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Lorna Martens
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    We once believed in the power of Proust’s madeleine and Wordsworth’s boyhood memories—before literary culture began to defer to Freud’s questioning of adult memories of childhood. In this first sustained look at childhood memories as depicted in literature, Lorna Martens reveals how much we may have lost by turning our attention the other way.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06310-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Psychology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. Introduction: Writing Childhood Memory
    (pp. 1-56)

    The fascination of childhood memories, at least for those capable of leaving written records about them, took hold just over two hundred years ago. It was nudged into being by romanticism and, a century later, propelled forward by the advent of modern psychology and psychoanalysis. Wordsworth and Freud each had a commanding vision of the importance of childhood that found many followers. Wordsworth wrote an exceptionally stirring portrait of his childhood in the long autobiographical poem to which his wife, Mary Wordsworth, gave the title The Prelude. The Prelude, published only after his death in 1850, echoes his view of...

  5. 1 Constructing Buried Treasure: Proust’s Childhood Memories
    (pp. 57-98)

    No modernist author represents the project of recovering childhood memory more centrally than Marcel Proust. Proust made famous the notion of involuntary memory, the idea that a present cue, if it fortuitously duplicates a past sensation, can bring back large swatches of the past from our, in his word, “unconscious” mind. A smell, a taste, a sound, a bodily movement, a touch can summon up for us, or transport us back into, a previous moment that we had long since forgotten. According to Proust, great happiness attends such moments. Indeed, a feeling of happiness is the first sign that such...

  6. 2 Making Things Out of Fear: Rilke and Childhood Memory
    (pp. 99-136)

    Scholars have been at pains to determine precisely when Rilke heard of psychoanalysis.¹ The most exact account of this is supplied by Rilke himself, who told his close friend Magda von Hattingberg, in a letter of 21 February 1914, when and under what circumstances he first heard of psychoanalysis: “It was when I was writing the last passages of Malte Laurids, shaken in every fiber of my body by all that I had summoned up in the way of vital and mortal pain—and I would not have been able to go on if I hadn’t from time to time...

  7. 3 Collecting the Past, Prefiguring the Future: Benjamin Remembering His Childhood
    (pp. 137-182)

    Benjamin’s fascination with his childhood memories seems differently motivated from Rilke’s or Proust’s. Most immediately, it seems to be bound up with a desire to recapture and re-create the fabric of life of an era that lies on the other side of the great divide of World War I—the world of yesterday that, at Benjamin’s time of writing, was gone forever. In Berlin Childhood around 1900 we discover an adult looking back, ironic, nostalgic, critical. Beginning with the first typescript, a keynote of the text is a tension between Benjamin’s re-creation of his childish perspective and the perspective of...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 183-210)

    Not everyone accords great importance to memory. Elias Canetti, who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981, sharply distinguishes between his own reverential attitude toward memory and the attitude he discerned in many of his contemporaries: “I bow to memory, to every human being’s memory … and do not conceal my repugnance for those who have the temerity to expose it to surgical procedures for so long that it resembles everyone else’s memory. … Let them fiddle with, crop, slick down, and flatten everything, but memory above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth.”¹ Canetti’s polemic is directed...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 211-252)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 253-254)
  11. Index
    (pp. 255-272)