How do we understand memory in the early novel? Departing from traditional empiricist conceptualizations of remembering, Mind over Matter uncovers a social model of memory in Enlightenment fiction that is fluid and evolving—one that has the capacity to alter personal histories. Memories are not merely imprints of first-hand experience stored in the mind, but composite stories transacted through dialogue and reading.

Through new readings of works by Daniel Defoe, Frances Burney, Laurence Sterne, Jane Austen, and others, Sarah Eron tracks the fictional qualities of memory as a force that, much like the Romantic imagination, transposes time and alters forms. From Crusoe’s island and Toby’s bowling green to Evelina’s garden and Fanny’s east room, memory can alter, reconstitute, and even overcome the conditions of the physical environment. Memory shapes the process and outcome of the novel’s imaginative world-making, drafting new realities to better endure trauma and crises. Bringing together philosophy of mind, formalism, and narrative theory, Eron highlights how eighteenth-century novelists explored remembering as a creative and curative force for literary characters and readers alike. If memory is where we fictionalize reality, fiction—and especially the novel—is where the truths of memory can be found.