What is death writing and why does it matter?

In previous centuries, it was considered normal to think and talk about dying well. In the anglophone world, the idea of a good death derived from a range of different sources – religion, literature, history, ethics, medicine – and was bound up in very personal but also universal questions about what it means for humans to live a good life in the certain knowledge of death.

From works of art, novels and poetry, medical texts, diaries and newspapers, we can get a glimpse of a rich culture of open, diverse and in many cases highly-informed conversation about how or whether ‘a good death’ is achievable, and what such a death might look like.

Nowadays, talk of dying well is noticeably less common. Our project looks to the literature of the past to encourage new reflections on how individuals, including those closely affected by death and dying, can find languages and spaces to explore the idea of dying well, and to challenge our assumptions about what that means for ourselves, our social institutions, and our broader culture.


Dr Laura Davies’ research publications on the relationship between literature and death include:


‘A blot upon the earth’: a waste studies approach to Frankenstein’ in Critical Insights: Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, ed. Laura Nicosia and James F. Nicosia (Salem Press, 2024), pp.154-171


‘Anecdotal Death: Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets’ in The Routledge Companion to Death and Literature ed. by Michelle Wang, Daniel Jernigan and Neil Murphy (Routledge, 2021), pp.307-318


‘Samuel Johnson and the Grammar of Death’, in Narrating Death: The Limit of Literature (Routledge, 2019), ed. Daniel Jernigan, Walter Wadiak and Michelle Wang, pp.107-125


How can I be involved?

Explore Words to discover unfamiliar literature and reflections on death and dying by diverse writers.

We offer reflective literature Workshops for professionals, students or volunteers whose work brings them into contact with death and dying. Get in touch with us on good-death@english.cam.ac.uk if this sounds like something that would benefit you.

We actively seek Collaborations with artists and writers, creatives, and health or social care practitioners interested in thinking about death and dying with us.

Come along to our Events to meet the team and hear from speakers with inspiring, challenging perspectives on death, dying, and the power of literature.

Enter the conversation and share your own favourite words and images @what_death #gooddeath