Ph.D. Dissertation | Duke University, AAHVS
Since the earliest years of the nineteenth century, the cemetery in Paris has been seen as a site that surpasses its obvious function as a place of burial. Already in the 1810s, guides to Père-Lachaise Cemetery highlighted the most important tombs as cultural patrimony: tombs designed by great architects, embellished by prominent sculptors, or tombs commemorating prominent French citizens. The cemetery became a site of secular pilgrimage and inspiration, attracting tourists as well as artists, philosophers and writers. The allure of the Parisian cemetery is one that has continued into the present-day as millions of visitors flock to the graves of Molière, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison every year. Yet, the permanence of these monuments has often caused us to forget that French cemeteries have always been highly mutable spaces. This fact, however, has had critical repercussions for scholars seeking to study commemorative funerary practices in the nineteenth century. As it has always been the most expensive tombs that have survived into the present day, studies of the cemetery have tended to overemphasize the importance of the monumental or the sculptural. In fact, since the nineteenth century studies of the cemetery have been oriented exclusively towards architect-designed tombs, which were already in that time conceived of as high art, while those produced by funerary marble workers were disregarded as lack-luster commercial goods of as little social value as they were low in price.
This dissertation examines the complete production chain for funerary monuments in nineteenth-century Paris beyond the realm of elite society alone. Specifically looking at both the cost of monuments and the various design options and ‘add-ons’ (i.e. choices of stone, inscriptions, plaques, gardens, wreaths, etc.) that were available to the consumer, this research critically revives questions about the cemetery and attitudes towards death in nineteenth-century France.