenborgian image of Chatterton) and by Gnostic ideas and, in his earliest works, by Rosicrucian thought, Barlach’s illustrated drama The Dead Day describes a mother who first kills the heavenly steed and then herself. This instigates the death of her son. The lithograph shows the mother pitching forwards, the knife falling from her left hand (illus. 110). The figure is in complete isolation. Like Picasso’s image of Casagemas, it has lost its characteristic individuality, though it may be that in both these cases this has more to do with a concern for the expression of abstract ideas than is the case with Fuseli’s Ophelia, described earlier, where the lack of facial characteristics signifies the lack of will or character of the drowning Ophelia. Barlach’s The Poor Cousin includes the suicide of Hans Iver who does away with himself in order to be at one with God. In The Dead Day death asserts itself and triumphs over the spiritual world, but this is reversed in the later work when for Iver death becomes the way home ‘by the shortest possible route’. There are echoes of Paul’s epistles in Barlach’s text, which, like them, voices the desire to be with Jesus in heaven. In 1938 Frida Kahlo painted the suicide of her friend Dorothy Hale. Kahlo shows her plummeting headfirst from a New York skyscraper, surrounded by a fiery mist (illus. 88). At the base of the painting Hale is portrayed on the pavement, looking very much alive. Similar to Picasso’s painting of his friend, and no doubt informed by staunch Catholic beliefs, The Suicide of Dorothy Hale is a response to the death of a friend; though in contrast to Picasso’s acceptance of his 204

110 Ernst Barlach, ‘Mother Kills Self ’, lithograph from his play The Dead Day (1912).

friend’s death and his hope for an afterlife, Kahlo’s work holds her friend in stasis, in the present, as fallen, but alive. Is this a modern Catholic Marian myth in which the artist intervenes between God and the victim and resurrects her? Or does it refer to Freudian psychology? In this instance, the splitting appears to act as a visual image of the two sides of the unconscious drives and aims to keep the image of the person alive. Picasso’s painting gives the victim a send off, but also communicates the sense and feel of Casagemas’s and Picasso’s unfulfilled desires. However, the drive for death is strong, and so too is the desire to control death. Kahlo’s image is not so much a denial of her friend’s death as an uncanny representation of an out-of-body image, which reveals an acceptance of the active nature of suicide and the passive nature of death. It functions partly to show Kahlo’s concern for woman’s plurality: woman’s life, woman’s death and woman’s life as death. There is no confusion here between life and death. Life is death. A year later Kahlo painted The Two Fridas, indicating her 205

insight into the fragmented nature of woman’s gender identity. The mistiness around the falling figure of Kahlo’s friend partially obscures the body, and makes the whole question of her suicide indeterminate. The unclear nature of the death is further enhanced by the image of Hale’s stylishly dressed body on the pavement. It is as if Kahlo and Picasso are searching for a language for suicide and death in keeping with their strong Catholic beliefs, though Picasso’s work may also connote his own anxieties around death and sexuality. In Picasso’s and Barlach’s images suicidal deaths are held in suspension or seen as journeys. In general, this notion changed after World War I, as moral anger at suicide replaced ideas of spirituality; and in suicidal representations a certain resentment can be traced. Characters in post-war images of suicide tend to appear as abased humans (illus. 111). Käthe Kollwitz’s ‘Suicide by Drowning’ shows a woman descending the steps of a canal with her children. Her woodcut The Man with a Noose shows an old man looping a rope round a beam. The figure is clothed in black, his shoulders hunched in a gesture of total despair, but his head is turned upwards, and his face set on the task of securing the rope. More recently, the image is recalled of the old prison librarian Brooks in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption. After his release from prison to a halfway house, he slowly and deliberately carves his name on a beam before hanging himself. His is an interesting case, for it is freedom that brings his death and his compelling desire to be back inside. His signature remains as a sign of his life, that ‘Brooks was here’. Despite raising questions about the nature of ‘inside’, the genre of prison films is interesting in this respect as it raises existential questions about freedom and ‘escape’. Brooks’s death is as a result of freedom. Where Picasso’s image hints at the cause of Casagemas’s suicide, and at his unrequited love, in the portrayal of the naked woman who is placing the young man on the horse, and where Kahlo questions the idea of cause and images a doubling which is about woman’s life, in Kollwitz’s woodcut, the cause is life itself. The old man is sick ‘to death’ of living. Like Brooks’s, his death is an escape. Already killed many times over, Ophelia’s trace was to reappear in 1938 as a suggestion of Millais’ Ophelia in Leonor Fini’s painting of the same title, where she is portrayed in the same manner, but as a muddied figure with a tortured expression on her face that flies in the face of the dreamlike quality invested in Ophelia imagery (illus. 89). This is a dirty death, and the dirt might symbolize her own entrapment in the plot. Later she appears again, as a spectral abstraction in a print by William Hayter. In the twentieth century the concept of 206

111 Käthe Kollwitz, ‘Suicide by Drowning’, leaf 4 from Scenes of Poverty, 1909, drawing.

Ophelia was constantly evoked in the work of Artaud, Masson, Redon, Pinkston and Berman. In terms of suicidal discourse these are not heroic images; rather they invite the spectator to reflect on the cause of death or recall romantic suicide. The ambiguity around Ophelia’s death is constantly brought back, and with it the ambiguity of suicide. When Camus looked around for an example of heroic death in the twentieth century, he chose to look beyond the Western world to refer to the political suicides of protest by the Chinese during the revolution as having ‘honourable considerations’.21 Though Ophelia’s death was viewed within discourses on mental illness and depression, there is a suggestion in these ambivalent images that meaning might reside with the viewer. They are ambivalent in that they invite speculation, rather than attempting to resolve method and motive in representation. All meaning is lost in the swirls of Hayter’s abstraction, as they call up the abyss, the oblivion of suicide, though the spectator may find a call for help in the furious swirling masses. The vibrations reach out towards the viewer like a cry for help from the past, but subside inwards – more like sound207

waves than print. There is a presence underneath the surface, perhaps Ophelia. In 1980, Irnshaw depicts Ophelia in what looks like a garden pond with a figure running away, her hands clasped over her head to prevent her hat from coming off (illus. 90). In 1947, Antonin Artaud penned his Van Gogh: the Man Suicided by Society, which resurrected a modern and sinister equivalent of autophoneutes, the person in antiquity ordered to kill himself out of ‘necessity’ or the sinister equivalent être suicidé (to be suicided), revived in the Nazi death camps in Germany during the 1930s and throughout the war referred to those killed by their persecutors. Artaud may have been suffering from some instability, but his comment that ‘modern man … has never been able to live, has never thought of living, except as one possessed’, has a poignancy to it.22 Artaud claimed that it was the collective consciousness of society that punished Van Gogh for ‘escaping from its clutches’. That the painters Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock are held up as the paradigmatic examples of modern authorship and yet that both ‘killed themselves’ (in accidents?) has a dreadful irony to it. Though impending death has been read into Van Gogh’s image of the wheatfields, his death requires an open verdict in the same way as Pollock’s tragic crash in 1956. In Fred Cutter’s book are two images from a series by Pollock that carries the ominous title of Ten Ways of Killing Myself (1941–2) (illus. 112–13). In the catalogue raisonné of Pollock’s work they are untitled. In 1967, the picture on the recto was exhibited as Figure Composition. Cutter indicates that Pollock gave these two drawings the Killing Myself title. The Pollock–Krasner House and Study Center have stated very clearly that ‘whoever decided to call these drawings “Ten Ways of Killing Myself ” has done a disservice to Pollock’s intent’.23 One might assume from Cutter’s text that Pollock made personal statements about his self-destructive nature and about art-as-therapy, where a cry for help, and the artist’s survival are both signified. Indicating the purgatorial power of connotation, and the desire to name, these drawings have been given a title and thus a meaning. The notebooks, produced while Pollock was undergoing therapy with the Jungian doctor Violet Staub de Laszlo, are crammed with abstract images influenced by Orozco, Miro, Picasso and by Native American symbolism. They represent a certain self-consciousness about death rather than an inscription of suicidal death upon an other. His therapist, de Laszlo, encouraged Pollock to bring along drawings to the sessions, and it may even have been that he paid for some of the therapy with his works. After World War II, death took over from sex as the prime social 208

112, 113 Jackson Pollock, Figure Composition, 1941–2, each side of a double-sided sheet of drawings.

taboo. Some 40 or so years later, the AIDS crisis brought the two together. Before that, death was confined to private life. Ariès has argued that the beginning of the twentieth century saw the removal of death from society. By filming his own suicide, the Japanese film director Yukio Mishima helped to break that conspiratorial silence around suicide, and parodied and paid lip service to the problem of suicide by capturing a continuing aspect of suicidal imaging in high art, that death is a thing of beauty, but equally a destroyer of beauty. That is the paradox that we are left with. Since then, the ‘media’: press, photography, video-film and television have provided the public with a pornography of violence and spectacle. There is no need to go outdoors to wait and watch for death. The pleasure principle has gone – so too has the reality of death. In the suicidal images of Warhol and in his death series can be seen the beginnings of Baudrillard’s volatilization of the real, where real death becomes an allegory of itself. With the apotheosis of Marilyn Monroe after her apparent suicide 209

in 1962, the iconic trace is stronger than ever before but, in general, there is an awful commodification in the images of the suicidal Monroe – they are all image. Warhol’s first Marilyn was completed two years after her death. Monroe appears as the vacuous blond, an empty signifier, fragmented; but unlike Ophelia, who is given shape (be it diffuse) by the artist, Monroe waits to be given her shape and meaning by the male audience. There is no value judgement of the suicide in these pictures. One might assume that judgement is left open for the spectator. Lucy Lippard’s examination of the death-and-disaster series is correct when she states that choice is with the viewer.24 Monroe’s death and subsequent imaging gave the male audience a modern Ophelia to consume in the way Grasset gave the fin-de-siècle a Lucretia. Lippard’s comment that after World War II the tear glands of the world dried up from over use is a useful starting point for an analysis of Warhol’s death scenes.25 Warhol’s position in the work is as an uninvolved spectator but ‘a man haunted by death’.26 Though not overtly practising his faith, Warhol was a Catholic, and the fact that death was a constant theme and a process in his work requires some explication. It may be that unforeseen death still carried a medieval fascination for Warhol, or that his early Roman Catholic teaching with its visions of hell motivated his fascination for violent and unforeseen death. What is clear is that in direct contrast to Picasso’s image, Warhol’s suicidal images verge on ideas of simulation, or represent an attempt to produce a high modernist history painting. Warhol’s screen-prints and paintings reverse the Christian ideas of an afterlife in heaven that underlay Picasso’s work to commit the dead to total and lasting extinction. Warhol’s dead, sometimes famous, sometimes anonymous, are committed to be image. They are denied a disposal. The real presence was Warhol. The process of transforming a news photo on to silk screens or canvas mechanically, and then repeating it, has less to do with the machine aesthetic, or machine as killer, than the machine as anaesthetic. If the photograph is a representation of the original death, then the medium of silk-screen is distanced even further from the original accident via the indifferent medium of photography and its technical processes, so that the final images are twice removed from their source and therefore ‘meaningless’. There is evidence from Henry Geldzahler, an acquaintance of Warhol and a curator, that Andy Warhol was particularly anxious about suicide and that his motivation in these pictures was to negate the strength of death.27 In effect, Warhol committed emotional suicide. His anxieties over death and suicide found expression in his death-and-disaster series, where he worked through his own prob210

lems on life and death and which, in this case, were a genuine cry for help from the artist and not about the victim. With as much emotion as communicated by the soup cans, the 30 or so repetitive images of Monroe aimed at making ‘screens of her beautiful face’ transformed Marilyn’s beauty into a fiction. The gold paint, a deliberate reference to religious icons, meant Warhol came very close to placing Monroe back in a past time, while emphasizing her iconic quality as a screen goddess in the present; though the emphasis on Marilyn’s masquerade, in the changing make-up between the differing images, detracts from this and gives her a two-dimensional quality. These images act more as a disclaimer of beauty and of death than anything else. Hughes’s description of them as ‘taxidermic portraits of the dead Monroe’ says as much about Hughes as it does about Warhol.28 The reverential title of the 1967 Australian show Homage to Marilyn leaves little, if any, doubt as to what the show was about and in doing so gives a clue to what was included and, of course, excluded from the exhibition. Cutter notes two important exclusions, both images by women painters: Sahri Sherman’s Death of a Goddess and Guilly Joffrin’s The Death of Marilyn Monroe. Joffrin’s image shows the dead woman on her bed. This is clearly not in the nature of a homage, though the beauty of the still figure is caught at the moment of death. After her suicide, the Los Angeles Times for Monday 6 August 1962 carried Monroe’s photograph over the caption: ‘Help She Needed to Find Self Eluded Marilyn All Her Life’. In this case the ‘cry for help’ came far too late. Marilyn, according to this paper, never found her self. Sherman’s and Joffrin’s pictures reveal the worst that can happen when the cry is not heard or passed over. Both depict the dead body. Connotation being what it is, there is an intriguing muddle here with the deaths of Ophelia and Lucretia, where the myth of these ‘heroic’ women intervenes in the process of reading, and we either attempt to make the leap of faith, and believe in the sense we do with the heroic death of Lucretia; or leave it, with the thought that the image reveals the deep and active desire to die by one’s own hand. Joffrin’s painting represents the passive accident of her death as in the case of Ophelia. In truth it is neither, and it does not fix an identity in the way Warhol’s mechanical image-sign does. Often seen as making a social comment on the dehumanization of modern life, Warhol’s images seem to have more to do with self than other, where the repetition of the image aims to neutralize the horror for Warhol, but somehow fails miserably for us, the spectator. Reviewing Warhol’s Whitney exhibition in 1971, and referring to the artist’s 211

existentialist edge, Lawrence Alloway describes 1947 White (illus. 114) as a ‘remarkable image of a suicide who jumped and fell onto a car and the roof buckled around her body, (like a bed or a crusade tomb)’.29 The condition of being an ‘uninvolved spectator’ may well be a part of Warhol’s relationship with these images and their sources, but not far below the conscious surface of these texts there is an artistic attempt at mastery over deeper anxieties of dying and death as a ‘theme and process’ in the death series. In his 1987 eulogy to ‘America’s Most Famous Artist’ the art dealer Pierre Nahon described the death series as metaphorical works of art, which ‘made obvious the vanity of our world and the cruelty of its psychological destiny’.30 Clearly, Warhol’s deep-rooted Roman Catholic fears and sense of presence led him towards drawing an image of death that appeared matter-of-fact; but the fact of the superficiality of modern life is dealt with in the content. The meanings of suicide lie both inside the image and in Warhol himself – or with the spectator. In the process, the suicidal subject shifts away from Durkheimian portrayals of alienation, anomie and madness to self-portraits of general fragmentation. It is no wonder Ophelia stays the course and the painter stays whole. One gets the sense, the feel of an exorcism in the works of Warhol. In the 1960s, the projection of the historical subject in the era of modernity was killed off and replaced by a split subject. In turn hell and heaven were marginalized; though for some heaven, and perhaps hell too, was on earth. From then on, according to Baudrillard, media coverage of death resembles a simulacrum. The simulacrum has an obvious sensual appeal to it but, in this case, disengages the signifier suicide from its historical roots and this uncoupling fails miserably to explain and probe its contemporary history. The late-twentiethcentury artist has shied away from an analysis of suicide, one that separates suicide from society and the ‘sociological’ aspect. Yet along with the depthlessness is a forestalling that veers away from a critical analysis of the discursivity of suicide and the power struggles contained within these texts. Joffrin’s painting attempts to re-place the dead Marilyn as a subject and is a dialogue with the inequality of treatment that woman has suffered in representation. Warhol’s mechanical images are signs only of his-self. As I have already hinted, if the representation and reality of suicidal death is to be further investigated in postmodernity, a history of the symbolic order will be required that will unveil the class and gendered nature of death in all epochs and reconsider the decentred self, or the disappearance of self in historical terms. Beneath the 212

114 Andy Warhol, Suicide (also known as 1947 White), 1971, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas. Collection of the Dia Art Foundation, Bridgehampton, NY.

115 The ‘Heaven’s Gate’ suicides, March 1997.

art of suicide we have witnessed a historical domination at work. Even in the twentieth century, where suicide appeared increasingly superficial, works of art helped to create our pathology; and the images we absorbed worked to define our bodies and minds, and ameliorate and maintain, or debase and destroy, the social system in which we live. These suicide texts are, however, part of that social system, part of an ideological sign system, and the power that directs them needs to be analysed as part of that social structure. Under the umbrella of postmodernity, and on the world wide web, suicide’s representations are even further removed from the deathlike photographic negative which Warhol imaged, but they are not, and can never be, detached from the social reality that knitted them together. The self-consciousness of modernism has been replaced with a postmodern conscious acceptance of the aesthetic in which suicide is once again being questioned in visual and legal discourse. At the beginning of the twentyfirst century suicide is linked to a different spirituality, a different social clime, and made problematic in terms of economies in a period where many people may no longer deem it either practical or fitting to keep folk alive against their will.



We know that it is only while we are in these physical vehicles (bodies) that we can learn the lessons needed to complete our own individual transition, as well as offering the Kingdom of Heaven to this civilisation for the last time … We fully desire, expect and look forward to boarding a spacecraft from the Next level very soon (in our physical bodies) … It could happen that before our spacecraft comes, one or more of us could lose our physical vehicles (bodies) due to ‘recall’, accident, or at the hands of some irate individual … or there could be attempts to incarcerate us or to subject us to some sort of psychological or physical torture (such as occurred at both Ruby Ridge and Waco).1 By the time you read this, we suspect that the human bodies we were wearing have been found and that a flurry of fragmented reports have begun to hit the wire services.2 The Heaven’s Gate mass suicide promises to be the first great Internet mystery. When the members of the UFO/computer cult ‘shed their containers’ they left behind a trove of clues on the Internet about their work, their suicide and the Hale Bopp comet.3 As reported in the Jan/Feb 99 issue of the Ragged Edge, ‘Kevorkian, 70, has killed 130 disabled people in his 8-year spree.’ … I find Kevorkian’s campaign and message terrifying, and the absence of critical comment even more so. For example, the US’s most respected TV news show ‘60 Minutes’ recently ran Kevorkian’s own video tape of him actively killing a man with ALS.4

On the twentieth-century terrain of wicked categories individual suicide became marginalized. Decriminalized and superseded by mass destruction and the mass suicides of the late twentieth century, such as Heaven’s Gate, ‘represented’ on the Internet, the suicide is buried, disposed of in the churchyard if requested, and though sad, is 215

treated as everyday. Confronted by actual images of individual suicide on video film by Dr Jack Kevorkian, known as ‘Dr Death’, convicted in 1999 for murder in the United States, the reader is presented with a different picture. Here, in these cases, the visual representation is of the dead bodies, and of the actual death of the ‘victim’. In the case of Heaven’s Gate suicide the images takes on a fictive aspect, despite their investment as documentary evidence. The colours do not shock, the cropping does not give a particular view that enhances the horror of it all, the small pictures are reminiscent of Warhol’s death-anddisaster scenes but more passive. Further to this, the text assigns these voluntary deaths mystical and religious meaning, the souls are ‘recalled’, the physical bodies they ‘were wearing’ are left behind in the ‘transition’. Concomitantly, they are commodified, and their capacity as ‘record’ is made problematic. For those who visit the website to see the shells of those bodies it will be a real test of their imaginativeness to call up the experience of these sad deaths. Rather than have a kind of afterlife in the manner of Lucretia, these representations are consigned to their website limbo – held in stasis. Peculiarly, I have the sense of an unburied body. Notwithstanding, suicide is here linked to the spiritual; the website images of the self-annihilation of Heaven’s Gate do indeed have an eerie, unworldly stillness to them. The wish to quit the world for the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ also recalls the dramatic mass suicide of Masada, and the posed threat to their existence by ‘psychological or physical torture’, whether real or imagined makes their last words resound noisily in the light of the history of suicide. In this case, there is little doubt that suicide has been endowed with religious meaning. For the latetwentieth-century viewer however those meanings are lost. In the now notorious case of the American doctor Jack Kevorkian, suicide is, in his argument, a ‘celebration of self-determination’.5 In the United States three-fifths of America’s states prohibit suicide. Kevorkian had already been to court several times and been acquitted. It is not Kevorkian’s campaign I am interested in here, but the video image, the only image I shall refer to that is of a ‘real-life’ killing. Early in 1999 I watched a programme on British television about Kervorkian, ‘Dr Death’, who had recently been imprisoned for carrying out an assisted suicide. Kevorkian has been the focus of a campaign to legalize the deed. Recorded by the video camera, he administered a lethal injection to a terminally ill man, and on the television screen the viewer was allowed to watch a man die. The mass audience watched a man ‘killed’. There was no historical problem here of who the image was of, or for, or who the audience were. It was 216

filmed for a mass audience as evidence, and in order to explicitly foreground a particular belief in the right to die or choose death when the pain of life becomes too much. The suffering of the man was evident. However, and this is highly fitting for the study of suicide’s representation, the film subsequently became evidence of another sort in the trial and conviction of the doctor. The legalities were complex; but, as the lethal dose was administered by another, it was deemed by the American jury to constitute murder, rather than euthanasia or ‘assisted suicide’. Shifting the emphasis from the crime to the criminal, the prosecution saw the victim’s sickness and vulnerability as no good reason for the ‘assisted suicide’, but placed stress on the ‘fact’ that Kevorkian (like the artist?) was looking for victims. Clearly, the questions revolving around any one suicide are extremely complex, moral and emotional issues. After watching the programme, it occurred to me that the problem of obfuscation that surrounds the issue in law was not dissimilar to the obfuscation that surrounds the history and analysis of suicide and its representation. For me it was a poignant image and a telling case that made the painted or graphic representation seem superficial and fragile, and the notion of interjection redundant. It raised numerous questions about my topic, not least that of the nature of evidence and its multiplicity or duplicity, and the notable absence of photographic representation in my work, but also forced me to confront important bioethical questions on the right to die and my own deeper motives for my work. At first, faced with the reality of seeing an actual death on the screen, the other reality, that of the ‘sense and feel of discourse’, paled into insignificance. Do we have the right to choose to die? Who will have the right to make decisions concerning death? How will ‘we’ make these decisions. Do we ever have the right to take life? To be sure, I have hinted in my text that the recent interest in death and suicide might well be the working through of an agenda on the operation of death and dying as a social service. If the reader has been reading ‘below’ the text and thinks that there is a certain inevitability in the change to the law, I think that is probably the case. The central and worrying question concerns abuse. The video film also indicated that there was an agenda in which popular support for a change in legislation is widespread. Yet, like the paintings, it too was a representation and my perception of the video a representation itself. Mechanical reproduction has an uncanny knack of ‘disposing’ of the subject. There is a problem here of finding new ‘contexts’ for examining these images against the traditional contexts for studies of suicide; 217

the statistical approach, ego psychology and Durkheimian ‘positivism’. Truthfully, if a synthesis of previous stories comes about in this history of suicide, it is due to the fact that the art of suicide rejected most of these approaches and replaced them by a search for meaning. And, stemming from this, it is difficult to displace orthodoxies in a field so full of ambiguity. How do these images invoke the life of signs in society? What then is the context for the late twentieth century and for the early twentyfirst century? Giving emphasis to Baudrillard’s simulacrum, the photographic signifiers on the ‘net’ of the victims of Heaven’s Gate have a superficial deathlike quality. One has to ask, however, if such a detachment from the sign veils the power of submerged grammar and negates the experience of authority that these images project. As I have mentioned already, the block of images by the American Photo Syndicate are uncannily like Warhol’s format for his death-anddisaster series, but showing different bodies in similar clothing (illus. 115). Like a sheet of stamps they arouse little emotion, little feeling at all. They could be asleep, but we know they are not. The pictures are dispiriting and sad, the victims anonymous; to date they represent the ultimate in mechanical reproduction and the similarity of each body to another, and though one recalls Warhol’s replications of Marilyn these are different people. These figures remain distant, unfamiliar. Once again in the history of suicide, the thin crust of representation is beginning to be worn away as these pictures question the denotative power of images. It would appear to be death that is trivialized here, made superficial, part of the ‘practice of simulation’. Nevertheless, the consensual element of the death of these 29 persons demonstrates the negative face of social control in a period of bewildering change. They also look back in history to arcane mass suicides. To consider that they do not make sense in a post-Christian era is to deny them a history. However, one can no more assume a pre-existent context for these images than for any other in this problematic history. At each step of the way, I have undertaken to reconstitute as represented the differing traces in order to establish the nature of suicide’s meanings. In the course of this long history, I allowed the mobility of the sign suicide to take me along and, at times, the perplexing historical traces and relays that disallow simple definition left me hanging (if you forgive the expression). The focus on the image-meaning potential of these images has also meant that the images have not been discussed as physical objects, and the consequent gaps in chronology and glosses will be apparent. How to give expression to the gaps and discontinuities in writing and the visual created problems of a differ218

ent historical nature. How do we fill a gap? For example, how do we describe something that is as elusive as suicide in Early Christianity or in the medieval period? I think we have to try. In the process of writing, the simple binary of good or bad deaths that informed my semiotic approach collapsed under the weight of history, the grey areas, and the slippages and shifts that occurred. This was particularly clear with the Judas/Jesus binary, where the elusiveness of the evidence also meant a partial construction may have emerged. Historically, suicide’s heroic cause became lost in the play between method and motive, and was finally eluded in representations where suicide became submerged in the subtext. For the twenty-first-century historian of suicide there is still a difficult task ahead. The phenomenon of mass suicide will require further explication, as will the twentieth-century notion of human rights. Photography, television, film, and now the world wide web will need consideration. One will need to think over the ambivalence which has developed in the late twentieth century towards suicidal death, as a product of these media and their willingness to portray the dead body, since this might include the filming of actual suicide in newsreels and so on. As a response to the historical problem of reading images across time, I was obliged to adopt a more self-critical analysis where in each case the concept of suicide was evoked and then questioned. In the meeting of the different processes that make up the sign suicide I have probably only touched upon the vast array of life-signs that contribute to its meaning. The value of semiotics in a broad sense, as a tool for understanding the nature of ‘art’ and art’s continuing contribution to the construction of meanings of suicidal death, has been beneficial. I may have filled a small gap in this history. Throughout the work, I have wrestled with the context, always looking for and trying to provide something that does not look or feel like a stage setting or a backdrop. At times, this has forced the images to the margins. The rapid expansion of writing and representation in the eighteenth century were cases in point, and clearly brought with it other problems. This was relevant to my case study of the late eighteenth to early nineteenth-century ‘An English Dance of Death?’, where the actual growth of suicidal discourse and overexposure by the press helped to create the ‘English Malady’. In turn, this heralded new forms of graphic realism in the nineteenth century, which played upon the personal tragedies and death of others. The quest for context also led me to try different ways to question context. The diachronic survey element of the early history, and the 219

more synchronic elements of the later, provide evidence that the latter gives rise to unique and differing configurations, whereas the long history shows a more linear shifting. There is little doubt that this reflects the lack of extant images for the earlier period and is an effect of the differing historical modes. The diachronic survey gave rise to the exacting task of trying to grasp the varying social, cultural and collective consciences of differing cultures and societies across a long period of time. All through, this has been a struggle, yet I have stayed with my task and argued that images of suicide from differing geographies, cultures and religious settings generate multiple meanings. I have not particularly interrogated the reasons why artists were drawn to these images, or why so many artists may have committed suicide themselves, though the centrality of anxiety and desire in the artistic self has been offered as an explanation for the attraction of death, especially the death of beautiful women. Art, rather than civilizing in the sense Kenneth Clark spoke of, is perhaps more to do with ordering emotional experience in the way Ella Freeman Sharpe addressed, and which cannot be communicated in words.6 In Sharpe’s analysis it would be introjection and projection that are at the core of suicidal imagery and would seek to preserve self and master the object. Yet, there has always been an element of magic in art and the desire to control is strong, the quest for pleasure constant. The notion of intention is always problematic, but it has to be considered. The tendency of other writers in the field has been to see artistic intention as moral, or to see these images in the art historical sense as memento mori. That the search has unearthed very few images of the dead body, and only one image of defilement, however, questions their status as memento mori. Most have caught the body before the act. In most cases what survives is the trace, which is never destroyed. The moral slant, however, is exampled by Judas – as a statement of how not to die. Yet the power of these images is that they cast doubt upon the straightforward idea of a passage from life to death and cut radically across linear time sequences. Bearing in mind the problem of extant images, what is apparent in this history is that images of suicide have not always been a part of cultural history and philosophy. It is only from the early modern period, and in the modern period, where a sense of self came about, that ‘the body’ became of particular importance and suicidal death began to be regularly imaged. I would argue, however, that it is incorrect to assume that important questions were not asked before they were written, and it would be unsound too, to ignore them as context. 220

In the nineteenth century, the resurrection of Hamlet’s lure, Ophelia, raises questions about this. In this sense, the networks of signifiers and texts from differing periods acted as ‘context’ for later periods where life itself is fictionalized. Finally, in Ophelia’s case, fiction became life. A rewarding aspect has been the discovery of individuals like Vicesimus Knox and their commentary. Knox wrote his Essays in 1778–9, and articulated with some clarity the notion that images carry extremely powerful messages and can be influential in causing suicide. Knox’s statements have been in my mind throughout. His clever notion that the ‘idea’ from a work of art be ‘caught at a glance’ has been a thread that runs through the work.7 In answer to Knox, I would say that nothing is self-evident. In my reading of visual representations of suicide I have tried to consider this agenda and to combine disciplines into a unified subject. It has been a battle. More work will need to be done if a translinguistic approach is to be developed where disciplinary boundaries and the pejorative suicide is truly broken down. Despite the difficult nature of the engagement, the study of the visual history of the last taboo has been a fruitful one. Suicide has been seen to be an expedient outlet for intellectual debate, an exorcism, philosophy, aesthetics and moral opinion. If images of suicide say one thing above all, it is that this strange death has never had a fixed meaning. It is tempting too, to say that in the twentieth century, when art stopped being a means of representing and became destructive, the art historian’s task became intertwined with that of the suicidologist and the correct topic for study became death. In truth, visual representations of suicide ceased to image the external reality of death and began to focus on the ‘canvas’ surface, but, underneath that, the all-important appearance, the subject’s relationship with the world and the work of art are brought together. Visual representation has thus turned its gaze on the problematic nature of suicide and the identity of the subject to turn the image outside-in. The unconscious apart, images of suicide indicate that the outside world is within all of us. That so many of these images are of women indicates that the visual representation of suicide is less about self-killing than male visual discourse about Woman. The connections and interrelations of these internal relationships with modes of visual representation and social forms of domination still need to be addressed further if a common culture is to emerge where suicide is truly understood. 221

Down Among the Empty Boats Sonia Lawson’s recent painting Down Among the Empty Boats indicates the continuing presence of suicidal death in art and enduring fascination with self-slaughter for artists and how, above all, oil on canvas can truly capture the unfeigned horror of pending self-slaughter. This late-twentieth-century image of a distressed woman among the cobles wielding a large knife does not call up an ‘Ophelia’, nor a ‘Lucretia’. It pictures a determined woman bent on destruction, drifting among womb-like empty boats (illus. 91). What messages and meanings does this sanguine image actually project? When I came across it, I immediately saw it as a suicidal representation. But is it a suicide? Her loneliness and her demeanour imply she will kill herself. In the artist’s words, the woman is caught ‘between the land’ and the ‘beginnings of the infinite sea’ (an ambiguous zone literally and metaphorically), the atmosphere is ‘dark and louring’, the red dress connotes sanguinity. This is ‘someone on the edge, finally being in charge’.8 The lonely woman is about to kill herself, the boats, those powerful symbols of the womb, stand wanting, vehicles or symbols of the woman’s body. The red of her dress invades her very self, and imports both her irrationality and the inevitable bloody sacrifice. A deeper symbolism is implied that this woman is caught in the liminal zone between the ebb and flow of the tide, neither land, neither sea, never herself. Not to be. Lawson’s image, like others from the postmodern period, is I believe, relevant to the sanctity of life argument. Throughout their recent history, images of suicide raise troubling questions about ‘rights’. The right to die is still denied to us by law, unless the doctor, the lawyer or the state ‘allows’ it. Above all, the reason for this is that end-of-life choices impact on the problematic notion of individual ‘rights’. If, however, the legal problem is seen as one of nomenclature and language, and I believe that the history of the art of suicide above might bolster this opinion, then the paternalistic models of history and the legal system will need to be questioned. The way forward is to challenge ontological approaches with a ‘deontological’ one.9 Only then can the debate be shifted from the ambiguous notion of rights. For me, these images give rise to these debates, help to form them, and in some cases, actively take part in them.



Introduction 1 P. Veyne, Comment on ecrit l’histoire: Suivi de Foucault revolutionne l’histoire (Paris, 1978), p. 236. In Veyne’s ‘tribute’ to Foucault he indicates that each age might reconfigure or resignify fields of discourse and make them unique. Veyne’s idea facilitates a further shift from a totalizing history that is determined by the economic to one that considers successive relationships to objects and to objectifications that, in this case, might resignify suicidal death. 2 M. Foucault, ‘Right of Death and Power over Life’, in Foucault, History of Sexuality, vol. i (London, 1978), pp. 138–9. 3 C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Culture (London, 1975), p. 89. 4 E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400–1580 (New Haven and London, 1992). 5 M. MacDonald and T. R. Murphy, Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1990), pp. 57–9. 6 L. Nead, Myths of Sexuality: Representations of Women in Victorian Britain (Oxford, 1986), pp. 138–64. Nead’s analysis of prostitution in visual representation and the visual links made with suicide demonstrates the potential of applying Foucault’s ideas of power in Discipline and Punish, trans. A. Sheridan (New York, 1977). See also ‘Seduction, Prostitution, Suicide: On the Brink by Alfred Elmore’, Art History, v/3 (September 1982). 1 Representing Voluntary Death in Classical Antiquity 1 B. Russell, The History of Western Philosophy (London, 1961), p. 148. That suicide was deemed unlawful in Orphic tradition gives emphasis to Socrates’ death as forced murder by poison: ‘We are strangers in this world and the body is the tomb of the soul, and yet we must not seek to escape by self-murder … we have no right to make an escape’, J. Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (London, 1930), p. 108. Also see W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals, vol. i (London, 1869). These works imply that classical antiquity may not have been as open as previously thought in its treatment of suicide, though to prove otherwise would be difficult as epigraphic sources are limited: P.Veyne, ‘Suicide, fisc, esclavage, capital et droit romain’, Latomus, 40 (1981), pp. 217–68; A. J. L. van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide: Self-Killing in Classical Antiquity (London and New York, 1990); M. F. Griffin, ‘Philosophy, Cato and Roman Suicide, I & II’, Greece and Rome, xxxiii/i (April 1986), pp. 64–77. J. M. Cooper, ‘Greek Philosophers on Euthanasia and Suicide’, in B. A. Brody, ed., Suicide and Euthanasia: Historical and Contemporary Themes (Dordrecht, Boston and London, 1989). 2 J. Elsner, ed., Art and Text in Roman Culture (Cambridge, 1996). 3 Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, pp. 64–5. See also L. Burn, The British


Museum Book of Greek and Roman Art (London, 1991). 4 D. Novak, Suicide and Morality: The Theories of Plato, Aquinas and Kant and Their Relevance for Suicidology (New York, 1975). 5 R. Garland, ‘Death Without Dishonour: Suicide in the Ancient World’, History Today, xxxiii (1983), p. 35. Slaves, soldiers and those charged with capital offences were forbidden to take their lives. See also A. H. W. Adkins, Moral Values and Political Behaviour in Ancient Greece (London, 1972). 6 Plato (427-347 bc), The Trial and Death of Socrates, trans. J. Warrington (London, 1963), p. 63. See also R. G. Frey, ‘Did Socrates Commit Suicide?’, Philosophy, 53 (1978). 7 D.Gourevitch, ‘Suicide Among the Sick in Classical Antiquity’, Bulletin: History of Medicine, 43 (1969), pp. 501–18. 8 Plato, Socrates, John Warrington’s introduction, p. xiv. 9 D. Daube, ‘The Linguistics of Suicide’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, i (1972), p. 403. 10 J. M. Cooper, ‘Greek Philosophers on Euthanasia and Suicide’. 11 Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide. See also Cooper, ‘Greek Philosophers on Euthanasia and Suicide’. 12 Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide. 13 A. Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages, vol. i, ‘The Violent Against Themselves’ (Oxford and New York, 1998), p. 38. 14 D. W. Amundsen, ‘Suicide and Early Christian Values’, in Brody, Suicide and Euthanasia, pp. 80–81. 15 M. MacDonald and T. R. Murphy, Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1990), pp. 15–41 and pp. 42–76. For a critical review: D. Friest, Social History 2 (May 1992), pp. 350–53. 16 Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, pp. 174–5. 17 R. Wilie, ‘Views on Suicide and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy and Some Related Contemporary Points of View’, Prudentia, 5 (May 1973), pp. 15–32; Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, pp. 174–5. See also R. Garland, The Greek Way of Death (London, 1985); E. Vermeule, Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry (Berkeley, 1979). 18 Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, pp. 174–5, is citing Philostratos, Eikones, 1, 4. 19 Ibid., p. 175, citing Eikones, 1, 12–13. 20 Plato, Apology in Socrates, p. x. 21 T. K. Hubbard, ‘Nature and Art in the Shield of Achilles’, Arion, 3/1 (Winter 1992). 22 S. Freud, Collected Works (London, 1922), p. 311. See especially the essays ‘Medusa’s Head’ and ‘Civilisation and its Discontents’, where Freud states that ‘the desire for destruction when it is directed inwards mostly eludes our perception … unless it tinged with eroticism’. 23 Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. 176. O. Touchefen, ed., Lexicon Iconographicum Classicae (Zurich, 1981) contains a list of 38 objets d’art featuring Ajax’s death. 24 C. James, ‘Whether ‘tis nobler. Some Thoughts on the fate of Sophocles’ Ajax and Euripides’ Heracles’, Pegasus, 12 (1969). 25 R. Flaciere and J. Devambez, Heracles, Images et recits (Paris, 1996), p. 23. See also J. D. Beazley, Red Attic Figure-Vases, vol. 2 (Oxford, 1963); A. R. Rose, ‘Seneca and Suicide. The End of the Hercules Furens’, Classical Outlook, 60 (1983), pp. 109–11. 26 Plato, Apology.


27 Ibid. 28 Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, trans. J. E. King (London and New York, 1927) 1, 74. In the writings of Cicero and Seneca Cato and Socrates migrate from darkness to light. It is clear that fear gave them the right to die. See also Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. 279; F. Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die (Chicago, 1983), p. 96. Cutter mentions that a Hellenistic sculptured relief of c. 200 bc depicts Socrates drinking the hemlock. No location is given for this work. 29 J. D. Tabor, A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom Among Christians and Jews in Antiquity (San Francisco, 1992), pp. 17–21; Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. 130, drawing on the work of J. Baechler, Les Suicides (Paris, 1975). Van Hooff points out that the self-killer was part of a cosmos, p. 183. To affect that cosmos was to affect nature itself. Self would be to some extent determined by that cosmos, or by community. Although self-killing implies one sees oneself as an object the historical specificity of self must be born in mind. 30 E. Durkheim, Suicide, trans. J. A. Spaulding and G. Simpson (London, 1952). Durkheim divides suicide into four categories; egoistic (much overestimated in his account at the expense of) altruistic, anomic and fatalistic. See also S. Taylor, Durkheim and the Study of Suicide (London, 1982). 31 F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique, The Lure of Classical Sculpture (New Haven and London, 1981), pp. 224–5 and 282–4. 32 Ibid. 33 G. Bazin, A History of World Sculpture (New York and Greenwich, ct, 1968), p. 501. 34 C. Mitchell Havelock, Hellenistic Art (London, 1971), pp. 145–6 and 154–6. See also J. Pollitt, The Ancient View of Greek Art (London, 1974) pp. 14–15. In a discussion of naturalism versus realism Pollitt states that the first professional treatise on sculpture was that of Polyclitus in the fifth century bc, framing ideas of beauty and the commensurability of the body. 35 E. Q. Visconti, Opere var italiana francesci (Milan, 1827–31), pp. 325–6; M. Bieber, The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age (New York, 1961), p. 142; Bazin, History of World Sculpture, p. 501. Also Haskell and Penny, Taste and the Antique, p. 282. Perhaps indicating the ambiguity of suicide itself the writers above confirm that the statue has been taken to be representations of Sextus Marius killing his daughter to protect her from the lust of Tiberius, and that he himself had been accused of incest with the girl. At different times it has been mistranslated as Pyramus and Thisbe (Pyramus is killed first in Ovid’s story). See Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. A. D. Melville (Oxford and New York, 1986), p. 78. 36 J. Charbonneaux, Hellenistic Art (London, 1973); Y. Grisé, Le Suicide dans le Rome antique (Montreal and Paris, 1983). 37 Bazin, History of World Sculpture, p. 501. 38 R. Brilliant, Portraiture (London, 1991). Brilliant’s notion of the authority of likeness and authenticity of the autoicon is more readily seen in funerary sculpture where it is employed to enhance the ‘once lived quality of the original’, pp. 125–31. 39 N. Llewellyn, The Art of Death (London, 1991), p. 53. Llewellyn’s argument that the ‘body portrayed does not constitute an iconic sign’ is pertinent in this case, though the power of the sculpture to portray the natural body and effectively cloak the social body and suppress representation makes for a problem of analysis. My analysis attempts to reveal the strategies that give off this effect. In this sense, the reality (‘realism’) is a signifying practice. 40 J. Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. G. Spivak (Baltimore, 1976), pp. 144–5 and 292–3. See also Charbonneaux, Hellenistic Art, p. 262.


41 A. Vernhet, ‘Une four de la Graufensengue’, Gallia, 39 (1981), p. 33 for the story of foot soldier Tiberius Claudius who decapitated Decebulus and gained immediate and immense popularity. 42 J. Winckelmann, Monumenti antchi inediti, 2 vols (Rome, 1767). The work has been referred to as The African Fisherman. See, for example, the cover to Seneca, Four Tragedies and Octavia, trans. E. F. Watling (Harmondsworth, 1972). The image’s history is evidence of the desire to name. It could be a slave and therefore might represent ‘all’ slaves. See Rose, ‘Seneca and Suicide’, pp. 109–11. 43 Haskell and Penny, Taste and the Antique, pp. 282–4. 44 Bieber, The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age, p. 142. 45 J. Forsyth, Remarks on Antiquities, Arts and Letters during an Excursion in Italy in the years 1802 and 1803 (London, 1813). Forsyth comments: ‘These busts are all anonymous, authenticated by no model, and as questionable as the genius of Seneca himself ’, p. 239. 46 J. Bethke Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political Thought (Oxford, 1984). 47 Ibid. 48 Ovid, Metamorphoses, pp. 76–9. See also C. Segal, ‘Ovid’s Metamorphic Bodies: Art Gender and Violence in the Metamorphoses’, Arion, 5/3 (Winter, 1994). 49 F. Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, p. 201. Cutter’s example is evidence of the changing meanings given to suicide where the image is re-spoken. In this case the pagan is turned into the Christian. The conversion has more obvious meanings in the context of Christianity as a proselytizing religion. 50 M. Grant, Myths of the Greeks and Romans (London, 1963), p. 382. The original text uses the expression ‘mischance’, p. 78. The translator also notes that visual adaptations occurred through to the nineteenth century, p. xxxvii. See M. Grant and J. Hazel, Who’s Who in Classical Mythology (London, 1993). My concern is with myth as a second order semiotic system in the sense Barthes spoke of in Mythologies (London, 1973). 51 An image of Canace can be found in Garland, The Greek Way of Death, p. 33. 52 Y. Grisé, ‘De la frequence du suicide chez les Romains’, Latomus, 39 (1980), pp. 16–46. See also I. Donaldson, The Rapes of Lucretia. A Myth and its Transformations (Oxford, 1982). Donaldson refers to images contradicting Grisé, but gives no clue to their whereabouts. Van Hooff ’s reference to Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, 34, 28, indicates there were no statues devoted to Lucretia among the Roman heroes and heroines (From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. 287). It was in the Renaissance, when the notion of honour became an accepted norm, that Lucretia could serve as a positive example of female virtue. See also M. Warner, Alone of all her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York, 1983); P. SchmittPantel and A. Goldhammer, A History of Women in the West, vol. i (1992). The latter notes the dearth of information on women in official sources and the profusion of texts and images created by men that are concerned with women and gender. 53 J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (London, 1927). The dual importance of this citation is that it illustrates that the traces of these suicides linger on as the play of the cosmic and the natural combine. It was hanging, not suicide per se, that was a bad death in antiquity. Hanging, however, has a fairly imperspicuous and complicated symbolic history. The ‘victim’ of hanging is caught between heaven and earth – left in ‘suspension’. Jung saw hanging as a tense expectation or unfulfilled desire, see K. Jung, ‘Symbols of Transformation’, in Collected Works, vol. v (London, 1956). It also has to be seen as a fitting end to a heinous life: Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, pp. 164–5. Van Hooff ’s fascinating work in


54 55 56 57

this field indicates that hanging had sinister connotations in antiquity. He refers to the ‘noose of ghastly death’ (nodum informis leti). The body of such a death was thrown away like that of an enemy or those guilty of treason. Frazer, Golden Bough. Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. 176. No location is given, but he notes that the statue breaks from Euripides story to have Jokaste hang herself. Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, p. 185. R. Chartier, ed., Cultural History (London, 1988), pp. 27–8.

2 Self-killing from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance 1 D. W. Amundsen, ‘Suicide and Early Christian Values’, in B. A. Brody, ed., Suicide and Euthanasia: Historical and Contemporary Themes (Dordrecht, Boston and London, 1989), pp. 77–153. 2 B. A. Brody, ‘Jewish Casuistry on Suicide and Euthanasia’, in Brody, ed., Suicide and Euthanasia, pp. 39–75. A key factor in suicide’s categorization was that the suicide caused their own death, the martyr allowed it, p. 50. 3 A. J. Droge and J. D. Tabor, A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom among Christians and Jews in Antiquity (San Francisco, 1992). The method of stoning implies a martyrdom by a non-Christian of a Christian. The robed figure who is being stoned has a costume reminiscent of that worn by Christ in images: the executors wear a garb similar to a Roman toga. See also: F. E. Reynolds and E. H. Waugh, Religious Encounters with Death. Insights from the History and Anthropology of Religions (Pennsylvania, 1977); J. T. Clemons, What does the Bible say about Suicide? (Minneapolis, 1990). 4 Droge and Tabor, A Noble Death, p. 187–8. In the final analysis the ‘distinction between suicide and martyrdom devolves upon personal commitment’. 5 Ibid., p. 15. See also P. Brown, The Cult of Saints. Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago, 1981); M. Gatch, Death: Meaning and Mentality in Christian Thought and Contemporary Culture (New York, 1969). 6 M. Camille, Master of Death: The Lifeless Art of Pierre Remiet, Illuminator (New Haven and London, 1996), p. 115. 7 M. Camille, The Gothic Idol. Ideology and Image-Making in Medieval Art (Cambridge, 1989). See also review by R. Scribner in Social History, xvii (May 1992) pp. 344–7. 8 M. Camille, ‘The Book of Signs: Writing and Visual Difference in Gothic Manuscript Illumination’, Word and Image, i/2, (April–June 1985). 9 Droge and Tabor, A Noble Death, refer to a ‘Platonic loophole’ that allowed Socrates’ death to be used ‘as a justification and as a means of moderating against the act of a voluntary death’. See also Augustine, City of God, trans. J. Healey and R. V. G. Tasker (London, 1950), book x, ch. xxiii. p. 296. The ambiguity of the act was clearly recognised by Plato, see Phaedo, p. 94, in The Trial and Death of Socrates (London, 1963), pp. 87‒175, where Socrates states ‘we must not set ourselves free or run away’. 10 M. Zerwick and M. Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, vol. 1, Gospel–Acts (Rome, 1974) and Revd A. Marshall, The Interlinear Greek–English New Testament (London, 1958), pp. 126 and 464. 11 F. Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die (Chicago, 1983), p. 145. 12 Samsonic suicide can, however, be seen as revenge, see M. P. Jeffreys, ‘Samsonic Suicide or Suicide of Revenge Among the Africans’, African Studies, vi/3 (1952), pp. 118–22. Also M. H. Spero, ‘Samson and Masada: Altruistic Suicides Reconsidered’, Psychological Review, 65 (1978), pp. 631– 9.


13 Camille, The Gothic Idol, notes that the propaganda value of the visual focus meant that debates on otherness were turned against the Saracens and the Jews. 14 D. Daube, ‘The Linguistics of Suicide’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, i (1972) p. 397–8. 15 Ibid. 16 Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, pp. 147–9. 17 Augustine, The City of God, book i, ch. xvii; see pp. 21–4 where Augustine breaks from Matthew’s version of the story. While on the subject of self-killing he muddies the water on Lucretia’s rape, ‘shall we say she was an adulteress, or was she chaste?’, p. 23. Yet at the same time Augustine refers to suicide as ‘voluntary death’ and ‘fleeing from sin’, pp. 21 and 31. Philosophically his text has much in common with Plato’s attempts to define virtue in Theaeatetus, trans. R. A. H. Waterfield (London and New York, 1987). 18 Augustine, The City of God. 19 Droge and Tabor, A Noble Death, p. 5. See also D. Parkin, ed., The Anthropology of Evil (London, 1985). Parkin notes that the Hebrew word for evil is ra which also means worthlessness, uselessness or, a bad or sad urge – like suicide, p. 27. The problem of martyrdom/suicide appears inseparable. Both are symbolic deaths. The argument here is that Christian theologians attempted to resolve the issue but the slippage between the two makes definition difficult. 20 In the King James Bible, Judas’s desolation is figured in Psalms as a prophecy (69:25). King David’s prophecy concerning the field of blood ties David with Judas, and makes stronger the link between Ahitophel’s death and that of Judas. 21 I discovered this in the Warburg Library. No location was given for the manuscript. 22 These personifications are crucial to the development of abstract ideas of good/evil, vice/virtue, and act as aids to the process of analytical thought and allegorization. Impatience, despair and suicide are thus linked. 23 A. J. L. van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide: Self-Killing in Classical Antiquity (London and New York, 1990), p. 178. 24 C. A. Prudentius, Psychomachia [1045], English trans. in Works, trans H. J. Thomson (London, 1952). Pictures illustrating Prudentius’ text can be found in D. de Chapeaurouge, ‘Suicide in the Middle Ages’ in Zeitschrift für Kunstwissenschaft, 19 (1960). 25 I. Donaldson, The Rapes of Lucretia. A Myth and its Transformations (Oxford, 1982), p. 14. See also E. Muller, ‘Humanist Views on Art and Morality: Theory and Image’, in P. Bange et al., eds, Saints and she-devils: images of women in the 15th and 16th centuries (London, 1987) p. 141, where he affirms that notions of Lucretia’s chastity appealed to the Church and its teachings. The tile in Vyne House chapel near Basingstoke is evidence of this. In Cleopatra’s case, the question of the anti-type to the Virgin Mary is raised. In J. Alexander and P. Binski, eds, Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200–1400 (London, 1987), p. 343, Abimelech is described as a kind of Antichrist. 26 Augustine, City of God, book i, ch. xviii, pp. 22–4. 27 Ibid. 28 Donaldson, The Rapes of Lucretia. 29 Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. 278. Pliny, Naturalis Historia, 34, 38. See also J. Gould, ‘Law, Custom and Myth: Aspects of the Social Position of Women in Classical Athens’, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 100 (1980); M. R. Lefkowitz and M. B. Fant, Images of Women in Antiquity (Bromley, 1983). 30 Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. 177. See also J. Blitz, ‘Tragedies van Euripides op Macedonische reliefbekers’, Hermeneus, lxii/12 (1990).


31 Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, p. 178. 32 B. Taylor, ‘The Medieval Cleopatra: The Classical and Medieval Tradition of Chaucer’s Legend of Cleopatra’, Journal of Renaissance and Medieval Studies, 7 (1977). See also Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide, p. 21, who notes that the idea that Lucretia contained a male soul in a female body can be found in Valerius Maximus’ ‘Memorable Facts and Sayings in Valerius Maximus (London, 1819), 6.1.1. 33 F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique, The Lure of Classical Sculpture (New Haven and London, 1981), pp. 184–7. 34 Taylor, ‘The Medieval Cleopatra’. See also L. Hughes-Hallett, Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions (London, 1991). Hughes-Hallet sees ‘Cleopatra’ as a site where power and desire intersect, pp. 147–68. Also M. Hamer, Signs of Cleopatra (London and New York, 1993). There are varying interpretations of ‘what Cleopatra meant’. They range from passive object to virago. 35 Remiet’s image displays the ‘filth of death’ in the way Mary Douglas describes in Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London and New York, 1984), p. 176. 36 M. MacDonald and T. R. Murphy, Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1990), pp. 15–77. The authors divide the era of severity into three: The Crime of Self-Murder, The Instigation of the Devil, and Opposition and Ambivalence. The period extends from the sixteenth century through to the early seventeenth century. If this is applicable in this case, then Dürer’s image of Lucretia falls into the first. The popularity of Lucretia was, however, also enhanced by an interest in the classics. One image (c. 1528) by Lorenzo Lotto in the National Gallery depicts a fully clothed lady holding a drawing of Lucretia’s suicide. Beside the woman is a table and a written text which states that through the example of Lucretia ‘not a single immoral woman shall remain in existence’. 37 J. Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. G. Spivak (Baltimore, 1976). 38 Revd Mr W. Tukes, Discourse on Death (London, 1613), p. 21. 39 A. J. Droge, ‘Mori Lucrum: Paul and Ancient Theories of Suicide’, Novum Testamentum, 30 (1988), pp. 263–86. 3 Conflict and Change in Early Modern Europe 1 A. Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages, vol. i ‘The Violent Against Themselves’ (Oxford and New York, 1998), p. 137. Murray’s research has located the word suicida as early as 1138 in a passage by Walter of St Victor, Contra quator labyrinthos Franciae, p. 38. 2 Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages, pp. 38–9. 3 Ibid. 4 M. MacDonald and T. Murphy, Sleepless Souls. Suicide in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1990), pp. 42–76. Protestantism offered a shield against suicidal despair instigated by Satan. See also D. Freist, review of MacDonald and Murphy, Social History, xvii/2 (May 1992), pp. 350 –53. In his Daemonologia Sacra (Edinburgh, 1677) the Nonconformist clergyman R. Gilpin espoused such a view. See also D. Stannard, The Puritan Way of Death. A Study in Religion, Culture and Social Change (Oxford, 1977). 5 K. E. S. Zapalac, In His Image and His Likeness: Political, Iconographic and Religious Change in Regensberg, 1500–1600 (Ithaca and London, 1990), pp. 121–5. 6 MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls. 7 Ibid. 8 Revd Mr W. Tukes, Discourse on Death (London, 1613), p. 21.


9 MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls, p. 88. 10 T. F. Mayo, Epicurus in England, 1650–1725 (Columbia, 1934); F. D. Miller, ‘Epicurus on the Art of Dying’, Southern Journal of Philosophy, 14 (1976), pp. 169–77. 11 J. Addison, Cato: A Tragedy (London, 1713), Act v, scene i; Mayo, Epicurus in England, p. 38; W. Charleton, Epicurus’s Morals (London, 1656); L. Richeome, L’adieu de l’âme dévote laissant les corps (Lyon, 1590). 12 F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique, The Lure of Classical Sculpture (New Haven and London, 1981), p. 305; E. McGrath, Rubens’ Subjects from History, vol. i (London, 1997). In England the portrayal of heroic antiquity continued into the nineteenth century. The popularity of the theme of Seneca’s death is evidenced by its presence on Italian porcelain copies of antique subjects. Referring more to a new heroism and the values of modern bourgeois life than those of antiquity, Seneca’s image appears as late as the early nineteenth century in intaglio on fine Wedgwood china. Perrier’s engraving has 14FP inscribed at the bottom left and may be a copy of Rubens’s Seneca, though it is not clear if the number refers to the date 1614. Antony and Cleopatra were also popular on Italian porcelain and English earthenware. An illumination from a fifteenthcentury French manuscript in the British Library shows Antony and Cleopatra both about to kill themselves, Cleopatra with a snake at each breast. L. HughesHallett refers to an unsigned painting by a follower of Leonardo which shows a Cleopatra neither passive nor a virago: Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions (London, 1991), p. 334, pl. 50. Angelica Kaufman’s painting Cleopatra shows her kneeling at Antony’s tomb fully clothed (Courtauld Institute of Art). An earlier sixteenth-century Flemish engraving in the Warburg shows Cleopatra beside a tree, thereby associating her with Eve, the Fall and temptation. 13 I. Watts, A Defense Against the Temptation to Self-Murther wherein the Criminal Nature and Guilt of it is Displayed, the various Pretences for it are Examined and Answer’d (London, 1726). A Congregationalist and hymnist, Watts argues that ‘Satan walks about through the Great City … seeking who he may devour’, p. iv. On the same page he refers to the ambiguous verdict of ‘found dead’ in the Bills of Mortality, and in the weekly news. See also the much earlier anonymous Religious Tracts to the True-Hearted British Reader (London,1622–3), p. 54. In both texts the malice of Satan is blamed for suicide as it made a man both the active and the passive subject of his own action. 14 R. Blackmore, A Treatise of the Spleen and Vapours: Or, Hypochondriacal and Hysterical Affections with Three Discourses on the Nature and Cure of the Cholic, Melancholy and Palsies (London, 1725). See also G. Cheyne The English Malady: or a Treatise of Nervous Diseases of all Kinds; as Spleen, Vapours, Lowness of Spirits, Hypo-chondriacal, and Hysterical Disorders, 2nd edn (London, 1734), p. 208 and introduction pp. i–iii. Cheyne, a Scot, thought all nervous disorders arose from glandular distemper. His treatise is an exemplar of contemporary medical attempts to classify self-murder. 15 W. Rowley, A Treatise of Female, Nervous, Hysterical,Hypochondriacal, Bilious, Convulsive Disease … with Thoughts on Madness and Suicide (London, 1788). This interesting treatise makes ties between illness/women/suicide. See T. Castle, ‘The Spectralisation of the Other’, in F. Nussbaum and L. Brown, eds, The Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature (London, 1987); S. Sontag, Illness as Metaphor (New York, 1977). Increasingly suicide and madness were drawn together, as Rowley’s lengthy title implies, and women were the prime focus of these medical investigations. See E. Showalter, The Female Malady. Women, Madness and English Culture. 1830–1980 (New York, 1985). Also


16 17

18 19

20 21

22 23 24 25 26 27



‘Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism’, in P. Parker and G. Hartman, eds, Shakespeare and the Question of Theory (London, 1985). R. Scribner, review of M. Camille, The Gothic Idol. Ideology and Image-Making in Medieval Art (Cambridge, 1989) in Social History, xvii (May 1992), pp. 344–7. J. Herries, An Address to the Public, on the Frequent and Enormous Crime of Suicide Delivered at the Old Jewry on the 2nd January, 1774 (London, 1774). In Herries’s argument luxury and depravity are signalled as cause. Herries describes the suicide as ‘the most depraved of human characters’, p. 35. C. Moore, A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide (London, 1790), p. 7. ‘Luxury’s effects’, according to Moore, ‘deprave morals and corrupt the heart.’ J. Todd, Sensibility: An Introduction (London and New York, 1986). See also, A .J. L. van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide: Self-Killing in Classical Antiquity (London and New York, 1990), pp. 26–30. Clearly suicide has to be feminized in order for a feminine analogue to be seen as problematic in these terms. Alternatively, the feminine analogue may have been an integral part of the feminization process. Van Hooff ’s wistful section on the subject of ‘Ancient Werthers’ concludes that antiquity was not acquainted with the type. See also Higonnet, ‘Speaking Silences’, in S. R. Suleiman, ed., The Female Body in Western Culture (Cambridge, ma, and London, 1986), p. 71. O. Anderson, Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England (Oxford, 1987). Hughes-Hallett, Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions, p. 206. In K. Reynolds and N. Humble, Victorian Heroines: Representations of Femininity in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Art (London, 1993), Cleopatra is labelled a femme fatale, p. 115. In Charlotte Bronte’s Villette (1853) Lucy Snowe examines an eroticized image of Cleopatra. It has been identified as ‘A Dancing Girl’ by De Biefre, which Charlotte saw at the Salon de Bruxelles. Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, lists over 130 images. The current research has revealed many more. Guido Reni’s Lucretia in the Royal Collection is an example of the anti-type of the virgin. D. Owen Hughes, ‘Representing the Family: Portraits and Purpose in Early Modern Italy’, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, i/i (Summer 1986). E. S. Shneidman, ‘Suicide, Sleep and Death: Some Possible Interrelations among Cessation, Interruption and Continuing Phenomena’, Journal of Consulting Psychology, xxviii (April 1964), pp. 102–3. C. W. Wahl, ‘Suicide as a Magical Act’, in E. S. Shneidman and N. Farberow, eds, Clues to Suicide (New York, 1957), p. 23. J. Yates, Chariote of Chastitie (London, 1582). When the Elizabethan printer Purfoot (who inserted miniatures of Lucretia in his works) announced his wares were to be purchased in St Paul’s Yard he was referring to Thomas Berthelet’s publishers at that address. See M. D. Faber, ‘Shakespeare’s Suicides: Some Historic, Dramatic and Psychological Reflections’, in E. S. Shneidman, ed., Essays on Self-Destruction (New York, 1967), p. 36. E. Cropper, Pietro Testa 1612–1650, Prints and Drawings (London, 1988), pp. 249–55. The refusal of Augustine to compare Samson’s death (martyrdom) to Cato’s is a noticeable oversight. Clearly Cato could have been vindicated in the same way as Samson. See Augustine, City of God, trans. J. Healey and R. V. G. Tasker (London 1950), book i, ch. xxiii, p. 249. Cropper’s work also includes images of the studies and first state engravings of The Suicide of Dido, c. 1650–55, p. 268. Ibid., pp. 268–70.


30 Ibid. 31 Thanks to Hugh Stevenson, Assistant Keeper, Fine Art Department of Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries, who provided me with this reference and that of Francesca del Cairo’s Death of Cleopatra. 32 Z. Pierce, A Sermon on Self-Murder (London, 1736), p. 7. 33 Mayo, Epicurus in England, p. 52, for reference to Jean Francois Sarasin, Oeuvres (Paris, 1726). 34 L. Richeome, L’adieu de l’âme dévote. 35 Mayo, Epicurus in England, p. 53. 36 Addison, Cato, Act v, scene i. 37 MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls, pp. 260–66. L. Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800 (New York, 1977). N. Llewellyn, The Art of Death (London, 1991), pp. 19–27. S. W. Goodwin, Kitsch and Culture: The Dance of Death in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Graphic Art (New York, 1988). See C. Gittings, Death, Burial and the Individual in Early Modern England (London, 1984); E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580 (New Haven and London, 1992). 38 T. Browne, Religio Medici (London, 1642). 39 Watts, A Defense against the Temptation to Self-Murther, preface p. iii. 40 J. Sym, Life’s Preservatives against Self-Killing or a Useful Treatise concerning life and Self-Murder (London, 1637), p. 247. Sym, a minister of Leigh in Essex, noted the randomness of suicide’s victims in terms of age and all types: ‘Clergie, Laity, Learned, unlearned …. male, female’, p. 313. 41 Gilpin, Daemonologia Sacra, p. 111. Gilpin thought that Satan ‘drove in the design of Self-Murther’, yet spoke in awe of Lucretia, and Cato’s death. For a similar appraisal see Yates, Chariot of Chastitie. See also J. Hillman, Suicide and the Soul (London, 1964); K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London, 1973), pp. 199, 314, 565, 574, 621. Also J. McManners, Death and the Enlightenment. Changing Attitudes to Death in Eighteenth-Century France (Oxford, 1985) and M. Zell, ‘Suicide in Pre-Industrial England’, Social History, xi (1986). For a discussion of the changing pattern of evil see P. Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil (Boston, 1969); D. Pocock, ‘Unruly Evil’, and D. Taylor, ‘Theological Thoughts about Evil’, in D. Parkin, ed., The Anthropology Of Evil (London, 1985). 42 Zapalac, In His Image and His Likeness. 43 K. Menninger, Man Against Himself (New York, 1938). Menninger’s thesis is that the wish to harm (sadism) turns in on itself and becomes the desire to be killed (masochism). Cranach painted three Lucretias and differing authors give differing dates. A. Stepanov, Lucas Cranach the Elder (London, 1997), refers to three, two painted in 1532 in the Akademie der Bildenden Kiinste Gemildegalerie, Vienna (tempera on red beech), and a third in 1535 in the Art Museum, Nizhni-Novgorod (oil on wood). The three show Lucretia in a similar pose and bejewelled, but in varying states of undress. In the 1535 image the veil drops to reveal the beginning of the crotch. Cranach also did a woodcut of The Self-Sacrifice of Marcus Curtius in 1506–7. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is a pen and brown ink over black chalk drawing of Lucretia by Raphael (c. 1510). Raphael’s drawing was copied by Raimondi Marcantonio (1475–1534) and Marcantonio’s engraving from the drawing (c. 1510) bears the title Dido. This interchangeability of names shows the popularity of these female suicides but also the gradual dissipation of the original stories and of the individuality of the heroines. 44 M. Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo


(London and New York, 1984), p. 147. 45 J. Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay in Abjection, trans. L. Roudiez (New York, 1982), p. 71. 46 C. Moore, Backgrounds of English Literature, 1700–1760 (Minneapolis, 1953), pp. 181–3. Moore draws on the Abbé’s writing in the journal Pour et Contre from 1733–40. 47 Ibid., p. 183. The English upper classes were the focus of puritan criticism here, and their suicide seen as a result of idleness. 48 J. Foxe, History of the Actes and Monuments of the Church (London, 1641), p. 642. The cases of the apostate Judge Hale of Kent who committed suicide after his arrest, p. 644, and that of Clarke, an ‘open enemy of the gospel’, p. 634, or of Bomelius, a student at Louvain ‘who drew on the company of Tyleman, master of the pope’s college’ indicate further the willingness to tie suicidal tendencies to papists or to believe Roman Catholicism led to despair and self-killing, p. 648. J. Donne, Biathanatos (London, 1644). A survey of the Bible will indicate that Donne was correct. Donne’s poem The Legacy is also worth reading in respect of his argument on voluntary death, with its theme of man’s immutability. See also L. G. Crocker, ‘Discussion of Suicide in the Eighteenth Century’, Journal of the History of Ideas, no. 13 (1952), pp. 47–72; McManners, Death and the Enlightenment; T. I. Beauchamp, ‘Suicide in the Age of Reason’ in B. A. Brody, ed., Suicide and Euthanasia: Historical and Contemporary Themes (Dordrecht, Boston and London, 1989); Zell, ‘Suicide in Pre-Industrial England’; M. MacDonald, ‘The Secularisation of Suicide in England’, Past and Present, 111 (1986). 49 Foxe, Actes and Monuments. 50 J. E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols (London, 1990), p. 255. 51 Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die, pp. 202–3. 52 V. Knox, Essays Moral and Literary (London, 1778–90). 53 Holbein’s image can be read in the context of the ‘age of severity’ as a result of wider changes, crusades against popular culture and suicide beginning to be read as a polarity of Christian hope. 4 An English Dance of Death? 1 E. Young, The Complaint: Or Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality [1743] (London, 1806). 2 T. Warton, Ode on Suicide (London, 1771). Along with Gray and Percy it was Warton who recognised the Rowley poems as fabrications. 3 M. MacDonald and T. Murphy, ‘Death à l’Anglaise’, in Sleepless Souls. Suicide in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1990), deals with the topic in some detail, pp. 307–14. The argument is that Bills of Mortality and newspapers convinced natives and foreigners alike of England’s malady. 4 G. Minois, History of Suicide: Voluntary Death in Western Culture (Baltimore, 1999). 5 Young, Night Thoughts. 6 Z. Pierce, A Sermon on Self-Murder (London, 1736), p. 7. Pierce was Bishop of Bangor, then Rochester. 7 J. Henley, Cato Condemn’d – or the Case and History of Self-Murder, Argued and Displayed at Large, “occasioned by a Gentleman of Gray’s Inn Stabbing Himself in the year 1730, and other instances” (London, 1730), pp. 8–10. 8 Ibid., p. 10. 9 Lord Byron, Don Juan, ed. L. A. Marchand (Boston, 1958), p. 198.


10 D. Hume, Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul (London, 1777), p. 21. 11 D. Diderot, Oeuvres Complete, eds J. Assézat and M. Tourneaux (Paris, 1875–7), vol. 3, p. 244. 12 Gentleman’s Magazine, lvi (3 April 1786), pp. 310–11. 13 Ibid., liv (3 April 1786), pp. 877–8. 14 Hume, Essays on Suicide, p. 21. 15 C. Fleming, Dissertation Upon the Unnatural crime of Self-Murder (London, 1773). 16 B. W. Oddy, The Suicide, An Ode, in Gentleman’s Magazine, lxii (July–December 1792). 17 N. Llewellyn, The Art of Death (London, 1991), pp. 19–27. See also J. Hayes, Thomas Rowlandson: Watercolours and Drawings (London, 1972); T. Rowlandson, The English Dance of Death (London, 1815), p. 13. Also R. Paulson, Rowlandson: A New Interpretation (New York, 1972). 18 C. A. Moore, Backgrounds of English Literature (Minneapolis, 1953). For the growth of romantic suicide see A. Marchwinski, ‘The Romantic Suicide and the Artists’, trans. I. Green, in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, cix, 6 (February 1987), pp. 63–74. Marchwinski gives the voluntary deaths of the French Revolution as exemplum virtutis, p. 63. It is these ethical values that Neoclassicism espouses in the face of open condemnation of the act of suicide. 19 G. H. Lewes, The Life of Goethe (New York, 1965), p. 223. 20 R. Williams, The Country and the City (London, 1985), p. 149. 21 I. Watts, A Defense against the Temptation to Self-Murther wherein the Criminal nature and the Guilt of it is Displayed, the various Pretences for it are Examined and Answer’d (London, 1726). 22 G. L. le Sage, Remarques sur l’état d’Angleterre (Paris, 1715) cited in C. A. Moore, Backgrounds of English Literature, p. 182. 23 Mercurius Politicus, June 1720. The anonymous writer insisted that the English were more prone to suicide than the rest of the world. 24 ‘On English Suicide by a Foreigner’, Gentleman’s Magazine, v (23 May 1737), p. 290. 25 ‘On English Suicide by a Foreigner’, Fog’s Journal (14 May 1737). That this continued into the nineteenth century is evidenced in Forbes Winslow’s work The Anatomy of Suicide (London, 1840). See also ‘The Classic Land of Suicide’, The Psychological Journal (1861). 26 Henley, Cato Condemn’d, p. 28. 27 W. Gough, To the Christian Reader (London, 1637). Gough’s sermon of 18 April is cited in the preface to J. Sym, Life’s Preservatives against Self-Killing, or a useful treatise concerning Life and Self-Murder (London, 1637). 28 G. Cheyne, The English Malady or a Treatise of Nervous Diseases of all Kinds; as Spleen, Vapours, Lowness of Spirits, Hypo-chondriacal and Hysterical Distempers, 2nd edn (London, 1734). 29 ‘On Suicide’, Gentleman’s Magazine, ii (August 1732), p. 916. 30 I. Lucas, ed., Peter Kalm’s Visit to England on the Way to America in 1748 (London 1892), p. 457. Kalm thought the east wind might be a cause. Climatic factors as a cause of suicide reflected a longstanding belief in the capacity of the weather to unbalance the humours, leading to melancholy. In England, the high rate of winter suicides would seem to support it. 31 Gentleman’s Magazine, vii (23 May 1737), p. 290. A survey of the Gentleman’s Magazine in the period from 1731 to 1786 revealed a growing variety of opinion of suicide. Suicide was satirized, suicide was voted for and against, but above all, there was an ongoing and dynamic discussion of suicide as crime and a product of


‘madness’, ‘lunacy’, or a ‘tortured mind’. 32 Ibid. 33 The Connoisseur (Thursday, 9 January 1755), p. 299: ‘a dull day was looked upon as a natural order of execution, and Englishmen must necessarily shoot, hang or drown themselves in November’. 34 Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Law, trans. T. Nugent and J. V. Prichard, in Great Books of the Western World (Chicago, 1952), p. 107. 35 Ibid., p. 108. 36 Hume, Essays on Suicide, p. 485. 37 C. A. Moore, Backgrounds of English Literature, p. 182. 38 N. Llewellyn, The Art of Death (London, 1991), pp. 26–7. 39 J. Foxe, Acts and Monuments, 4th edn (London, 1877), p. 642. 40 Ibid., pp. 644–6. 41 Ibid. 42 Gentlemans Magazine, xxxv (August 1765), p. 197. 43 Minois, History of Suicide. 44 The Connoisseur (Thursday, 9 January 1775), p. 297. 45 C. Fleming, Dissertation Upon the Unnatural crime of Self-Murder (London, 1773). 46 J. Herries, An Address to the Public on the Frequent and Enormous Crime of Suicide Delivered at the Old Jewry on the 2nd January, 1774 (London, 1774). 47 Hume, Essays on Suicide, p. 41. Here, Hume draws on Rousseau’s Eloisa. 48 V. Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, vol. ii (London, 1778–9), p. 44. 49 C. Moore, A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide, to which are added two treatises on duelling and gaming (London, 1790), pp. 360–61. 50 C. Tilly, ‘Social Change in Modern Europe: The Big Picture’, in L. Berlanstein, ed., The Industrial Revolution and Work in Nineteenth Century Europe (London, 1992). Tilly’s argument is that communication was European and not local or national. Tilly’s concept that non-coercive wage labour (capitalism) and the political unit of the state were the social context for change is useful here as the first offers ‘freedom’ and a concept of usefulness, the second offers regulation and control over life until death. In this respect, see also M. Foucault, ‘Right of Death and Power over Life’ in History of Sexuality (London, 1981). 51 Anon., Du Suicide (Paris, 1797), pp. 2–3. 52 Ibid., p. 3. 53 M. D. Blackett, Suicide: A Poem (London, 1798). Blackett clearly illustrates the problem of the pre-statistical era in her acceptance of the frequency of suicide. See M. Zell, ‘Suicide in Pre-Industrial England’, Social History, xi (1986). 54 Moore, A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide, p. 360. 55 Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, vol. ii, p. 322. 56 Herries, An Address to the Public, on the Frequent and Enormous Crime of Suicide, pp. 6–9. Herries refers to melancholy as a demon. 57 Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, vol. ii, p. 218. 58 Ibid., p. 220. 59 B. Mandeville, A Treatise of Hypochondriack and Hysterical Passions (London, 1711). Also R. Blackmore, A Treatise of the Spleen and Vapours: Or, Hypochondriacal and Hysterical Affections with Three Discourses on the Nature and Cure of the Cholic, Melancholy and Palsies (London, 1725). 60 The English Dance of Death (from the design of Thomas Rowlandson) (London, 1903), pp. 12–13. 61 Moore, A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide, p. 14.


62 Blackett, Suicide: A Poem. 63 Ibid. 64 There is a vast ledger of ‘Chattertonia’ in the British Library. The last, rather sad, entry is from a Daily Mirror report on the vandalizing of his statue in Bristol during 1959. 65 The image is referred to by MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls, p. 192. See also C. K. Cieszowski, ‘The Legend Makers: Chatterton, Wallis and Meredith’, History Today, xxxii (November 1982) pp. 35–6. 66 MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls, p. 193. 67 Moore, A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide, p. 142. 68 Ibid., pp. 217–18. Moore describes suicide as ‘a cowardly and effeminate revenge … [motivated] by dissipated love’. 69 Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, vol. ii, p. 252. 70 H. Montgomery Hyde, The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh (London, 1958), pp. 20–23. See also B. T. Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories (Princeton, nj, 1988), pp. 3–4. 71 Gates, Victorian Suicide. 72 E. H. Carr, What is History? (London, 1987), p. 89. 73 Hyde, The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh. 74 Byron, Don Juan, p. 198. 5 Preserving Life and Punishing Death 1 A. Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages, vol. i, ‘The Violent Against Themselves’ (Oxford and New York, 1998), pp. 282–6. 2 Ibid., pp. 137 and 286. 3 SPCK, ‘Suicide: Its Guilt and Punishment. Earnestly Addressed to all classes particularly those of Humble Life’, in Religious Tracts, circulated by the SPCK in eleven volumes in 1836. This excerpt is taken from vol. iii, published in 1832, pp. 3–7. In part it draws on an article in The Courier (23 August 1817). G. Minois, History of Suicide: Voluntary Death in Western Culture (Baltimore, 1999), indicates that a similar attitude existed in France. 4 O. Anderson, Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England (Oxford, 1987) p. 421. 5 E. P. Thompson and E. Yeo, eds, The Unknown Mayhew (London, 1973), pp. 200–216. 6 Ibid. See also Anderson, Suicide, p. 360. 7 Anderson, Suicide, pp. 202–3. 8 The Times (20 April 1844). The furore over Furley lasted months. At the end of the year The Northern Star (28 December 1844) was still making mileage from the case. 9 M. Slater, ‘Dickens’s Tracts for the Times’, in M. Slater, ed., Dickens 1970 (London,1970), pp. 99–123. 10 L. Althusser, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’, in Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays, trans. B. Brewster (New York, 1971), p. 138. Foucault’s ideas of suicide, expressed in History of Sexuality, are extremely close to his tutor’s. 11 K. Ittmann, Work, Gender, and Family in Victorian England (Basingstoke, 1995). Also L. Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500–1800 (New York, 1977). 12 Anderson, Suicide, see chapter ‘Mid-Victorian London’ pp. 192–232. 13 The Print in Germany: 1980–1933, exh. cat. (London, 1984). In the background of Klinger’s ironic final image is pictured the Akademie deutsche Kunst. Klinger’s


14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39

work influenced a series of later German Expressionist works by Hans Baluschek, Heinrich Zille’s Simplicissimus (1904) and Kathe Kollwitz’s Simplicissimus (1909), although Klinger’s portrayal was of a cry for help, which in later expressionist works turned to a scream. Art Journal (June 1861), and Athenaeum (12 May 1860). J. Ruskin, letter in The Times (25 May 1854). T. J. Clark, Image of the People, Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (London, 1973). For the latter part of the century, E. W. Herbert, The Artist and Social Reform: France and Belgium, 1885–1898 (New York, 1971). Anderson, Suicide, pp. 192–232. J. Clubbe, ed., Selected Poems of Thomas Hood (Cambridge, ma, 1970). M. Watson, The Suicide Prostitute (Cambridge, 1805). J. Lacan, Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Baltimore, 1986). If Lacan’s notion of first and second deaths is applicable here then the second death takes place in the symbolic order. E. Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic (Manchester, 1992), p. 213. B. T. Gates, ‘Suicidal Women: Fact or Fiction?’ in Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories (Princeton, nj, 1988), pp. 125–50. B. Harrison, Drink and the Victorians: The Temperance Question in England, 1815–1872 (London, 1971), pp. 21–2.The word alcoholism was first used in 1860, and by 1877 alcoholism was described as a disease. Gates, ‘Suicidal Women’, pp. 127–9. The method was violent and contradicted passive notions of feminine suicide. The choice of descent was also important. The idea of monstrous women, women as furies, is discussed in chapter 1 of N. Auerbach, Women and the Demon (Cambridge, 1982). S. A. Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and Sickness unto Death [1843], trans. W. Lowrie (Princeton, nj, 1954). ‘Suicide from Waterloo Bridge (The Suicide of Alice Blanche Oswald)’, Illustrated Police News (21 September 1872). Also, ‘Suicide of Two Girls’ (24 October 1868). A.-J.-F. Brière de Boismont, ‘De l’influence de la civilisation sur le suicide’, Annales d’hygèine (1855). ‘Singular Attempt at Suicide’, Illustrated Police News (24 June 1876). For a more extensive analysis of wig-wearing see M. Pointon, ‘The Case of the Dirty Beau, Symmetry, Disorder and the Politics of Masculinity’, in K. Adler and M. Pointon, eds, The Body Imaged (Cambridge, 1993). G. H. Savage, ‘Suicide as a Symptom of Mental Disorder’, Guy’s Hospital Reports, 3rd Series, xxxv (1894). Bentley’s Miscellany, vi (1839).Thanks to Dr Julie Rugg for this amusing reference. Ibid. C. Fleming, Dissertation upon the Unnatural Crime of Self-Murder Occasioned by the Many late Instances of Suicide in this City (London, 1773). Abbé Bergier, Examinen du materialisme, ou refutation du Systeme de la nature (Paris, 1771). Fleming, Dissertation, p. 18. Ibid. M. Doane, ‘Theorising the Female Spectator’, Screen, xxiii, 3/4 (September–October 1982) p. 18. C. Lombroso, The Female Offender (New York, 1895), pp. 150–52. Anon., The Red Barn (London, 1820).


40 J. Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay in Abjection, trans. L. Roudiez (New York, 1982), p. 71. 41 Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body, pp. 205–24. Also B. Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture (Oxford, 1986); M. Higonnet, ‘Speaking Silences: Womens’ Suicide’, in S. R. Suleiman, The Female Body in Western Culture (Cambridge, ma, and London, 1986), pp. 72–6. 42 R. Melrose Brown, ‘The Road to Ruin’, PhD dissertation, University of Sussex, 2000. 6 The Century of Destruction 1 A. Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (London and New York, 1975), p. 11. 2 A. Alvarez, The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (New York, 1970), p. 225. 3 G. Simmel, ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’, in Classic Essays on the Culture of the City (New York, 1969). See also M. Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (London, 1967), p. 182. 4 Simmel, ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’. 5 Ibid. 6 U. Boccioni, ‘Futurist painting: Technical Manifesto’, reproduced in C. Harrison and P. Wood, Art in Theory: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. 1900–1990 (Oxford and Cambridge, ma, 1993), p. 151. First published in Poesia in leaflet form in 1910. 7 F. T. Marinetti, ‘The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism’, first published in Le Figaro (20 February 1909). 8 A. Breton, ‘Is Suicide a Solution?’, La Révolution Surréaliste, 4–12 (July 1925–December 1929). 9 M. A. Caws, ‘Ladies Shot and Painted: Female Embodiment in Surrealist Art’, in S. R. Suleiman, ed., The Female Body in Western Culture (Cambridge, ma, and London, 1986). 10 J.-P. Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism [1948], trans. P. Mairet (London, 1973), pp. 12–14. 11 F. Cutter, Art and the Wish to Die (Chicago, 1983), p. 246. Cutter is quoting a letter from E. Shneidman, a key figure in the field of suicidology, whose work includes Essays on Self-Destruction (New York, 1967). 12 Ibid. 13 J. Baudrillard, ‘The Hyper-realism of Simulation’, in Jean Baudrillard. Selected Writings (Stanford, 1988). 14 Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism. 15 I. Murdoch, Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (London, 1999), p. 10. 16 F. Jameson, ‘The Deconstruction of Expression’, New Left Review (July/August 1984), pp. 53–92. 17 J. Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800 (London and New York, 1981), pp. 251–2. 18 J. Baudrillard, ‘Symbolic Exchange and Death’, trans. C. Levin, in J. Fekete, ed., The Structural Allegory (London, 1993). 19 Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, pp. 54–5. 20 G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (London and Athlone, 1988), pp. 230–31. 21 Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, p. 13. 22 A. Artaud, ‘van Gogh: the Man Suicided by Society’ [1947], in H. Weaver, ed., Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings (Los Angeles, 1988). 23 This is in an email in my possession from the Pollock Krasner Trust. Thanks to


the Trust for this valuable information. 24 L. R. Lippard, Pop Art (New York, 1966), pp. 97–101. 25 Ibid. 26 R. Hughes, The Shock of the New (New York, 1981), p. 348. See also J. Updike, ‘Fast Art’, New Republic, 200 (27 March 1989), pp. 26–8; B. R. Collins, ‘The Metaphysical Nosejob: The Remaking of Warhola’, Arts Magazine, 62 (February 1988), pp. 47–55; A. Warhol and P. Hackett, Popism: The Warhol ’60s (New York, 1980), p. 22. 27 P. Bergin, ‘Andy Warhol: The Artist as Machine’, Art Journal, xxvi/4 (Summer 1967), pp. 359–63. 28 R. Hughes, ‘The Rise of Andy Warhol’, New York Review of Books, xviii (February 1982), pp. 6–10. 29 L. Alloway, ‘Art’, The Nation, ccii/21 (24 May 1971), pp. 668–9. 30 P. Nahon, ‘America’s Most Famous Artist’, Cimaise, 35 (Sept–Oct 1987), pp. 89–92. Postscript 1 Heavens Gate, ‘Our Position Against Suicide’, 2 Heaven’s Gate, Press Release, 22 March 1997. 3 D. Plotz, ‘The Cult, the Comet and the Web: From Rancho Santa Fe to Heaven’s Gate’,–03–28/TangledWeb.asp. 4 esse the K, ‘Re: Jack Kevorkian’, 5 D. M. Pappas, ‘Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide’ in G. Howarth and P. C. Jupp, eds, Contemporary Issues in the Sociology of Death, Dying and Disposal (London 1996), pp. 171–5. 6 E. Freeman Sharpe, ‘Similar and Divergent Unconscious Determinants Underlying the Sublimations of Pure Art and Pure Science’ in Collected Papers on Psycho-Analysis (London, 1950), pp. 137–54. See also Sharpe’s excellent paper ‘The Impatience of Hamlet’, pp. 203–13. 7 V. Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, vol. 1 (London, 1778–9), p. 218. 8 S. Lawson. Thanks to Sonia for the notes on her painting. 9 S. McLean, ‘Law at the End of Life’, in M. Mitchell and A. M. Gilroy, The Social Context of Death, Dying and Disposal, 4th International Conference Proceedings, Glasgow Caledonian University (Glasgow, 1998) pp. 107–8.


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Hamer, M., Signs of Cleopatra (London and New York, 1993) Higonnet, M., ‘Speaking Silences’ in The Female Body in Western Culture, ed. S. R. Suleiman (Cambridge, ma, and London, 1986), pp. 68–76 Howarth, G., and Jupp, P. C., eds, Contemporary Issues in the Sociology of Death, Dying and Disposal (London, 1996) Hughes-Hallett, L., Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions (London, 1991) Llewellyn, N., The Art of Death (London, 1991) MacDonald, M., ‘The Secularisation of Suicide in England’, Past and Present, 111 (1986), pp. 50–100 ——, ‘The Inner Side of Wisdom: Suicide in Early Modern England’, Psychological Medicine, 7 (1977), pp. 565–82 ——, and T. R. Murphy, Sleepless Souls. Suicide in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1990) Marchwinksi, A., ‘The Romantic Suicide and the Artists’, trans. I. Green, Gazette des Beaux-Arts (February 1987), pp. 62–74 McManners, J., Death and the Enlightenment. Changing Attitudes to Death in Eighteenth-Century France (Oxford, 1985) Minois, G., History of Suicide: Voluntary Death in Western Culture (Baltimore, 1999) Murray, A., Suicide in the Middle Ages, vol. i ‘The Violent Against Themselves’ (Oxford and New York, 1998) Pearson, A. C., The Ajax of Sophocles (London, 1907) Richardson, R., Death, Dissection and the Destitute (London, 1988) Rost, H., Bibliographie des Selbstmords (Augsburg, 1927) Shneidman, E. S., Essays on Self-Destruction (New York, 1967) Taylor, B., ‘The Medieval Cleopatra: The Classical and Medieval Tradition of Chaucer’s Legend of Cleopatra’, Journal of Renaissance and Medieval Studies, 7 (1977), pp. 249–69 Tietze-Conrat, E., ‘Patterns of Suicide in Literature and Art’, unpublished typescript, Warburg Institute Library, 1957–8 Touchefen, O., ‘Ajax’, in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 1, ed. J. Boardman (Zurich, 1981), Van Hooff, A. J. L., From Autothanasia to Suicide: Self-Killing in Classical Antiquity (London and New York, 1990) Wahl, C. S., ‘Suicide as a Magical Act’ in Clues to Suicide, eds E. Shneidman and N. L. Farberow (New York, 1957) Wittkower, R., and Wittkower, M., Born Under Saturn (New York, 1963) Zapalac, K. E. S., In His Image and His Likeness: Political Iconography and Religious Change in Regensberg, 1500–1600 (Ithaca and London, 1990) Zell, M., ‘Suicide in Pre-Industrial England’, Social History, xi (1986), pp. 303–17



In general, I would like to acknowledge my debt to the many curators, librarians and museum staff who answered my enquiries and helped me along the way. I owe thanks particularly to the British Museum, British Library, Wellcome Institute and Warburg Institute. Thanks to Roy Porter who took time out to discuss the work with me some years ago when I knocked on his door on spec, and to Olive Anderson for replying to my letter with sound advice. If I was to list all of the institutions and people who helped me in my task, it would require another book. I thank them all. In particular, I owe a huge debt to Nigel Llewellyn, who was my DPhil tutor at the University of Sussex and whose patience kept me going in what was a long up-hill struggle. Nigelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s book The Art of Death (1991) was a major influence. Thanks also to Maurice Howard at Sussex, who was always prepared to assist and guide me. Here at Leeds Metropolitan University, I involved a host of staff in the project. Denise York read my typescripts and made many astute observations. Veronica Lovell chased up images with relentless vigour. Sylvia Reid read earlier versions of the script, and those all-important commas were put in. Hans van Lemmen was especially helpful in obtaining images of tiles and giving his expert advice on them. Our reprographic service deserves a special mention. Finally, I owe a debt to the University and to Professor Howard Green for the sabbatical which gave me valuable time to write. I wish to extend my thanks to Reaktion Books, to Harry Gilonis for his expertise as picture editor, and to Andrea Belloli for her guidance with editing.


Photographic Acknowledgements

The author and publishers wish to express their thanks to the following sources of illustrative material and/or permission to reproduce it (other than institutions named in full in the captions): Photo © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2000: 89; photo: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York/ARS, New York and DACS, London 2000: 1, 114; photo: © ARS, New York and DACS, London 2000: 112, 113; photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich: 42, 43; Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome: 17, 18 (Cod. Lat. 3225), 23 (Vat. Gr. 747F245Ro), 25 (Vat. Gr. 747F229Vo), 35 (Vat. Lat. 473F8Ro); photo: © Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris: 19 (Ms fr. 312, fol. 255v); photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Reproduced with permission. © 2000 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All Rights Reserved: 6 (Francis Bartlett Donation); Bridgeman Art Library: 2, 9, 14, 28, 29, 31, 33, 34 (Paul Mellon Collection), 49 (William Hood Dunwoody Fund), 86, 87, 90; photo: British Library Reproductions: 66, 68; British Museum, London: 20, 64, 95–100, title page; photo: © DACS, London 2000: 111; Gallia (39:33, 1981): 12; Giraudon: 27 (Ms. 64/1284 fol. 147 vº); Giraudon-Bridgeman Art Library: 4, 13; photo: Istituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, Mexico City: 88; LaurosGiraudon/Bridgeman Art Library: 21; photo: © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2000: 107; photo: National Library of Ireland, Dublin: 69; photo: © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2000: 109; photo: Tate Picture Library/© Tate, London 2001: 71, 83 (purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the National Art Collections Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the National Art Collections Fund); photo courtesy of Hans van Lemmen: 59; photo Vatican Museum, Rome/M. Sarri: 40; photos: V&A Picture Library/© The Board of Trustees of the Victoria & Albert Museum: 72, 85, 103; photo courtesy of the Trustees of the Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey: 84; Peter Willi: 86.



Abimelech 56–8, 59, 60, 63–4 Absalom 60, 116 Addison, Joseph 91, 101 Ahitophel 57, 60, 62, 64, 116, 118 Ajax 18, 20, 25–6, 26, 27, 28–31, 29, 45, 48, 80, 193 alcoholism 157; see also drink Alloway, Lawrence 212 Althusser, Louis 151 Alvarez, A. 16, 194 American Photo Syndicate 198, 218 Amusements des Anglais à Londres 125, 125 Amykos Painter, the 31, 32 Anderson, Olive 14, 153, 154 Andics, Marguerite von 8 Anena 42 antiquity 8, 11–13, 18, 21–4, 32, 37, 40, 42, 48–9, 51–2, 56, 58, 78, 86, 88, 90, 92, 122, 133, 137, 208 Antony 52, 82, 53 Ariès, Philippe 209 Arria 92 Ars Moriendi 13, 50, 86, 89 art history 9, 10, 11, 14, 17, 18, 39, 221 ‘art of suicide’ 195–6, 198, 218, 222 Art Union of London, The 183 Artaud, Antonin 207, 208 Attalos 33, 34, 35 Augustine of Hippo 23, 64, 73–4, 81, 91, 105 autocheira 56 autophoneutes 23, 208 Avelli, Francesco Xanta 100

Beham, Hans Sebald 108 Bentley’s Miscellany 166 Bergier, Abbé 177 Bergson, Henri 195 Berman, Eugene 207 Berthelet, Thomas 99 Bible, the 12, 49, 50, 56, 64, 74, 115, 116; see also New Testament; Old Testament Bieber, M. 38 bioethics 11, 217 Blackett, Mary Dawes 134, 138, 183 Blackmore, Richard 92 Blair, Robert 123–4 Blake, William 127, 129, 133, 169 Boccaccio 104 Boccioni, Umberto 195 Boulanger de Boisfremont 133 Bourdon, Sebastien 114 Braudel, Fernand 16 Breton, André 195, 197 Brière de Boisemont, Alexandre 161 Brilliant, Richard 36 Britain 124 British Medical Journal 188 Bronfen, Elisabeth 15, 156 Browne, Hablot Knight (‘Phiz’) 163, 164 Browne, Thomas 101 Brutus 92, 118 Bruyn, Bartholomaeus, the Elder 94 Burial Act 168 Burton, Robert 86, 135 Byron, Lord 144

Barlach, Ernst 204, 205, 206 Bartolozzi, Francesco 133 Baudrillard, Jean 200, 209, 212, 218 Bazin, Germaine 36

Cadmos 31 Camus, Albert 18, 194, 195, 201–2, 207 Canace 31, 32, 42 Canlassi, Guido 106


capitalism 12, 101, 124, 189, 195 Carlyle, Thomas 144 Carr, E. H. 142 Carracci, Annibale 136 Casagemas, Carlos 202, 203, 204–5, 206 Cassius 92 cassoni 98, 114 Castlereagh, Viscount, Marquis of Londonderry 14, 126, 128, 141–2, 143, 144–5, 148, 183, 186 Cato 91, 92, 99–102, 100, 108, 118, 126 Cecioni, Adriano 189, 192 Cézanne, Paul 166 chaos 198 Charleton, Walter 91 Chatterton, Thomas 14, 15, 123–4, 126, 128, 134, 138–42, 139, 145, 149, 183, 204; Handkerchief 139, 140 Cheyne, George 86, 130 Christianity 12, 13, 33, 49, 51, 53, 64, 74, 83, 131, 149; see also Early Christianity Church, the 7, 23, 52, 89 Cicero 99 city, the 152, 195, 200 Clark, Kenneth 220 Clark, T. J. 154 class 11, 128, 130, 132, 163–4, 198, 212 Cleopatra 43, 52–3, 53, 67, 82–3, 82, 92, 93, 96–7, 96, 103, 112, 133, 178 Cobb, Richard 119 Colombe, Jean 65 Combes, William 136 Comenius, Johann Amos 78, 78 Connoisseur, The 131 coroners 14, 109, 141, 142, 144, 150, 177, 183; see also inquests Council of Auxerre 73 Council of Braga 73 Council of Orleans 73 Council of Toledo 73 Courier, The 148 Cranach, Lucas, 70, 104 crime and criminalization 10, 22, 88, 93, 102, 129, 144, 147, 150, 183, 189, 217; see also ‘crying crimes’ Croft, Herbert 141 crossroads burial 88, 144, 148, 177–9 Crudens’ Concordance to the Old and New Testament 56 Cruikshank, George 14, 142, 143, 144, 157, 157, 159, 164, 165


‘crying crimes’ 13, 87, 89, 102, 127 Cutter, Fred 9, 47, 114, 177, 198, 208, 211 Dadaists 202 Dadd, Richard 167, 168 ‘Dances of Death’ 115, 126, 127–8, 159 danse macabre 13, 50 Daube, David 22, 63 Daumier, Honoré 128, 166 David, Jacques-Louis 119, 120, 128, 168 de Laszlo, Violet Staub 208 de Vigny, Alfred 141, 149 Decebulus 33, 37–8, 38, 39, 43, 56 decriminalization 16, 124, 147, 199, 215 Deeves, F. 166, 167 Delaroche, Paul 156, 171 Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari 202 Delftware tiles 115–16, 116, 118, 118, 119 Denham, Percival 180 depression and depressive illness 102, 103, 148, 157, 168, 188–9, 197, 199, 201, 207 Derrida, Jacques 37, 85 Desecration of the Corpse, The 177, 178 despair 23, 55, 74, 77–8, 89, 102, 104, 109, 111, 127, 128, 135, 139, 149, 159, 183 Devil, the 51–2, 74, 77, 93, 94, 102, 148, 149; see also Satan Dickens, Charles 151; The Chimes 151; Nicholas Nickleby 163, 164 Diderot, Denis 127 Dido 42–3, 45–7, 45, 46, 51, 68, 72, 82, 92, 93, 100, 112, 114–15, 115, 128, 133, 167, 182 Doane, M. 178 Donaldson, Ian 81 Donne, John 86, 110 Doré, Gustave 153, 170, 189 Douglas, Mary 109 drink 126, 129, 146; see also alcoholism Droge, A. J., and J. D. Tabor 51 Du Suicide 134 Duffy, E. 13 Dürer, Albrecht 64, 83, 84, 94, 96 Durkheim, Émile 30, 33, 78, 149 ‘Durkheimianism’ 141, 167, 199, 212, 218 Early Christianity 12–13, 18, 23, 33,

49–51, 53–4, 81, 85–6, 219; see also Christianity Egg, Augustus 155, 156 Elektra 43 Elmore, Alfred 14 England 14, 24, 83, 88–9, 106, 111, 115, 123, 125, 127–30, 133–4, 136, 145, 159, 167, 178–9, 199; ‘condition of ’ 153 Enlightenment, the 89, 124, 126–7, 131 Epicureanism 13, 91–2, 94, 101, 111, 126, 133, 137 Epicurus 91, 99 Epigonus 33 Esquirol, Etienne 148 eternal damnation 7, 22, 77 Euadne 24–5, 31 Euripides 31, 32, 44, 44 euthanasia 188, 198, 217 exagoge 30, 35, 45, 114, 204 Exekias 27, 28 Expressionism 201–2, 204 family, the 101, 151–2 Fini, Leonor 206, 174 Fitzgerald, Lord Gerald 153 Fitzgerald, T. P. 143 Flameng, Leopold 183, 184 Flaxman, John 138–9, 204 Fleming, Caleb 87, 132, 137, 167, 177 Fog’s Journal 130 folklore 53, 77, 93, 106, 178–9 Forrest, Mr 127 Forsyth, Joseph 39 Foucault, Michel 10, 149, 201 Foxe, John, History of the Actes and Monuments of the Church (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) 111, 131–2 France 14, 50, 88, 89, 114, 118, 124–5, 127, 141, 148, 159, 161, 168 Francia; see Raibolini, Francesco Frazer, J. G. 44 French Revolution 119, 127, 168 Freud, Sigmund 28, 101, 112, 188, 190, 195, 202 Frith, William Powell 183, 184; The Road to Ruin 183, 184–6, 201 Furley, Mary 150–51, 152 Fuseli, John Henry 72, 114, 133, 181, 182, 188, 204 Garzi, Luigi 100

Gates, Barbara T. 14, 156 Gautier de Coincy 146 Geldzahler, Henry 210 gender 9, 11, 13, 25, 81, 109, 135, 136, 137, 146, 148, 154, 182, 189, 198, 206, 212 Gentileschi, Artemisia 98, 106 Gentleman’s Magazine 127, 130, 131, 132 Gérard de Nerval 189 Germany 14, 83, 88, 89, 104, 127, 151, 152, 179, 201, 202 Gesta Romanorum 42, 81 Gilbert and Sullivan 166 Gilpin, William 77, 102 Giotto 66, 77–8, 107 Gislebertus 55 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 94, 123; Dichtung und Warheit 129; The Sorrows of Young Werther 126, 128, 134, 140 Gough, William 130 Grant, Michael 42 Grasset, Eugène-Samuel 189, 193, 210 Great Crash of 1873 151 Greenland 131 Griffiths, Abel 144 Grisé, Y. 42, 47 Halbwachs, M. 33 Hale, Dorothy 173, 204, 206 Hales, Bishop 132 Haman 79–80 Hamilton, Gavin 133, 166, 167 Hamlet 7, 49, 221 hanging 23, 25, 31, 43–5, 48, 51, 55–7, 60, 64, 73–8, 80, 90, 110, 111, 128–9, 132, 148, 166, 177, 178, 183 Haskell, F., and N. Penny 35 Hayter, William 206, 207 Heaven’s Gate 198, 214, 215–16, 218 Hell Fire Club 132 Hell 22, 60, 212 Henley, J. (‘Orator’) 126, 130 Henry of Hohenstaufen 147 Herakles 30–31, 31, 35, 45, 138, 204 Hero and Leander 136 Herries, John 94, 132, 135 Higonnet, Margaret 15 Hogarth, William 122, 135, 136, 147, 157, 164; Marriage A la Mode 119, 120, 128, 129; Gin Lane 128–9, 129


Holbach, Paul Henri, Baron d’ 127 Holbein, Hans 119 ‘honeymoon suicides’ 166 Hood, Thomas 150–51, 153, 154 Hughes, Robert 211 Hume, David 18, 127, 131, 132 Hunt, William Holman 154 Illustrated Police News, The 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 163, 186, 187 Industrial Revolution 126 inquests 156, 161; see also coroners insanity 88, 92–3, 139, 141–2, 148, 186, 188; see also lunacy and lunatics; madness; mental illness; non compos mentis; unsound mind Internet 198, 215, 218 Ireland 179 Irnshaw, David 175, 208 Italy 14, 89, 104 Iver, Hans 204 Jameson, Frederick 199 Joffrin, Guilly 211, 212 Jokaste 42–5 Joos van Cleve 83 Josephus 56 Judas 25, 50–55, 54, 55, 58, 60, 64, 65, 73–7, 73, 76, 80, 85, 88, 90, 110–11, 122, 129, 172, 177, 189–90, 219–20 ‘jumpers’ 157 Kahlo, Frida 173, 204–5 Kalm, Peter 130, 131 Kauffman, Angelica 133 Kevorkian, Dr Jack 215, 216–17 Kierkegaard, Söran 159 Klinger, Max, Eine Mutter 151–2, 152, 153, 189 Knox, Vicesimus 18, 87, 116, 132, 134, 135, 137, 141, 221 Kollwitz, Käthe 206, 207 Kristeva, Julia 109, 181, 189 Lacan, Jacques 15, 156 Lancet, The 188 langue 85 Laodameia 24 Lateran Council 53 Lawson, Sonia 176, 222 le Goff, Jacques 48 le Sage, Georges Louis 130


Liberale da Verona 114, 115 Lippard, Lucy 210 Livy 98 Llewellyn, N. 131 Lombroso, Cesare 178 London 129–30, 132, 138, 159 Londonderry, Lord (Marquis of); see Castlereagh, Viscount Low Countries 14; see also Netherlands, the Lucius Cosius 39 Lucretia 42, 69, 70, 71, 81–3, 81, 83, 84, 88, 92, 93, 94, 95, 97–9, 99, 102–8, 103, 107, 114, 133, 167–8, 168, 178, 182, 189, 210–11, 216, 222 Ludovisi Gaul 33, 34, 35–7, 39, 47–8, 56, 202 Luiken, Jan 116, 117 Luini, Bernardino 79, 79 lunacy and lunatics 91, 109, 126, 130, 132, 135, 146, 149; see also insanity; madness; mental illness; non compos mentis; unsound mind MacDonald, M., and T. R. Murphy 23, 83, 89, 92, 94, 135, 140 Maciejowski Bible 58 madness 7, 11, 91, 93, 139, 151, 182, 183, 194, 212; see also insanity; lunacy and lunatics; mental illness; non compos mentis; unsound mind maiolica 99, 99, 100 Man Ray 196–7, 197 Mandeville, Bernard 135 Manet, Edouard 166, 189 Mantalini, Mr 163–4, 164 Marcus Curtius 96 Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso 195–6 Marshall, Dorothy 51 martyrs and martyrdom 50–51, 60, 85, 86, 88, 90, 131, 138, 156; satanic 75 Masada 56, 198, 216 Masereel, Frans 199, 200, 201 Masson, André 207 Master B P 110 ‘Master of the Holy Blood’ 71, 105 masturbation 188 Mayhew, Henry 150 medicine and medical science 13, 14, 15, 87, 88, 91, 92, 94, 102, 103, 104, 106, 121, 136, 147, 153, 166, 180, 188, 199

melancholia (melancholy) 86–7, 91, 92, 102, 111, 125, 128, 131, 135, 137, 161, 182 memento mori 99, 112, 220 Menninger, Karl 104 Menoikeus 24 mental illness 168, 207; instability 138, 180; see also insanity; lunacy and lunatics; madness; non compos mentis; unsound mind mentalités 47–8 Mercurius Politicus 130 Middle Ages 52, 64, 81, 88 middle classes 115, 116, 118, 121, 163, 164 Millais, John Everett 156, 180–81, 181, 201, 206 Minois, Georges 11, 148 Miró, Joan 208 Mishima, Yukio 209 misogyny 101 Mohocks 132 Monroe, Marilyn 209–12, 218 Montesquieu 131 Moore, Charles 18, 87, 94, 130–31, 132, 134, 137, 141 Moyes, Margaret 156–7 Munch, Edvard 151, 199 Murdoch, Iris 199 Murray, Alexander 88, 147 Myrmillo 37 myth 182, 211 Nahl, Johann 133 Nahon, Pierre 212 Narcissus 41–2, 112 nation 9, 11, 13, 25, 35, 78, 111, 133, 138, 142, 145, 161, 198 Nead, Lynda 14 Nero 92 Netherlands, the 89; see also Low Countries New Testament 13, 49, 50, 54, 64, 74, 88 Nietzsche, Friedrich 199, 201 nomos (culture) 39 non compos mentis 90, 109, 141, 144, 150; see also insanity; lunacy and lunatics; madness; mental illness; unsound mind Norway 151

Oddy, B. W. 127 Oesterreich, Mathias 133 Ohnerfurcht, Johann 62 oikos (private domain) 39, 47 Old Testament 13, 49, 53, 56–7, 61, 63, 79, 104, 116 Ophelia 7, 105, 156, 174, 175, 180–82, 181, 182, 188, 201, 204, 206–8, 210–12, 221, 222 Orozco, José 208 Oswald, Alice Blanche 158, 159, 161 otherness and the ‘other’ 21, 37, 63, 110, 133, 150, 196, 211 Ovid, 41–2, 78–9, 98, 112–13 Ovide Moralisé 113 Paetus 35 Pantheia 25 parole 86 Pearce, Zachary 101 Pearson, A. C. 26 Peasants’ War 104 Pellegrini, Giovanni Antonio 133 Peregrinus 90, 91 Perpetua 86 Perrier, François 108–9, 108 Phaedra (‘Fedra’) 31, 42–5, 43, 44 philosophes 124, 127 philosophy 8, 9, 11, 18, 21, 220 Philostratos 24, 25, 31 photography 161, 186, 197, 209, 210, 219 physis (nature) 39 Picasso, Pablo 202, 203, 204–6, 208, 210 Pierce, Zachary 87, 126 Pindar 26 Pissarro, Camille 159, 189, 191 Plankney and Havington 111 Plato 8, 18, 22, 92, 100 Platzer, Johan 133 Pliny 81 Pluis Jan, 115 Poland 88 polis (public domain) 39 Pollock, Jackson 208, 209 Polyclitus 28 Pompeii 40, 41, 42 Pontius Pilate 92 poor, the 49, 119 popular culture 9, 14, 15, 133–4, 138, 155, 183; visual 98 pornography of violence 146, 159, 209


Portia 43, 92, 112, 182 ‘post-ego’ 98 postmodernity 16, 212, 214 press, the 124, 131, 133, 156, 209; see also yellow press, the Prévost, Abbé 111, 131 print culture 12, 54, 77, 116 prints 118, 128, 134, 164 Procris and Cephalus 78–9, 79 prostitution 15, 146, 150, 153–6, 183, 188 Protestantism 24, 89, 93, 101, 122–3, 131–2, 147, 149 Prudentius 80 Pucelle, Jean 146 purgatory 13, 22, 131 Pyramus and Thisbe 40–42, 41, 45, 79, 92, 96, 100, 112–14, 113, 133 Queen Mary Psalter 58 Raibolini, Francesco (‘Francia’) 94, 95, 106 Ramberg 56 rape 81, 83, 98–9, 102, 105, 107–8 Razis 86 Redon, Odilon 207 Reformation, the 12, 89 Regent’s Canal 150 Rembrandt 102, 103, 106, 106, 107, 109, Remiet, Pierre 52–3, 53, 56, 81, 81, 82 Reni, Guido 67, 96, 96 Renieri, Niccolò 95, 112 Reynolds, Joshua 128, 133, 144 Ricci, Sebastiano 106, 107, 107, 109, 114–15 Richeome, Louis 91, 101 Rilke, Rainer Maria 194 Rivalz, Antoine 133 Rops, Félicien 189 Rost, Hans 11 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 132 Rowlandson, Thomas 128, 136, 137, 164 Rowley, William 87, 93 Rubens, Peter Paul 68, 92, 93, 106, 108–9, 114–15, 136 Ruskin, John 154 Russia 131 St Paul 52, 63, 86, 204 Samson 49, 57–8, 60, 62, 116, 133 Sandrart, Joachim von 92


Sarasin, Jean-François 101 Sartre, Jean-Paul 198, 199, 202 Satan 89, 101, 102, 103, 130; see also Devil, the Saul 49, 57–8, 60, 63–4, 115–16, 116, 117, 118, 119 Schäufelein, Hans 97 Schober, Arnold 34 Scotland 115, 179 Seneca 38–9, 40, 43, 92, 93, 96, 99, 108–9, 108, 118–19, 128, 168 sensibility 14, 94, 135, 141, 144–5, 153, 180 servants 132, 147–8 sexuality 11, 101, 168, 188, 206 Shakespeare, William 106, 180; Hamlet 7, 188; A Midsummer Night’s Dream 42; The Rape of Lucrece 105; Romeo and Juliet 42 Sharpe, Ella Freeman 220 Shawshank Redemption, The 206 Sherman, Sahri 211 Shneidman, E. S., and N. L. Farberow 198 Simmel, Georg 152, 194–5 sin 13, 24, 54, 74, 147, 154, 155 Sirani, Elisabetha 106, 107 Smith, Henry 132 Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) 147, 148, 149 Socrates 8, 21, 22, 30, 32–3, 118–19, 120, 168 Solar Temple 198 Solomon, Abraham 153 Sophocles 26, 44 Sophonisba 43, 92, 93, 95, 96, 112, 133 soul 42, 49, 77, 81 Spain 14, 73 Stanhope, Spencer 153 state, the 24, 32, 133, 151, 222; ‘suicidal’ 202 statistics 122, 124, 149 Stikeley, William 86 Stodhard, Charles Alfred 58, 59 Stoics 24, 91, 101, 126 Strange, Sir Robert 96, 96 Sturm und Drang 127 Suicide, The: A Tale found on Facts 178–9, 179 Suicide Act 199 ‘suicide prevention’ 10 suicide rates 125, 130, 198

suicidology 189, 197 Suleiman, S. R. 15 Sweden 131 Swinburne, Algernon Charles 183 Switzerland 14, 131 Sym, John 86, 101 Taylor, Barbara 82 Testa, Giovanni Cesare 100 Testa, Pietro 99–100, 100 Tietze-Conrat, Erika 11 Times, The 150 Tinguely, Jean 202 Tissot, James 172, 190 Titian 69, 98 Tönnies, Ferdinand 194 Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de 189 Tourniere, Robert 133, 136 Trajan’s Column 33, 37, 38 Tree of Life 80 True-Hearted British Reader 92 Tukes, Reverend Mr 85, 90–91, 92 Turner J. M. W., 136 Two Brothers, The: Anpu and Bata 42 unsound mind 147, 163; see also insanity; lunacy and lunatics; madness; mental illness; non compos mentis utilitarianism 142 Valerius Maximus 81, 81 Vallaton, Félix 189, 190 vampires 179 Van Gogh, Vincent 208 Van Hooff, A. J. L. 24, 37, 45, 105 Veyne, Paul 10 Vincent of Beauvais 53, 82 Virgil 47, 114, 141; Aeneid 47, 100 Visconti, E. Q. 33, 36, 38 Vollard, Ambroise 193

Wellington, Duke of 144 Werther 94, 123, 126, 140–41, 144 Whistler, James Abbott McNeill 183, 201 Wilde, Oscar 183, 201 Williams, Raymond 129 Winckelmann, Johann Joachim 33, 38 witchcraft 101 Withers, William 125–6 ‘woman’ 7, 15, 28, 29, 77, 105, 125, 154, 156, 166, 180–81, 189, 205–6, 221 women 24–5, 39, 42–3, 45–8, 56–8, 64, 77–80, 82–3, 92, 94, 96–8, 101, 104–5, 108, 113–15, 121, 123, 132, 135–6, 138, 146, 151–7, 159, 161, 164–6, 177, 180, 182–3, 194, 211, 221–2; falling 157, 159 Women of Cimbria 56, 57 work 149, 151 working class 149 World War I 14, 15, 151, 183, 186, 198, 201, 206 World War II 208, 210 world wide web 214, 219 Yates, James 98 yellow press, the 15, 155, 163, 186 Young, Edward 123–4, 126, 127 Zapalac, Kristin 104 Zimmerman, Franz 83 Zimri 57, 60–63, 61, 62

Wahl, C. S. 98 Wales 179 Wallis, Henry 138–9, 139 Warhol, Andy 16, 17, 196, 209–12, 213, 214, 216, 218 Warton, Thomas 124 Waterloo Bridge 153 Watson, Mary 155, 183 Watts, George Frederick 150, 169 Watts, Isaac 92, 101, 130 Weber, Max 194–5


The Art of Sucicide