How long were you thinking of staying in your grave for?

I’m reading La Dame Aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas.

Marguerite, our dead-from-the-beginning-classy-courtesan heroine, is bought a plot in Montmartre cemetery in Paris by Armand, her most dedicated lover, for five years. Yep, five years. Graves in the UK are sold for hundred years, and families are usually given the option to ‘top-up’ ownership every five years (like a pay-as-you-go phone, but less likely to break if accidentally put through a washing machine cycle), but not five years from the start. I know people in olden times didn’t live long, cemeteries busy and upstairs neighbours were normal and practical, but come on. And it’s important to include family ownership of graves in wills, as those things aren’t cheap, imagine being left a set of silver teaspoons and a carriage clock by Great Auntie Betty, add a grave with say 75 years left on the clock, well, that becomes quite a haul. A family grave with two years on the clock? Less so.


Before Armand’s lease runs out, he decides to dig her up, to have her moved to a permanent grave in a different area, but also because he really wants to see her. It strikes me that people are far less likely to go all Heathcliff/Armand in these days of images of people everywhere we look, in countless forms, such as photos, ID badges and profile pics. I suppose if someone didn’t get round to sitting for a portrait, digging up their frightening, well-decomposed body really was the only way to look upon them again, the only other option being to treat them like Lenin. He was embalmed to the point of being a wax work and lowered into a fridge every night. When my freezer broke my neighbour was good enough to let my frozen peas and veggie burgers crash in hers for the night. I’m not so sure she’d be so accommodating of Russian revolutionary leaders.


la dame aux camelias