source: Who chooses not to have a funeral?
The writer Anita Brookner, who has died at the age of 87, requested that no funeral be held after her death. How common is this and what does it mean for friends and family?
But the writer Anita Brookner, best known for her 1984 Booker Prize-winning novel Hotel du Lac, requested that step three didn't happen in her case, her death notice in the Times saying: "At Anita's request there will be no funeral."
In January, the musician David Bowie didn't have a funeral either - his body was cremated in New York without any of his friends or family present.
This type of ending, where a coffin goes straight from the place of death to the cremator, where it is burned, is known as a "direct cremation".
Catherine Powell, customer experience director at Pure Cremation, which offers services for England and Wales, estimates that 2,000 people a year are now making this choice.
The most common reason is to enable a more "celebratory" event, such as a summer beach party or function at a golf club, to take place weeks or months later. However, some choose it for financial reasons - a direct cremation, including transport and coffin, costs just over £1,000, whereas an average funeral costs £3,600.
A direct cremation involves a company moving the body from a hospital, hospice or home to the crematorium. As with a conventional funeral, the coffin travels along the aisle of the chapel to the cremator, but no ceremony takes place.
However, families and friends can come to watch the coffin's procession. They can touch it and request music to be played. One woman who attended alone "sang her heart out", while the procession of one man's body was accompanied by his two daughters performing "air guitar". But there is no eulogy or other ceremonial aspect.
"What we offer isn't a cheap funeral - it's a simple cremation," says Powell. "That's not right for everybody, but it allows the later remembrance to be more personalised and planned. Often there's no time for some relatives and friends to get to funerals, so it gives them a chance to attend a memorial when one takes place at a better time. It offers more flexibility. The body is the part of the funeral process that people find most difficult to deal with. This takes away that worry for people."
A central question is whether seeing the body (in an open casket) or at least having it in the same room as the mourners is important. In recent years it's become more common to refer to a corpse as "just a shell", wrote William Hoy, clinical professor of medical humanities at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, but he questioned how widely this is actually believed.
He cited the concept of "liminality", described by the early-20th Century anthropologist Arnold van Gennep - that the immediate period following physical death is a "threshold" in which people aren't sure whether to describe them as dead or alive.
Brookner, who nursed her own mother until her death in 1969, said she had read the Bible as a child but had decided there would be "a lot of questions and no answers". She described herself as a "pagan" and supported the use of euthanasia.
The author, who taught at London's Courtauld Institute of Art and was the first woman to hold the Slade Professorship of Fine Art at Cambridge University before becoming an author, never married or had children. It's not been revealed whether she planned for her friends and family, and many thousands of fans, to hold a celebration of her life at a later date.
see also: Happy funerals
The bestselling novelist, who won the 1984 award for Hotel Du Lac, lived a reclusive life in her final years. This, her last interview, was conducted by Mick Brown in 2009.
Brookner, who once described her ambition as 'to be unnoticed', rarely gives interviews – has not given one, as far as I can tell, for some 12 years.
Her habit of abbreviating social engagements is legendary. Appearances at parties were always described as 'fleeting'. Someone who lunched with her from time to time reported that no matter how early they arrived Brookner would be waiting. Lunch would be short. Brookner lives in a mansion block in Kensington; a milieu that is familiar from many of her novels.
Brookner lives alone. She has never married, and the preponderance of disappointed spinsters in her books has inevitably tended to give rise to the assumption that she is that person.
'I feel I could get into The Guinness Book of Records as the world's loneliest, most miserable woman,' she remarked in the year she won the Booker.
It is only when you meet her that you can hear the dry, amused, worldly tone that must have informed that sentence as she said it. Her rooms have an elegant, almost austere simplicity.
Along one wall stands a row of bookshelves, lined with well-thumbed volumes of Sartre, de Beauvoir, Proust, a biography of Henry James. Eighteenth-century prints hang on the pale walls. The abiding impression is of stillness, silence and serious-mindedness.
The morning's newspapers have brought the news of the death of the American novelist John Updike.
'I read everything,' she says. 'And I liked him very much. But now, reviewing the situation, I think I prefer the short stories to the novels. The Complete Henry Bech I re-read over and over. I get the sense he was a good-hearted man. Completely unbiased. That's the difference between American and English fiction, I think. In English fiction there's always a slight sneer somewhere in the background.'
Who are your favourite authors?
"Charles Dickens, first and foremost. My father gave me every volume of Dickens, one for Christmas, one for my birthday, until I'd read the lot. I think young people love Dickens. The funny names, to begin with, and the sense of right and wrong. "
"And it's to be Flaubert, obviously. Simenon. You haven't read him? Oh, you should. You'd love it. It's short, workmanlike fiction. He brings it off every time. Henry James. And Proust, of course. With Henry James it's the tentativeness. It's all about betrayal, tiny incidents of bad faith, and that's a very intriguing proposition, and inexhaustible. Proust? Well, it's the inwardness that I like, and the impassive gaze, really. I love that."
Brookner's new novel tells the story of Paul Sturgis, 73 years of age, a retired banker whiling away his remaining days in a Kensington flat (which seems very like Brookner's own).
"I wanted to describe a life without work, which is a great problem, as a lot of people are finding out now," Brookner says. "Life without a context, which is a writer's life, is very unpleasant. I wanted to explore what you do not with a blank page, but with a blank day."
Tellingly, she chooses as her epigraph a quote from Freud – a lifelong hero – "For all its glory England is a land for rich and healthy people. Also they should not be too old."
She was born and brought up in a large Victorian villa in Herne Hill in south London. Her maternal grandfather had emigrated from Poland to Britain, and founded a tobacco factory. He supplied Edward VII with cigarettes.
"He had a manservant who was literally a serf. Presumably my grand-father brought him from Poland. He slept on the floor at the factory. My grandfather, who had some sort of pretensions, would take him out shopping, and would point with his stick at what he wanted picked up, and Mok – that was his name – would go and pick it up and carry it home. Completely feudal. I never met my grandfather. I wish I had."
Her mother, Maude, was a professional singer of lieder and sentimental ballads, who enjoyed some success in America. She gave up her career when she married Newson Bruckner, who had also migrated from Poland to Britain, when he was 16, and had fought for the British Army in the First World War, and then been 'conscripted' into the family firm.
"A devoted, virtuous and unhappy man," Brookner remembers. "Because my mother was unhappy. She thought she married the wrong man. And they were loyal and devoted and all that, and both very unhappy. It took me a long time to find that out."
She was an only child, but the house was seldom empty. There were family friends and relatives – "who I didn't like much" – engaged in what she describes as 'elevated gossip. In those days women were spiteful. It was pre-feminist, and they weren't very kind to each other.'
And then there were the staff – maids and cooks, all of them refugees from Germany who had been taken in by her parents, "all Jewish, as we were. And all very unhappy." She laughs. "Everybody was unhappy."
Art provided another world. "A better world."
After gaining a BA in history from King's College London, she went on to gain a doctorate in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
When, in 1950, she accepted a French government scholarship to study at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, her parents, furious, cut her off. Brookner felt only liberation. Studying, writing, visiting every gallery and museum within striking distance.
"I loved it. Instantly. And it occurred to me that I wasn't cut out to be a householder. I lived in a hotel, which is an ideal existence. You have no responsibilities. You eat out; you don't make your bed. You go off to work every morning – and I was completely immersed in the work." She pauses. "I've never been so happy."
She returned from Paris to teach art history, first at Reading University, and then, at the invitation of its director, at the Courtauld, where she was to remain until her retirement.
Dr Sarah Symmons, who is now a lecturer at the Department of Art History and Theory at the University of Essex, remembers arriving for her first tutorial with Brookner.
"She had a small office at the top of the building and we went in and there was a lovely smell of scent – she always wore a very nice scent. She had the window open and she was spreading seed for the pigeons on the windowsill; she said that she wanted to stop them cooing while she gave the seminar. This was so disarming and pleasant, so different from what all the other staff at the Courtauld were like. I remember sitting there and beginning to realise that this was a unique sort of teacher – somebody who really wanted to get to know her students, who was extraordinarily good at helping you blossom, and bringing out what was really good in you."
Brookner was an elegant, stylish figure, always beautifully dressed.
"She was terribly thin at a time when it wasn't fashionable. We used to get very worried about her and think, is she ill? And then one day she lent a French book to one of my fellow students and he opened it up and her shopping list fell out. It just said 'One small pot of Marmite' and 'slimming biscuits'. I remember thinking; she's not actually dying, she's quite anxious to be thin.
In tutorials she would produce a pack of cigarettes. They were non-tipped ones, quite low-grade – I was very impressed – and she would smoke her way through quite a lot of these cigarettes in the seminar. We were all encouraged to smoke, which, again, I thought was wonderful. Now, of course, she'd probably be dismissed."
Brookner published her first novel, A Start in Life, in 1981.
"I think I was getting stale as a teacher, and I knew retirement was looming," she says. (In fact, she would not retire until 1989.) "And so I tried to anticipate it. And writing seemed such an exalted profession." She pauses. "Now I'm not so sure. My real work was as a teacher and an academic, and I loved it. This is really just filling the time."
The person who thinks seriously about life, Brookner's books suggest, who proceeds cautiously and conscientiously, will be punished for their virtue, end up alone and dissatisfied, while the person who takes a wholly unreflecting and rather selfish view of life pays no price for it.
"But haven't you noticed that?" She gives an amused smile. "Think of Tony Blair. Unrealistic. Selfish. Happy as a clam!" Didn't Plato say the unexamined life is not worth living? She gives the faintest smile. "Plato could be wrong too. I think the unexamined life is much better. Much more comfortable... Blithe…It's an old-fashioned word. You don't hear it much."
"[happy] at work. At the Courtauld. Teaching. Students! Lovely people! Then I did feel integrated. I felt I was doing what I most enjoyed. I loved the company. I loved the ideas, the images. And I loved the conversation! The exchange was valuable. That was authentic. Everything else was made up. Like the novels. Made up. Displacement activity."
"It's justice that you find in literature, particularly in classic literature, and that is what's so satisfying. In life you are tied to the body, and that takes precedence, I think. In life, there are no happy endings. Because the body gives you away. It lets you down. It betrays you. And you're tied to mortality. And there is no escape. Age is the final betrayal."
She is at her desk by 7 am. She has always written in long-hand – 'I like to feel the words flowing down my arm.'
She does not own a computer. The first sentence is easy, and so is the last. What comes between is 'terrifying'. 'It is actually quite a dynamic process, and very absorbing when you're doing it. But when you've done it, you're rather disgusted. Because it's all over, and you must do it all over again.'
So no feelings of exhilaration? 'Oh no. Far from it. When it's over, it's over. I mean, I can't remember my books. I can't even remember the names. They're so finished.'
Praise? "Irrelevant. It's the process. Always the process. Actually I don't get many comments on my books. My friends don't read them." She laughs. "They find them depressing. I don't mind." And it doesn't deter you from pressing on… "Oh no. I think most writers are monomaniacs; they just go on. That's probably true of me too."
"It is best to marry for purely selfish reasons." - A Start in Life (1981), quotes
There were 'several' people she might have married, she says, but it was never to come to pass. "I'm not very interesting. I'm very inward-looking. I have no household skills. I can't cook – or rather I don't cook. I doubt that I'd be very comfortable company... And I chose the wrong people, and the wrong people chose me. So it never came about. At the time that was a cause of great sadness, certainly. I'm very good on my own. And I manage, I think, pretty well. But it takes courage."
...two years ago, when she had a spell in hospital. "It was the first time I'd ever been in hospital, and it was so awful… literally dying among strangers. Or that was the fear."
Она родилась 16 июля 1928 года в Лондоне в семье польских евреев. Получила образование в лондонском Королевском колледже. В 1967 году Анита стала первой в истории женщиной-профессором изобразительного искусства (Slade Professor of Fine Art) в Кембриджском университете.
Брукнер, получившая признание в качестве историка искусства, пришла в литературу, когда ей было за 50. Ее дебютный роман был опубликован в 1981 году. Всего она написала более 20 произведений, в том числе знаменитый «Отель у озера» (Hotel du Lac), за который получила в 1984 году престижную Букеровскую премию. По мотивам этого романа в 1986 году был снят телевизионный фильм, номинировавшийся на девять премий Британской академии телевизионного искусства, из которых получил три.
В 1990 году Анита Брукнер стала командором ордена Британской империи.