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'My present Past': Memory and Identity in the Poetry of George Eliot

Tate, GP (2010) 'My present Past': Memory and Identity in the Poetry of George Eliot In: Acts of Memory: The Victorians and Beyond. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Cambridge, pp. 73-84. ISBN 1443825670

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This essay studies George Eliot’s long poem The Spanish Gypsy, and her shorter verse works ‘The Legend of Jubal’ and ‘Brother and Sister’, in order to show that her poetic writing presents two divergent accounts of psychology, founded on two contrasting conceptions of memory. On the one hand, George Eliot’s verse resists the analytical stance of Victorian psychological theory and of her own novels, championing a metaphysical account of psychology in which memory, as an activity of the immortal soul, guarantees the permanence of personal identity by connecting the present self to that of the past. On the other hand, her poetry also articulates a concern that the act of remembering exposes the mutability of the mind by highlighting the unbridgeable gap between past and present. This latter conception of memory was shared by the Victorian psychologists, including Herbert Spencer and George Eliot’s partner G.H. Lewes, who defined the mind as a process rather than as a fixed entity. The representation of memory in George Eliot’s verse is informed by the theories of these psychologists in ways that are obscured but not effaced by the lyrical register and metaphysical terminology of her poems.

Item Type: Book Section
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of Literature and Languages > English
Authors :
Tate, GP
Editors :
Barnett, R
Trowbridge, S
Date : 1 December 2010
Related URLs :
Additional Information : This is an electronic version of a book chapter published as Tate GP (2010). 'My present Past': Memory and Identity in the Poetry of George Eliot. In Acts of Memory: The Victorians and Beyond. Editors: Barnett R, Trowbridge S. First: 73-84. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Cambridge. Available online at:
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 04 Jul 2012 17:04
Last Modified : 31 Oct 2017 14:38

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