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Review: After the Funeral – the Posthumous Adventures of Famous Corpses October 17, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback

Beachcombing has been spending a tense evening debating with Mrs B over their choice of Au Pair – God help the poor girl! And it is with some relief that he now escapes to the computer to write up his first review in a month.

Of course, it is not that there are no good books out there – Beachcombing thanks those that have sent their works or their authors’ works in. The problem is rather that there has not yet been time to read them all… But here is a classic bit of weird history that jumped straight to the head of the queue, Edwin Murphy’s After the Funeral: the Posthumous Adventures of Famous Corpses (Barnes and Nobles 1998).

Beachcombing must confess that on first seeing this title his reaction was: ‘You bastard, Murphy!’ Here was an absolutely outstanding idea for a book and Beachcombing had not been the one to think of it: actually this happens more than you might think…

His second emotion – and by now he’d reached the contents page – was smugness and a yawn. EM has actually missed several good dead body stories. What about Mussolini? What about Montrose? What about Saint Minias? What about Elizabeth Siddal? Beachcombing began singing ‘Edwin is an amateur’ in playground tones.

But the smugness in turn was replaced by admiration. The truth is that Edwin Murphy has put together a selection of corpses that trump Beachcombing’s own bulky folder on misuse of dead body parts and that is saying something.  The result? Respect, kudos and this review.

Take, for example, EM’s description of Inez Pero de Castro, the Iberian beauty who was taken out of her coffin to be crowned queen of Portugal and whose corpse was later given a haircut by French troops in the Napoleonic wars. Or what about poor Dorothy Parker whose ashes were almost mixed into paint and employed an an objet d’art? Death will never get any better than this.

The prose is pleasingly retro – an attention to style and fluidity over detail. After the Funeral is also broken down into manageable parts, some chapters are no longer than a page. And Beachcombing has found that he can read and annotate a longer chapter while the pasta is boiling.

Beachcombing wants to end by giving a chapter list of the individuals covered as this will hopefully lead google searchers to a book that is both a memento mori and a pleasure. The titles also hint at EM’s rare and rather alarming sense of humour – Beachcombing particularly enjoyed the rhyme on Molière:

‘Who hid Haydn’s Head?’, ‘Mozart’s Head? Only His Gravedigger Knows for Sure’; ‘The Crazy Career of Cromwell’s Cranium’; ‘Cardinal Richelieu: Losing Face’; ‘Emanuel Swedenborg: A Price on his Head’; ‘Francisco Goya: Unexpected Company’; ‘Phineas Gage Goes to Harvard’; ‘How Shelley Gave His Heart to Mary; ‘Lord Byron: The Unromantic Truth’; ‘Thomas Hardy: The Return of the Native’; ‘Robert the Bruce’s Posthumous Pilgrimage’; ‘Fréderic Chopin: Home at Last’; ‘How a British Subject Served Louis XIV’; ‘Final Entrance: John Barrymore Bows Out’; ‘William the Conqueror’s Funeral Fiasco’; ‘The Queen is Dead [Inez]’; ‘Will the Real Columbus Please Stand Up?’; ‘Where’s Voltaire?: The Scattered Philosopher’; ‘Molière’s Not There’; ‘The Mislaid Bones of John Paul Jones’; ‘All Paine, No Gain: Tom Paine’s Stolen Remains’; ‘Daniel Boone’s Bones’; ‘Buffalo Bill’s Burial: Pike’s Peak or Bust’; ‘Here Lies Sitting Bull’; ‘Abraham Lincoln: Ill at Ease in Illinois’; ‘Livingstone’s Last Journey’; ‘Eva Perón’s Body Politic’; ‘Why Jim Thorpe is Buried in Jim Thorpe’; ‘The Tree that Ate Roger Williams’; ‘Finding Einstein’s Brain’; ‘Joe Hill’s Ashes: Addressee Unknown, Return to Sender’; ‘the Delayed Burial of Eleanor Marx’; ‘Losing D. H. Lawrence’; and ‘Dorothy Parker: Excuse My Dust’.

What a box of delights!

Beachcombing should add that he hopes soon to put up a bibliography of bizarre studies (that respect the canons of history) and EM’s will certainly figure. He would be most grateful if readers might supply other titles. He would also love to add other dead bodies to EM’s impressive list, other bodies that is with unusual trajectories towards eternity: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. He might even be able to persuade EM to write a sequel. Before the Resurrection anyone?

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17 Oct 2010: Beachcombing let EM know about the review and got this email back. ‘Dear Beach, Thanks for the compliments on my book, and for writing a review.  I was cleaning out my basement the other day and found an unopened box containing about 40 copies of the original (paperback) edition of After the Funeral which I forgot I had. (The original publisher, Carol Publishing, went bankrupt and sent them to me about ten years ago. The rights were acquired by Kensington Publishers, who licensed hardback rights to Barnes and Noble.  So my book, in a reversal of normal practice, came out as a paperback first, then a hardback later.  There are also German and Korean translations, although i have never seen the latter). Anyway, if your website refers potential buyers to me, I can provide the paperback version for $8.00 per copy.’   Vmurphyeddie AT aol DOT com Beachcombing imagines that this would mean a signed copy of the rare paperback!

The relevant postal address is 18 South Abingdon Street, Arlington, VA 22204, USA and it seems that EM has a paypal account – a writer of bizarre books and a technophile…

Beachcombing also has to ask: how could you allow a book to be translated into Korean and allow the publishers not to send you a copy… Beachcombing would buy an aeroplane ticket to Seoul.

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1st Nov 2010: Edwin Murphy got in touch about his own book After the Funeral. As well as explaining how readers could get their hands on a copy of the early edition of his book he also had this to say: ’I forgot to mention that, unlikely as it sounds, one of your compatriots, Mark Bunyan, a theater type, wrote a musical stage play based on After the Funeral.  I haven’t heard from him lately, but about ten months ago he was trying to commercialize it in London.  He became justifiably irked with the negligent lack of responsiveness from my publisher in regard to purchasing the stage rights, and finally decided he didn’t legally need them and was going ahead with the project.   It may soon be coming to a theatre near you!!’  We can but hope.

1 May 2012: Mark Bunyan got in touch about the play. In a post-cold, pre-holiday, haven’t-done-it-for-ages-so-why-not? fit of Googling my own name, I came upon it mentioned by Edwin Murphy with regard to his book AFTER THE FUNERAL which made me aware of a lot of the stories which eventually became my musical UNBURIED TREASURES.   This ran at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington for three weeks in April / May 2010 with a terrific cast but little public attention.    Nonetheless, there are various bits of it on YouTube, one of which I finally put up last week.   That is EVA OR EVITA?  There’s also INES DE CASTROCRISTOFERO (Columbus).  PERE LACHAISE.  And the story of Shelley’s heart, WHAT REMAINS. There’s an original cast album available as CD from Dress Circle in the UK or CDBaby in the US, with downloads available from CDBaby and (I just discovered, though CDBaby had never told me, the iTunes store).’ Thanks Mark!!