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Paris, B.J. (1991). A Horneyan Approach to Literature. Am. J. Psychoanal., 51(3):319-337.

(1991). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 51(3):319-337

A Horneyan Approach to Literature

Bernard J. Paris, Ph.D.

I have been developing a Horneyan approach to literature since 1964. In a series of books and essays, I have tried to show how Horney's theory can be a powerful tool for the study of authors from a wide variety of periods and cultures and how it can illuminate many literary issues. After first using Horney to help me make sense of thematic contradictions in Vanity Fair, I realized that her theories are marvelously congruent with mimetic portrayals of character in a great deal of literature; and I became aware of the fact that when we understand realistic characters in Horneyan terms, we often find ourselves at odds with the interpretation of them presented by the author. In addition to helping us analyze character, theme, and the tensions between them, Horney's theory also sheds light on narrative techniques, such as multiple or unreliable narrators, and on a number of other matters that I shall discuss very briefly at the end.

Drawing on previous and forthcoming work, as well as on work in progress, I shall explain and illustrate each of these applications of Horneyan theory. Since limitations of space will require partial and condensed expositions, the reader should consult my other publications for fuller accounts of each application.

A Horneyan Approach to Thematic Contradictions

I first read Karen Horney in 1959 at the suggestion of Theodore Millon, then a colleague at Lehigh University, who had remarked that people in the humanities might find such theorists as Fromm, Sullivan, and Horney to be useful in their work. After having read these theorists, along with Freud, Jung, Reik, Hartmann, Erikson, and others, I found Horney the most compelling, for she not only described my behavior in an immediately recognizable way, but she seemed to have invaded my privacy and to have understood my insecurities, my inner conflicts, and my unrealistic demands on myself.

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