Writing memory: Reinvention and the tradition of confession in Middle English literature

Date of Completion

January 2010


Literature, Medieval|Literature, English




A study of the tradition of medieval confession as well as of the classical and medieval discussions concerning the functions of the soul reveals a relationship between the act of confessing and the act of remembering. Indeed, memory is a constant presence, sometimes implicitly and at other times explicitly, in both theological and practical texts on confession. The procedures of confession influenced a vast number of cultural practices, including the composition of literature. In Writing Memory, I argue that this influence is manifested through the widespread juxtaposition of confession and memory in Middle English literary texts and, furthermore, that this concept permeated other manifestations of memory as written by authors in a variety of genres. It is my contention that, as a result of memory's traditional connection to confession in addition to the recurring awareness of confession's ability to transform the soul, the most dynamic reason that memory or recollection is used by authors in their texts is to emphasize emotional or behavioral reinvention. This study, through the framework of confession, identifies moments of recollection within texts and demonstrates that authors deliberately employed the devices of recollection and forgetfulness in order to indicate changes or the lack thereof, both in conduct and in mindset, in their narrative subjects. ^