The beautiful and deeply religious Madame de Tourvel is so distraught after cheating on her husband in the 1782 novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” that she blacks out the betrayal altogether, arriving at a convent with no idea of what had brought her there. Soon the horror of the infidelity rushes back, in all its incriminating force.I mean come on, how amazing is that? Before 1800, there was no such thing as repressed memories? Or rather, that we can't find any real evidence for it (beyond a few instances in myth of people forgetting things momentarily)? It's remarkable that this is a semi-recent phenomenon (of course, then some people say it's actually impossible for the brain to block painful memories without willful instigation by the person in question).
More than two centuries later, she has become part of a longstanding debate about whether the brain can block access to painful memories, like betrayals and childhood sexual abuse, and suddenly release them later on.
In a paper posted online in the current issue of the journal Psychological Medicine, a team of psychiatrists and literary scholars reports that it could not find a single account of repressed memory, fictional or not, before the year 1800.
In any case, I thought this was ridiculously interesting. Check out the NY Times article here or go to this website to read about the reward that these researchers are offering to people who can come up with examples in fiction or non-fiction before 1800.