Death was everywhere for the Victorians, but it was never commonplace

Death’s great paradox is its inconstant constancy. Its forms and rituals change from generation to generation. In our own era, antibiotics have reduced the chance of a fatal infection, and average life expectancy has risen to our eighties. Direct cremation means we can even ship Auntie Maudie, when her time comes, to the crematorium sight unseen and have her ashes returned via DHL. Our existential encounter with death in society is muted to a murmur. Unlike the Irish and their open-coffin wakes, the English almost never now see a corpse. So it is hard to imagine how our great-great-grandparents lived in a world where fatal fevers struck at random and

Life’s dark side: the catastrophic world of Stephen Crane

Long before Ernest Hemingway wasted his late career playing the he-man on battlefields and in fishing boats, or Norman Mailer wasted an entire career playing Hemingway, Stephen Crane was the most world-striding combative male intelligence in literature. And while he created the template for every ‘manly’ novelist who came after, from Jack London to Robert Ruark, he never sought attention as a man but only as a writer; and he certainly never issued many advertisements for himself. Instead, he almost surreptitiously explored the world’s most violent places with inexhaustible intrepidity. Living both privately and intensely, he wrote some of the most powerful prose of his generation, and died too young

This is not a natural disaster, but a manmade one

Should our future permit an occupation so frivolous, historians years from now will make a big mistake if they blame the nauseating plummet of global GDP in 2020 directly on a novel coronavirus. After all — forgive the repetition, but certain figures bear revisiting — Covid’s roughly 290,000 deaths wouldn’t raise a blip on a graph of worldwide mortality (reminder: 58 million global deaths in 2019). Covid deaths will barely register in the big picture even if their total multiplies by several times. For maintaining a precious sense of proportion, check out some other annual global fatalities: influenza, up to 650,000. Typhoid fever, up to 160,000. Cholera, up to 140,000.