“Amnesia Is For Lovers”

Linda Besner considers memory loss one of the more romantic plot lines:

Amnesia gets a lot of play in soap operas and romance novels, in part because it offers a tantalizing paradox: the person you love is both familiar and new. It’s what couples try to accomplish with role-playing games: whether it’s pretending to pick each other up at a bar or pretending to be Batman and Eudora Welty (long story), it’s a chance to meet again for the first time. In fiction, it allows characters to ask themselves why they chose this person to love in the first place, and what that says about them.

The origins of the plot device:

The writer credited with the first soap opera amnesia story was Irna Phillips, creator of, among other programs, The Guiding Light, which made a successful transition to television in 1952 and, counting both iterations, ran for a record seventy-two years before CBS cancelled it in 2009. Phillips had ample reason to favour characters who forgot their entire histories: the youngest of ten, she was a neglected child, and as an adult she suffered an unhappy romantic life. The culture at large was also looking to bury some unhappy memories: after the mass psychotic episode of the First World War, many soldiers re-entered society haunted by the sense of a discontinuous personality. During the war, "shell-shock," the new diagnosis for soldiers suffering from combat stress, was often accompanied by amnesia.