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Waddell, M. (1989). Experience and identification in George Eliot's novels. Free Associations, 1R(17):7-27.

(1989). Free Associations, 1R(17):7-27

Experience and identification in George Eliot's novels

Margot Waddell

‘No story is the same to us after the lapse of time; or rather, we who read it are no longer the same interpreters.’ I return to George Eliot's novels, after the lapse of time, thinking now about a quite specific aspect of her work, as it may relate to creative writing in general: the way in which the quality of the reader's emotional experience is rooted in the nature of the identification, not so much with the characters in the stories but with the internal processes of the author, made available in the ‘writing out’ of character. In so doing we may develop a notion of the nature and function of different types of emotional experience and the identifications that underlie them; a notion of how that may contribute to an understanding of what we mean by ‘personality growth’.

Bion suggests that the psychoanalyst's interpretation should be such that for the analysand the transition from knowing about reality to becoming real is furthered. In other words, he thought of the interpretation as effecting a transition from knowing the phenomena of the real self to becoming the real self (see, for example, Bion, 1970, ch. 3). A similar process may be involved in reading a novel. Possibly, too, George Eliot meant something of the same when she said: ‘if art does not enlarge men's sympathies it does nothing morally.’

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