ome ten years ago, in one of my graduate seminars, I was asked just why Matthew Arnold's haunting Empedocles on Etna had been suppressed by its author. As I had long been unconvinced by Arnold's own answer--that the poem failed to give joy to its readers--I suggested that another explanation might lie in Victorian attitudes toward suicide. After class I dashed off to the library to prove myself right before our next meeting. Unfortunately, my student's question long remained unanswered. There were many sources of information about Victorian death and Victorian murder, but none explaining Victorian suicide. And so a decade and many dozens of libraries later, I offer this book, which attempts to fill a gap in our knowledge of those verbose yet elusive Victorians, I also offer thanks and apologies to a one-time student.
Any work over ten years in the making incurs many debts, arid this book is no exception. My primary indebtedness is to a number of student research assistants who helped me hunt down, photocopy, and digest hundreds of Victorian documents, Among them I am especially grateful to Anne Adkins, Nancy Fredericks, Anne O'Donnell, Martha Senkbeil, and Martha Zingo, as well as to Joan Bennett of the University Honors Program at the University of Delaware, who helped to get us together. Other university colleagues who have been more than suppottive are Jerry Beasley and Bonnie Scott, who read and commented on this manuscript. Two kind Californians, Ann Abbott and Debra Teachman also provided much help.
Three summer research grants and two sabbatical leaves from the University of Delaware made possible two fact-finding trips to England and the time in which to write. Further research funding came from the American Philosophical Society, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I am very grateful to these institutions and agencies. A special and heartfelt thanks I offer to the Blue Mountain Center in upstate New York, where I finally completed the writing of this book.
My final statement of gratitude I have reserved for librarians on both sides of the Atlantic who helped me search for the buried secrets of history in everything from computers to hidden-away boxes, and for Deborah Lyall, Suzanne Ports, and William Davis, whose careful work in manuscript preparation and reference-checking helped me put all my words into their final order.
Last modified 12 May 2023