In Defence of Living Memory: “Sixty Years Since” or Less

  • Helen Kingstone
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


This chapter argues that Victorian “novels of the recent past” are long overdue recognition as genuinely historical novels. After an analysis of how Walter Scott uses his ironic narratorial voice in Waverley (1814) to negotiate between progressivism and nostalgia, three mid-Victorian women writers’ works are shown to deploy similar strategies. Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley (1849), Elizabeth Gaskell’s “My Lady Ludlow” (1858–59) and George Eliot’s Felix Holt (1866) and Middlemarch (1871–72) are all provincial novels set retrospectively within living memory, which use their unobtrusive genre to intervene in historical debates. Brontë and Eliot sometimes adopt a masculine narratorial persona to claim a historian’s authority. However, this takes a highly self-conscious form, which combines with immersive realism to offer an insistently ambivalent view of contemporary history.


Recent Past Temporal Continuum Historical Trajectory Fictional World Subsequent Reference 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen Kingstone
    • 1
  1. 1.Leeds Centre for Victorian StudiesLeeds Trinity UniversityLeedsUnited Kingdom

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