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Mind over Matter

Memory Fiction from Daniel Defoe to Jane Austen
Sarah Eron

BUY Cloth · 284 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813945668 · $115.00 · Apr 2021
BUY Paper · 284 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813945675 · $39.50 · Apr 2021
BUY Ebook · 284 pp. · ISBN 9780813945682 · $29.50 · Apr 2021

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.


Sarah Eron's Mind Over Matter is not just an original and often brilliant consideration of the memory and imagination in the fictions of the long eighteenth century. It is a vital example of what literary criticism can contribute to a broader understanding of cognition and mental life, namely, close attention to the forms and creative force of memory in action. Mind Over Matter should be on the desk of everyone interested in a genuinely interdisciplinary humanities.

Jonathan Kramnick, Yale University · Paper Minds: Literature and the Ecology of Consciousness

A beautiful meditation on the curative potentials of memory. In innovative and virtuoso close readings of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century English novels, Eron highlights memory’s kinship with the imagination.

Amit Yahav, University of Minnesota · Feeling Time: Duration, the Novel, and Eighteenth-Century Sensibility

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