Twelve Ways to Die: Working Notes on Disintegration, pt. 2

While inhabiting the body of Arthur Megrim, Sheppard Lee (1836, see pt. 1) Sheppard Lee has terrible nightmares, an almost comically gruesome pile-up of exceptionally unpleasing ways to suffer and die:

My dreams, indeed, so varied and terrific were the images with which they afflicted me, I can compare to nothing but the horrors or last delirium of a toper. Hanging, drowning, and tumbling down church-steeples were the common and least frightful of the fancies that crowded my sleeping brain: now I was blown up in a steamboat, or run over by a railroad car; now I was sticking fast in a burning chimney, scorching and smothering, and now, head downwards, in a hollow tree, with a bear below snapping at my nose; now I was plastered up in a thick wall, with masons hard at work running the superstructure up higher, and now I was enclosed in a huge apple-dumpling, boiling in a pot over a hot fire. One while I was crushed by a boa constrictor; another, perishing by inches in the mouth of a Bengal tiger; and, again, I was in the hands of Dr. Tibbikens and his scientific coadjutors of the village, who were dissecting me alive.

Sheppard Lee, first edition. Via The Book Row Book Shop.

A sly mockery of moral reform literature of the era? A weird twist during the emergence of the gothic crime narrative in America? (Karen Haltutten’s book Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination is an excellent exploration of this.) An effort to push depictions of violence further than contemporaries like Edgar Allan Poe (who favorably reviewed Sheppard Lee in September 1836, and whose own story “Berenice,” which was published the previous year, was among his most sensationally extreme)?

* “tumbling down church-steeples”
* “sticking fast in a burning chimney, scorching and smothering”
* “enclosed in a huge apple dumpling, boiling in a pot over a hot fire”

Just three of twelve ways to die, in Sheppard Lee.

About Nicholas

Writer. Professor.
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