Funeral Directors Revisited

This week’s Spectator carries an article by Cressida Connolly (daughter of Waugh’s friend Cyril Connolly) urging that the negativity usually directed towards funeral directors be reassessed. They have a hard job to to that should be more appreciated. She traces the dismissive attitude toward the profession, at least in part, to the writings of Evelyn Waugh and Jessica Mitford who

thought it was funny and smart to jeer at undertakers. Their puny satires now seem snobbish and brittle. A self-avowed communist, Mitford was especially indignant that undertakers should profit from their labour, a bizarre notion that still lingers. No one thinks nurses or bin-men should work for nothing: why should funeral directors.

While it may be true that Mitford’s work (The American Way of Death) was a broadside attack on the bad practices she saw throughout the profession, Waugh’s targets were much smaller. He aimed in The Loved One at the over the top practices of the high-end and pretentious Forest Lawn as well the lower end but equally silly pet cemeteries which would seem to be a proper subject for satire, even today. And both were writing of practices in the U.S., not Britain where Connolly seeks redress. The article concludes with a reference to a current British novel where British funeral directors receive a more sympathetic treatment.

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