Journal Article

‘Be Sure and Remember the Rabbits’: Memory as Moral Force in the Victorian <i>Bildungsroman</i>

Elisabeth Jay

in Literature and Theology

Volume 24, issue 4, pages 360-377
Published in print December 2010 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online November 2010 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI:
‘Be Sure and Remember the Rabbits’: Memory as Moral Force in the Victorian Bildungsroman

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The retrospective narrative mode of the nineteenth-century Bildungsroman afforded an ideal arena for modelling hypotheses about the nature and function of memory. Memory had long been held to be part of the consciousness that divided humans from the animal world, but mid-nineteenth-century scientific theories questioned what part there remained for the moral and spiritual in the physiological operations of the brain. The exegetical, devotional and liturgical practices of the Christian Church had been predicated upon a particular understanding of the part played by memory in spiritual development, and this way of thinking was harder to discard than the dogma for those educated within its traditions. George Eliot’s desire to retain a spiritual role for memory within a physiological account of its workings can be seen both in her protagonists’ moral development and in the reading habits her fiction endeavours to foster. In the firmly post-Darwinian world of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, memory can no longer be held to act as a moral force, but Hardy continues to blame and lament Christian epistemology for its false promise. Modernist fiction reflected recent physiological and psychological thinking in representing memory as less susceptible to personal control and so drained it of moral significance.

Journal Article.  8011 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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