Social Memory and Nineteenth-Century British Historical Fiction
Marler-Kennedy, Kara G.
Patten, Robert L.; Michie, Helena
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines the representation of social memory in British historical fiction from 1810 to 1880. I argue that social memory is crucial to the analysis of historical fiction during this period because it affords us an opportunity to see how authors in the nineteenth century viewed the social dimensions of memory as constructed by communities that envision their pasts in relation to prevailing ideologies and dominant authorities. Specifically, literary representations of social memory are important in understanding how communities come together to achieve common goals or resist dominant authorities through their sense of a common past in one of the most popular genres of nineteenth-century literature, the historical novel. The significance of social memory for the study of nineteenth-century British historical novels centers in the fact that it reveals the processes by which kinship or kindred groups and other social groups can be formed and by which historical consciousness is developed and communicated among those groups within the novel and to the reader. Social memory is defined here as a shared vision of the past, its narratives, and its symbols that embodies the cultural and communal influences on an individual's and broader groups contemporary identity. Social memory can represent a positive, unifying force in an individual's lift and a community's day-to-day lived experiences, a force that can be used to achieve common purposes or resist common foes. The activation of social memory, though, offers a paradox: on the one hand, individuals are united by a powerful sense of togetherness as understood by their relationship to the past and its significance to their present, lived experience; yet, on the other hand, individuals may resist this totalizing or homogenizing sense of the past when it threatens the uniqueness of individual subjectivity, specific characteristics of group culture, or forecloses on the possibilities of social action by those on the margins. This dissertation looks at how social memory is represented in non-canonical and canonical historical novels by Sir Walter Scott, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, George Eliot, and Philip Meadows Taylor.