Decorative Initial A crucial aspect of myths of childhood is that they furnish a point of departure, a way of beginning, and one should not underestimate the importance of such a moment of origin. for it is always essential and yet always hard to locate. As Edward Said argues, "consciousness of a starting point, from the viewpoint of the continuity that succeeds it, is a consciousness of a direction in which it is humanly possible to moVe, as well as a trust in continuity. The problem for the autobiographer of course, is to find his beginning, to re-experience and re-present it‹something which, like his ending, it is clearly impossible to do. One can choose some first memory, some early experience, but such a procedure, since it does not go back to one's origin, one's beginning, only reminds us how arbitrary the writer's decision has been, thereby raising the spector of fictionality in what is supposed to be literally true. On the other hand, choosing to talk about one's parents or even more distant ancestry does not solve the problem either, since such a strategy not only skips over the crucial moment or fount of origin rather obviously but it also transforms a record of one's own experience into a record of another's.

Unable to discover or re-present his origin, the autobiographer has recourse to a myth, thus repeating a common pattern in human thought, and it should not surprise us at all when we discover that Victorian autobiographers cast their narratives of early life in similar molds. Speaking of revolutionary myths, Georges Sorel claims that they "are not descriptions of things, but expressions of a determination to act.... A Myth cannot be refuted, since it is, at bottom, identical with the convictions of a group." If one accepts Hannah Arendt's claim that a true revolution must not only destroy the old order but replace it with a new one, it appears that Victorian myths of childhood are very accurately described as revolutionary myths: they found a new order; they contain prescriptions about how one group (the generation which holds the myth) should act towards the new children who occupy the position of Others; and they also instruct the autobiographer how to act toward the Other who was once himself. It is therefore almost inevitable that autobiographies Will contain definite structural breaks as authors move from a mythic to a narrative mode, from a tlmeless, static realm to one in which development and change rule. Shumaker has remarked upon a similar phenomenon, pointing out that autobiographies often contain abrupt divisions between adolescence and maturity: "At the moment at which the writer's personality and character, emerging from adolescence into maturity, become relatively stable, relatively fixed, the continuity may be broken. What follows will be treated differently." Many autobiographies therefore contain a tripartite division in which two static periods, the first containing the mythic childhood and the second the stable present "I," surround a period of development.


Last modified 23 June 2012