Which Fictional Death Still Haunts You?

James Barry, “King Lear Weeping over the Body of Cordelia”


After someone on Twitter threw out the question, “Which fictional death are you still not over?” I found myself ransacking my reading memories. I set out to think of 10.

First on my list would be an author rather than a character: I can’t get over Jane Austen dying before completing Sanditon. Or writing more novels generally.

Tess Durbeyfield has got to be #1.

I so much wanted the Othello-Desdemona marriage to work out.

Antigone gets to me as well.

As does Cordelia.

I understand the artistic reasons why Laura Esquivel kills off Tita at the end of Like Water for Chocolate but I’m not happy about it.

When I was a child, the deaths of Fili and Kili in The Hobbit hit me hard, even more than Thorin’s death.

I remember that my brothers and I sobbed when my father read us the endings of Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and Kate Douglas Wiggin’s The Birds’ Christmas Carol. I still hear Hank crying out “Sandy” just before the death rattle. The death of the Carol Bird, meanwhile, tapped into the Victorian dying children cult that also includes Little Nell and Beth March. Looking back, I now realize it is pathos so thick you can cut it with a knife. I used to love fizzies and sugar in a straw at that age.

Few people read George Meredith’s The Ordeal of Richard Feverel anymore, but I remember being so traumatized by what happens to the hopeful young couple that I threw the book across the room after finishing it.

I came along too late for Leslie Burke (in Bridge to Terabithia), not to mention all those Harry Potter characters who die.

I can’t include Catherine Earnshaw Linton, Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina. Their deaths just don’t tear me up that much. Wordsworth’s Lucy and Robert Burns’s Highland Mary, meanwhile, are too much idealized projections for me to mourn.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some important ones. Feel free to send them in.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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