This paper looks at the cultural discourse of embalming in the eighteenth century. Not uncommon, embalming was performed, improved, and commercialized. From mummy unrollings, to churchyard reorderings, to public viewings of “curiosities,” the embalmed were often exposed to public circulation and commodification. As a mortuary practice, embalming spread beyond royal tradition, infiltrating the burial rites of the wealthy and aristocratic in an effort to preserve social distinction posthumously, demonstrating the increasing preoccupation with mortality and the corpse, and the intense anxiety about bodily dissolution after death. And at this time, the religious connotation of the uncorrupted corpse becomes translated into the endorsement of preservation as a guarantee that the body and soul will be properly rejoined in the afterlife. In medical terms, surgical innovations demanded improved embalming procedures that inevitably played a part in the rise of the task for the undertaker. This essay maintains that the curious history of preservation techniques in eighteenth-century Britain ultimately contributes to the understanding of a culture's attitudes towards death, the body, and representation.

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