Emotion in Literature
It is a deeply rooted idea in contemporary Western culture that there is some peculiarly intimate relationship between the arts and the emotions. Now that we have a better idea of what the emotions are and how they function, I am going to be looking at the role of the emotions in our encounters with the arts. I begin with literature.
In Part Two I examine the idea that one of the important things that literature does is to evoke emotions in readers. In Ch. 4 I argue that some works of literature—especially realistic novels by the likes of Tolstoy and Henry James—need to be experienced emotionally if they are to be properly understood. There is some interesting work in psychology on narrative, but little has been done on the role of emotion in understanding narrative. I explain how our emotions function to help us understand a novel, focusing especially on characters, and I argue that a plausible interpretation of a novel relies on prior emotional responses to it. In Ch. 5 I answer a raft of possible objections to this idea, including the so-called paradox of fiction.
In Ch. 6 I give a reading of Edith Wharton's novel, The Reef, in which I argue that reading a morally serious novel such as The Reef is a means of education, an education of the emotions or, borrowing from Flaubert, a sentimental education. Again, knowing how the emotions actually function enables us to see more clearly exactly what an emotional education consists in. Here I also address two issues that