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To Renew and Act Anew: Approaching Forgiveness in The Long Nineteenth Century



This essay seeks to survey recent scholarship exploring the topic of forgiveness within nineteenth-century British literature. Though historically rooted in Judeo-Christian religious tradition, forgiveness has now emerged as a secularized theory for communal and psychological renewal. Recent global efforts to promote reconciliation and healing in communities ravaged by genocide and crimes against humanity have inspired a new wave of intellectual inquiry into the nature of forgiveness. Julia Kristeva and Jacques Derrida are two of the most prominent contributors to this discourse within the last decade. Even as forgiveness has emerged on a globally popular level in its secularized form, literary criticism has also witnessed a shift in scholarship that seeks to reengage the dialogue between theology and literature, paving the way for theory and theology to meld in the pursuit of a more nuanced theory of forgiveness. Though literary forgiveness remains a relatively unexplored topic in nineteenth-century scholarship, recent articles by Richard Hughes Gibson, Emma Mason, Karen Pagani, and Jan-Melissa Schramm demonstrate that conceptions of forgiveness in the Romantic and Victorian imagination exist at the intersection of sacred and secular, much like our modern theories also suggest. As critics pay closer attention to the role of forgiveness, and its multiple complexities within the fiction, drama, and poetry of the nineteenth century, they will turn their attention to the creative power of forgiveness, ultimately viewed as formative, possessing the power to shape narratives, individual lives and psyches, and social history.