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Bergler, E. (1953). True Feelings and “Tear-Jerkers” in Literary Work. Am. Imago, 10(1):83-86.

(1953). American Imago, 10(1):83-86

True Feelings and “Tear-Jerkers” in Literary Work

Edmund Bergler, M.D.

What is the differential diagnosis between true and false sentiment in fiction? My examination of this question was prompted by an amusing incident with two friends. One of these is a previous patient (a first class writer cured of writer's block) who after analysis became my friend; the other is his literary agent who also happened to be a friend of mine. The author forwarded a new story to his agent, and, because he knew I would be interested in the subject matter, mailed the carbon to me. The story made a deep impression, so deep in fact that I wrote both the author and the agent to this effect. My letter to the agent crossed one from him, which contained his impression of the story: “X just delivered a very successful story… It is a conventional tear-jerker.”

The author's opinion of his work and my own were obviously diametrically opposed to that of a highly professional and experienced agent. Two questions now presented themselves: how two such diametrically opposed opinions could be possible; and whether or not some yardstick did exist which would explain such discrepancies.

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