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Nostalgia in Transition, 1780-1917

Linda M. Austin

BUY Cloth · 248 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813925981 · $45.00 · Feb 2007

Referred to long ago as a "disease" of Swiss soldiers and Highland regiments far from home, nostalgia became known in the 1920s as more of a fleeting rather than debilitating condition. Yet what caused this shift in our collective understanding of the term? In Nostalgia in Transition, 1780-1917, Linda M. Austin traces the development of nostalgia from a memory disorder in the eighteenth century to its modern formulation as a pleasant recreational distraction. Offering a paradigm for and analysis of nostalgic memory as it operates in various attempts to reenact the past, Austin explains both the early and the modern understanding of this phenomenon.

Beginning with an account of nostalgia’s transformation from an acute form of melancholia and homesickness into elegiac expression and idyllic representation, Austin goes on to examine an array of texts, from poetic meditations on nostalgia in the first half of the nineteenth century to the popular adult souvenirs of childhood in the second half. She shows how, in novels by Hardy; in elegies and lyrics by Arnold, Tennyson, and Emily Brontë; in illustrations by Kate Greenaway and Helen Allingham; and in late Victorian cultural histories of the cottage, nostalgia acts as a collective, rather than an individual reenactment of an invented, rather than a remembered, past or place.

For students and scholars interested in the Victorian era, as well as in Romanticism and modernism, Nostalgia in Transition provides a well-rounded perspective on how and why our understanding of nostalgia has changed over time.


A nostalgia in and of the body, not the mind: by elucidating the roots of this form of memory, Linda Austin's extraordinarily well-researched Nostalgia in Transition makes a timely contribution to our understanding of memory's historical mutations. It will be indispensable for any scholar interested in the genealogy of modern emotions, or in forms of Victorian aesthetic response that have for too long been derided or misunderstood.—Nicholas Dames, Columbia University, author of Amnesiac Selves: Nostalgia, Forgetting, and British Fiction, 1810-1870"Using historical theories of the mnemonic process, especially those emphasizing sensation and physical movement, Linda M. Austin offers a means of understanding nostalgia and its transition from a medical to an aesthetic concept. Her close reading of literary texts, her analytic description of selected paintings, as well as her careful research into the social and psychophysical contexts of these cultural materials combine to give fresh insights into one of the most enduring aspects of our lives.

Ann C. Colley, SUNY College at Buffalo, author of Nostalgia and Recollection in Victorian Culture

About the Author(s): 

Linda M. Austin is Professor of English at Oklahoma State University.

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