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Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve Paperback – August 17, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Many readers will relate to Gilbert's grief following the unexpected loss of her husband in 1991: "death suddenly seemed... urgently close, as if the walls between this world and the 'other' had indeed become transparent." In the process of mourning, the acclaimed coauthor of Madwoman in the Attic returned to a project she had abandoned in the early 1970s and invested it with the candor of recent loss. The resulting mélange of literary criticism, anthropology and memoir looks at death across time and culture: in the Nazi concentration camps, 9/11, and the 21st-century "hospital spaceship," as well as through photographs, paintings and poetry. "Like the sun, death can't be looked at steadily," wrote La Rochefoucauld, heralding the modern view of the matter. (The medievals, in contrast, thought the process of dying was much scarier than death itself.) For Gilbert, the passage from a Christian theology of "expiration" to a modern "(anti)theology of 'termination' " is best embodied in the poems of Whitman and Dickinson. Her close readings of our cultural history will entrance anyone interested in an intelligent analysis of the ways we grieve. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

A few reviewers refer to a letter of William Butler Yeats in which he stated that "sex and the dead" are the only topics of interest "to a serious and studious mood." Sandra M. Gilbert famously tackled the former in her landmark study of women writers, The Madwoman in the Attic (coauthored with Susan Gubar, 1979). Following the death of her husband as a result of medical malpractice, Gilbert picked up an academic study of elegies she had begun in the 1970s and created this "graduate seminar on mourning" (Harper's). Critics praise this extraordinarily learned rumination on the nature of death for its empathetic tone and its refusal to resort to navel gazing. With death in vogue in entertainment circles (from Six Feet Under to The Year of Magical Thinking), Gilbert delivers a book as ageless as its subject.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (August 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393329690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329698
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,054,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve" is a splendid achievement and a fine companion for the "Inventions of Farewell: A Book of Elegies." I believe the elegies collection gave birth to "Death's Door."

Gilbert combines clarity and compassion, an essential combination to bring to the ultimate topic: death. The book is divided into three major parts: I. Arranging My Mourning: Five Meditations on the Psychology of Grief; II. History Makes Death: How the Twentieth Century Reshaped Dying and Mourning; II. The Handbook of Heartbreak: Contemporary Elegy and Lamentation. From this selection of categories alone, you can savor her ear for phrase and mind that adventures and gathers together psychology, History, and Literature.

Gilbert is woman and scholar and teacher and writer in this magnificent book. I read "Death's Door" as my mother lay dying and found much comfort here. I received the additional benefit of having the context of my own work illuminated and enlarged.

Sandra M. Gilbert's "Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve" gave me a context to place my work within. "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary" fits into a tradition I was not consciously aware of as I wrote. I felt I had come home into a larger family with many voices.

Janet Grace Riehl, author Sightlines: A Poet's Diary
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Format: Hardcover
Surveys of death and grieving often embrace the psychology so much that there isn't much room for other approaches, so it's surprising to find a treatment which blends a poet and critic's vision and experiences with a focus on the psychology of pain and recovery. Such a survey is DEATH'S DOOR: MODERN DYING AND THE WAYS WE GRIEVE. A survey of social and cultural history documents different processes of death and grief in society, while the author struggles with her own reactions to deaths of loved ones. Her different viewpoints help DEATH'S DOOR stand apart from the myriad of titles on the topic.

Diane C. Donovan, Editor

California Bookwatch
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Format: Paperback
Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve: A Cultural Study by Sandra M. Gilbert is one of those remarkable books that leave me feeling inadequate to respond appropriately. Gilbert, known for her academic approach to common literary themes, was inspired to write about the elegy, how poets write through grief and mourn on the page. After some research and some disillusionment, she set the project aside. But life and loss have a way of infusing past inspiration with new life and Gilbert's own grief drove her to return to this project.

The result is this remarkable book that works on a myriad of levels. With the death of a child and later of her husband, Gilbert infuses a traditionally academic text with a personal empathy that elevates this above and beyond a dry resource. Drawing not only on the works of poets and novelists, Gilbert alludes to artwork, photography, even experimental works from the AIDS quilt to internet memorials. Anyone familiar with Plath or Eliot, with Yeats, Keats, or Hardy will be comfortable with the sections that compare and contrast the way each writer approaches death and loss. I found myself setting the book down frequently, doing my own research and rediscovery as I contemplated not only what Gilbert shared but remembered poems and writers to which she makes no reference at all.

In trying to approach the shifts in how we, as a society and individuals, grieve, Gilbert repeatedly confronts the impossibility of not only avoiding death but the inevitability of how change has affected not only the process of mourning but of death itself. Progress in medicine has moved death from being in the home to somewhere sterile and removed.
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Format: Hardcover
We humans are the only animals that know we are going to die. The only real questions are how and when. For Ms. Gilbert's husband, he went in for a relativly minor operation and never recovered.

We use a lot of euphemisms to refer to death: a hit, a contract, passing away, crossing Jordan. And through the twentieth century we have seen a lot of death: World War I with its machine guns and poison gas, The Holocaust (In capitals, that means the jewish one in Germany, but there have been several from Turkey/Armenia, Cambodia, 'ethnic cleansing,' and the current Darfur situation.), Natural disasters from tsunamis, earthquakes, and of course 9/11.

There's been a lot of literature about death, from the Bible through Shakespeare to numerous others (Amazon lists hundreds of titles). This particular book has two real strengths: First comes from Ms. Gilbert's mastery of the language and her analysis of her own feelings of grief. Then there is a carefully made selection of quotes from past literature.

I don't know that this makes our own future any more clear, but it certainly helps in the understanding of our grief when a loved one dies.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is not what I expected. It is an analysis of different author's ideas of death. Too intellectual for my taste.
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