Essays in Romanticism

The Mother Palimpsest: Reproduction in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Suspiria de Profundis1

Essays in Romanticism (2017), 24, (1), 69–82.

Abstract

This essay investigates the figurative and textual effects of De Quincey’s mother. By emphasizing the integral role of maternal narratives and figures for his claim that the brain is “one great palimpsest,” I argue that De Quincey invests the palimpsest and its imaginative capacities with reproductive functions that give “birth” to his sisters. In this respect, my rereading of the brother-sister dyad through his maternal figures has broader implications for both De Quincey’s work and an understanding of how the coterie culture, so important to Romantic literature, depended not only on fraternity and friendship, but also certain exceptional sisters. By asserting the primacy of the mother as mediating figure between brothers and sisters, this essay brings the reproductive fantasies of Romanticism to the fore.

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Author details

Markley, Hannah