This essay argues that the problem of witnessing in the Romantic-era novel is caught up with the problem of moral epistemology and that both are inflected by temporality. Focusing on Charles Maturin's 1820 gothic Melmoth the Wanderer, this essay argues that, like many of the assumptions of the eighteenth-century novel (and scholarly accounts of it), the connection between witnessing and truth in fiction came under investigation in the Romantic-era novel. Maturin's novel is only one of a clutch of what one might call antihistorical narratives that appeared in these decades, in which a citizen of the past emerges living into the present, or someone survives his or her “native” historical era to become a kind of temporal exile in the present. The gothic has been characterized as the eruption of the past into the present and the past in these narratives is indeed “undead” and unfixed—wandering through both space and time. Examining the consequences of such wandering can tell us a great deal about the relationship of narrative to temporality and the relationship of temporality to theories of moral education.
Charlotte Sussman; Time Wandering: Problems of Witnessing in the Romantic-Era Novel. Novel 1 May 2010; 43 (1): 140–147. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-074
Download citation file: