A ‘touch of Tombatism’: Mary Lamb, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, and Reading in Graveyards
journal contributionposted on 2023-08-30, 19:18 authored by John Gardner
This essay is about the significance of Mary Lamb’s portrayal of a child reading from a gravestone in the short story ‘Elizabeth Villiers; or The Sailor Uncle’ from Mrs. Leicester’s School (1809). Maybe the most famous tomb-reading scene in literature is that of Pip divining the personalities of his immediate family from their gravestone at the opening of Great Expectations (1860–1). However, a similar scene had been used previously by Mary Shelley in Falkner (1837) and earlier still by Lamb in ‘Elizabeth Villiers; or The Sailor Uncle’. My argument is that Lamb’s text continued to have a hidden, posthumous existence as Shelley and Charles Dickens went on to translate that image of a child reading from their parent’s gravestone. Each author also records and transmits a practice used by poor children to gain an education. Furthermore, the grave acts as a childhood home where dead parents continue to educate their children.
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
EditorsPatricia Pulham, Diane Piccitto
- Accepted version