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Good Grief! Jessica Mitford Makes the <i>New York Times</i> Bestseller List

Gary Laderman

in Rest in Peace

Published in print February 2005 | ISBN: 9780195183559
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199850198 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195183559.003.0003
Good Grief! Jessica Mitford Makes the New York Times Bestseller List

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The year 1963 was not good for the public image of funeral directors in the United States. A half-century of public scrutiny, skewering, and scepticism did not prepare undertakers for the fallout of Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death. In the face of this stinging popular indictment, funeral directors fought to maintain their innocence and project themselves as noble public servants performing an indispensable community service. While funeral directors lived with grief, many others working within the industry, and especially those involved in manufacturing embalming chemicals, were writing about the crucial importance of embalming and a pleasing last look at the deceased in both artistic and psychological terms early on in the century. In addition to the triumph of grief therapy, the industry ultimately benefited from another post-Mitford development: The routinization of business and ritual practices that overtook the funeral industry in the 1970s and 1980s in many ways solidified the social power of funeral directors at the time of death and reaffirmed the cultural force of a truly “American” way of death.

Keywords: United States; Jessica Mitford; funeral directors; The American Way of Death; embalming; grief therapy; death; funeral industry

Chapter.  15506 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Christianity

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