The Stories Judith Robinson's Obituaries Tell
Judith Robinson’s obituaries are linear in nature and structured in a way that adheres to the standard format of the “genre”, by comparison to the characteristics of the standard obituary. As they employ the four key points of the style, clear trends are easily identifiable among the various pieces. Chiefly, they announce her passing. The other factors lay in accordance with the author’s beliefs, and stances, making the similarities that do exist all the more striking!
The literary devices and wording of the obituaries attempt to remain neutral, while simultaneously painting the picture of an ambitious and polarizing woman. Initially, this can be attributed to the impersonal nature of being a public figure, coupled with the strangers behind the press. As many of the obituaries were written by people with no direct correlation to Judith, the language used must remain telling, but formal (this is also tied to society’s practices around death and dying). This suggests that the authors of obituaries can stick to a formula when writing, much like any other genre, to convey their message in a uniform, and colloquial way. (8)
This is further supported by the organization of tone and content used in Robinson’s obituaries. Each sampled piece falls into one, of two categories, linked to the size and influence of the newspaper. Broadly, the smaller newspapers use verbatim obituaries that are short and vague in the story they tell about her. The limited scope of their content offers little-to-no celebration of her life and work and does not demonstrate Robinson’s importance or influence. Knowing that larger papers with, both personal and professional connections to her would be sharing detailed accounts of her life, it is possible that these smaller papers opted to go for a more straightforward, "death notice" style obituary. This would suggest that sub categories of the style exist, further lending to the idea that obituaries employ the characteristics of the genre.
The larger papers, by contrast, published very detailed obituaries that ran multiple pages and issues. Since she had connections to the papers and many of the people behind the scenes, these pieces reflect the cast of fans, both civilian and professional, who would be buying the paper to read her memorials. It is clear in the flowered writing, that these newspapers greatly admired Robinson, or at the very least, her influence on the journalism scene. Connecting back to the social rules around death, it is interesting to note that her “controversial” traits, like her brashness, were admired in memory but criticized in life.
They also make consistent mention of the topics and takes Robinson had during her career, paying particular attention to her importance as a columnist. These mentions place Robinson’s attitudes during particular historical periods and emphasize the way her views thrust her into notoriety in both, political, and social spheres.
Beyond the content directly related to Robinson, the obituaries also reveal information about the writing and publishing of large-scale memorial works. Each piece is written without authorial credits, and placed on, or near the front page, reflecting her status as a public figure. (9) Most of them contain a photo of Robinson as well; in some instances, this photo is smaller than the advertisements on the very same page. Where they can, they also include quotations from notable fans, or readers, to further solidify Robinson’s impact.