restricted access Self-Consciousness and Mediation in Victorian Autobiography
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JONATHAN LOESBERG Self-Consciousness and Mediation in Victorian Autobiography To talk about Victorian autobiography is to discuss that most Victorian of myths, the story of the self-made man. Autobiography is self-making because in writing of himself an author necessarily makes a story of himself. He transforms the structureless experience of his life into a patterned whole, a form that is of his own making. But to the extent that creating a pattern of one's own life falsifies it, the autobiographer would seem to invite the standard criticism of many great Victorian novelists and social critics: hypocrisy. The archetypal figure of hypocritical selfmaking in Victorian literature is perhaps Josiah Bounderby in Dickens's Hard Times. Bounderby constantly buttonholes anyone who will listen to the tale of his hapless childhood. He claims he was born in a ditch full of water and deserted by his mother, yet emerged, not only dry, but a rich md successful businessman. His moral is the moral of the Victorian niddle-class capitalist: the good man creates his own advantages, and lUccess is therefore a sign of goodness. But Bounderby is unmasked. From his mother - who had not deserted him - we learn that he was ~iven an education and apprenticed to a good master by poor parents ",ho sacrificed their comfort for his advancement. His self-making is 'raudulent not only because he did not have to carve out his own opporunities in the world of business but also because the story of the carving, he retrospective self-making, has been a lie. The reader does not have to wait for Bounderby's unmasking, how- ,ver, to respond to him as a hypocrite. His insistent and repeated telling ,f his history brands him. Bounderby seems to feel that his past and ,resent selves are one, that the necessity of acting as an opportunist luring a deprived childhood sanctifies his adult ruthlessness, that this uccess has always been his goodness. It is not the specific lies he tells but lis insistence on generalizing and structuring his past experiences into a norality tale, and then reliving that past to justify and explain his presnt , that constitutes his hypocrisy. The revelation that his autobiography ;a lie only reinforces a conclusion we have already reached. Yet to relive ne's life and to make a pattern of it are the most basic activities of the utobiographical process. Of course, one can, theoretically, justify oneelf without being duplicitous or hypocriticaL Newman's Apologia, his elf-justification, successfully cleared him of those charges. But the figure UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 50, NUMBER 2, WINTER 198011 0042-0247/81/0100-0199$01 .5010


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