What might be the most Romantic death? Perhaps to die in battle, unhorsed, sword in hand, fighting for the most noble (or perhaps most hopeless) cause? Byron, that greatest of Romantics, died, I thought, fighting the Turks on behalf of the Greeks; in fact, I discover from Wikipedia, he died of sepsis after a bungled operation, perhaps one of the most unromantic deaths.
Keats died of tuberculosis, at the time a Romantic death, but now just squalid. Shelley drowned through being an incompetent sailor. Wordsworth died of old age, and Coleridge died of heart failure possibly contributed to by his opium addiction.
James Dean dying in a car crash might be a contestant, but he died not in a race but in a clumsy crash.
Glenn Miller didn’t die but disappeared, which has a definite Romantic twang.
To die in the arms of your lover seems a remarkably unromantic death when you think of all the embarrassment and form-filling that must follow.
Plus a Romantic death must surely be out of doors and involve action. Robin Cook, the Labour politician, died walking the Scottish hills, which seems to me an excellent and Romantic death.
But my favourite Romantic death comes from a cheesy film I watched past night, What We Did On Our Holiday. Billy Connolly (dying in real life of Parkinson’s disease) plays a reprobate grandfather who once played football for Scotland: “I rose and headed the ball into the net, my own net.” He lives in a most beautiful part of Scotland where the mountains reach the sea with his uptight, awkward son and his depressed daughter-in-law. His other son lives in London with three young children and is getting divorced after an affair with a Para-Olympian.
The London couple, trying to hide their divorce, travel to Scotland for Connolly’s 75th birthday. As preparations are underway for an extravagant event that Connolly is not looking forward to, he takes his three grandchildren to his favourite beach, a most beautiful place, deserted with a view of distant islands and mountains. He lets the children drive the Land Rover and run amok. At one point they bury him, and he pretends to be dead. We, the audience, think he’s dead, but he’s not. He tells the children how he has cancer and how he would like a Viking funeral, set adrift in a burning boat. The children love him and listen hard.
When the children return from splashing in the sea Connolly looks dead again. They think he’s playing, but this time he’s really dead. They decide that they must honour him with the Viking death he wanted. They pull together a raft, haul him onto it, erect a ragged sail, cover him in petrol, set fire to him, and push him out to sea. We watch him drift out blazing towards the mountains.
That’s my top Romantic death so far–to die on a beautiful beach playing with your grandchildren and then drift on fire out to sea. Can you beat it?