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Empathy and the Novel Paperback – 10 Jun 2010


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"Empathy and the Novel belongs in the company of Peter Brooks' Reading for the Plot as an exciting and lucid reflection on empathy in the novel and on the empathetic effects of narrative on readers. Working at the cross-section of literature, neuroscience, and psychology, the book is a stunningly original, broad-ranging contribution to narrative ethics and to the meanings of emotion in literature, life, and human society." --Susan Stanford Friedman, Virginia Woolf Professor of English and Women's Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison "Drawing on cognitive science, narrative theory, and the sociology of reading, Empathy and the Novel challenges the received wisdom about the ethical effects of novel-reading. That identification leads to empathy and empathy to altruism has been one of the axioms of novel criticism, repeated in different terms from the eighteenth century to the present. Keen replaces those easy pieties by a subtler account of emotional response which nonetheless accounts for the centrality of empathy to ordinary readers' accounts of their own experience." --Leah Price, author of The Anthology and the Riseof the Novel"Empathy and the Novel . . . helps us read more distinctly the written record of the nineteenth-century novelists and critics who put overwhelming faith in the sympathetic work of the novel as a form." --Victorian Studies"Suzanne Keen calls into question the widespread assumption that imaginative engagement with fictional works can help us become more empathetic and more ethical persons. Lively, incisive, sobering, and deeply instructive, Empathy and the Novel will prove of great interest to those working on narrative, on the psychology of reading, on ethics and literature, and on popular fiction, while making a key contribution to the new field of cognitive literary studies." --Alan Richardson, Professor of English, Boston College

About the Author

Does empathy felt while reading fiction actually cultivate a sense of connection, leading to altruistic actions on behalf of real others? Empathy and the Novel presents a comprehensive account of the relationships among novel reading, empathy, and altruism. Drawing on psychology, narrative theory, neuroscience, literary history, philosophy, and recent scholarship in discourse processing, Keen brings together resources and challenges for the literary study of empathy and the psychological study of fiction reading. Empathy robustly enters into affective responses to fiction, yet its role in shaping the behavior of emotional readers has been debated for three centuries. Keen surveys these debates and illustrates the techniques that invite empathetic response. She argues that the perception of fictiveness increases the likelihood of readers' empathy in part by releasing them from the guarded responses necessitated by the demands of real others. Narrative empathy is a strategy and subject of contemporary novelists from around the world, writers who tacitly endorse the potential universality of human emotions when they call upon their readers' empathy. If narrative empathy is to be taken seriously, Keen suggests, then women's reading and responses to popular fiction occupy a central position in literary inquiry, and cognitive literary studies should extend its range beyond canonical novels. In short, Keen's study extends the playing field for literature practitioners, causing it to resemble more closely that wide open landscape inhabited by readers.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Review of Empathy and the Novel - the right idea gone...Oprah 1 July 2013
By Lou Agosta - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Strengths: This text contains many wonderful examples of empathy in English literature, empathizing with characters and situations in fiction, as well as the profound impact of the scientific research on empathy on departments of English literature at the university level. In a one-on-one conversation that this reviewer was privileged to have with H.G. Gadamer over a cup of coffee at a Northwestern University phenomenology conference in the late 1970s, he told me: "Study literature to increase your empathy." I have followed that advice. Keen documents in a useful way that, while distinct, empathy exploits the same mechanisms in empathizing with literature and empathizing with real people. Contra K. L. Walton (Mimesis as Make-Believe), the fear a person feels in watching a horror movie or dreaming about robbers is real fear. The fear is fear. The green slime or robbers are imaginary (of course). Thus, empathy provides a powerful insight into a dimension of the situation uncontaminated by substitutions, displacements, or condensations, i.e., literary figures of speech. This is the same position that Freud asserted (The Interpretation of Dreams, (1900), J. Strachery, tr. New York: Avon Books, 1965: 497f.), and, for this reminder, we are grateful to Keen.
Weaknesses: Our strengths are our limitations. Never was this truer than in Keen's decision to focus on women's reading and responses to popular fiction and its central role in literary inquiry. In the context of Oprah's Book Club (p. 114-5), the author notes that "Empathy is an Oprah touchstone." Hmmm. It is perhaps unfair to Keen that I prefer the contributions of Goethe, Thomas Mann, Leo Tolstoy, and folktales, as well as the comparative literary approach of George Steiner (After Babel), who has a decidedly more psychologic method.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A many splended text! 14 Jun 2013
By Morrighan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brilliant in concept, Psychology and character development. It inspires one to develop another multi themed text on the topic. Child language and social skills as they develop through reading and learning of character.
If you love Reading a book, this book will explain why 31 Oct 2014
By Prison Librarian - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anyone wanting to promote reading or understand why their brain loves to read a good book, this is a welcome explanation. Lots of examples and discussion of brain science.
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