More than Charles Lamb himself could ever know, the creation of Elia as his personal artistic voice was his way to endure the memories of September 22, 1796, a day of primal horror when his sister Mary in a fit of insanity killed their mother and destroyed the Lamb family. Throughout the rest of his life Lamb was faced with those memories , with deep-seated personal and career disillusionments. Yet through Elia he confronted his inner self to forge the essays that may be considered among the most brilliant and inimitable works in English letters.
Gerald Monsman in this study abandons the customary chronological approach to Lamb's life in favor of a more incisive, open-ended discussion of the Elia essays. By a close textual examination of Lamb's language, he relates the essayist's use of symbol and autobiographical concerns. Monsman contends and demonstrates that "as sharply and as pertinently as any artistic voice, Elia, the most celebrated persona in the nineteenth century, focuses the problems inherent in the modern literary imagination." Elia's "textual identity is a function of the author's actual life, of losses and imperfections artistically utilized and harmonized, employed against themselves to produce the rehabilitating symbol."