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Title page for ETD etd-07202011-222506

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Covington, Elizabeth Reeves
Author's Email Address elizabeth.covington@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-07202011-222506
Title Reclaiming Memory: Literature, Science, and the Rise of Memory as Property, 1860-1945
Degree PhD
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jay Clayton Committee Co-Chair
Mark Wollaeger Committee Co-Chair
Colin Dayan Committee Member
Paul Saint-Amour Committee Member
  • memory
  • psychology
  • modernist literature
  • victorian literature
Date of Defense 2011-05-16
Availability unrestricted
This project explores the relationship of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature to the experimental sciences of memory. Many critics have demonstrated the effect of psychoanalysis on literary thought, but early experimental psychology—and specifically findings related to human memory—is an unexplored field in literary studies. After 1860, researchers in the burgeoning field of experimental psychology began to investigate the ways that memory works and proposed theories indicating that recall of past experience is fragile, vulnerable to suggestion and alteration, and liable to be forgotten. The dissertation demonstrates the ways that late Victorian and modernist literature was particularly resistant to contentions that memory is unstable and changeable, clinging instead to the Lockean theory of personal identity based on persistent and stable memories over time. Drawing on texts from the late-Victorian writer Samuel Butler, and modernist writers such as Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Jean Rhys, and T.S. Eliot, the dissertation describes literary memory models that are secure and unchanging. These writers discuss memories in terms that suggest that memory is the property of the rememberer, thus extending the protections of personal property to those of memory. Further, authors during this period increasingly incorporated their own memories into fictional work, a move that amounts to the literal propertization of memory. This study demonstrates that late Victorian and modernist literature provides a competing account of memory function that contradicts the findings of the experimental memory sciences.
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