Feeling forgotten : the survival of Romantic memory in Charlotte Smith, William Godwin, and Walter Scott, 1784-1815
Russell, Matthew Robert, 1969 Aug. 18-
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Feeling forgotten charts a shift in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century English literature that is structured on a crisis of memory. This shift consists in a movement towards a literary construction of aesthetic and moral self-forgetfulness that draws its intense power from an anxiety about human mortality and historical forgetting. Through analyses of texts that depict the need to overcome individual and cultural loss through a desire for oblivion, Feeling forgotten contends that the Romantic period gave birth to anti-mnemonic aesthetic in which the displacement of a perceived loss of the feeling of lived memories into various literary fictions preserves the past in such a way as to answer an unavoidable loss of feeling by asserting that the past, one's own and others, can be felt (again) in the complex affective experience found in reading about the past. In a more ambitious sense, Feeling forgotten attempts to point the way towards an understanding of Romantic and post-Romantic nostalgia as a strong rejection of its melancholic forbearers and as a response to late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century self-forgetting. Indeed, the rejection of this more complex Romantic form of nostalgia, one in which the always frustrated attempt to inscribe forgetfulness itself into the text of memory is productive of the ongoing act of writing, would become the founding principle for later forms of nostalgia that seek to render forgetting as an act that resides outside the written text. Based on a reorientation of Charlotte Smith's poetic archive of feelings, which defines feeling as the failure of poetry to contain and defuse feelings themselves, and the passionate rationalism of William Godwin's early nineteenth century texts, in which self-analysis serves as both the generator and corruptor of the sympathetic feelings found in sentimental literature, Walter Scott's passive, amnesiac romances stage the fantasy of an evasion from the political and material significance of history.