When Literature Comes to our Aid: Investigations into Psychological Understanding in the Writing of Seneca and Montaigne, Wordsworth and George Eliot.



Green, KL
(2018) When Literature Comes to our Aid: Investigations into Psychological Understanding in the Writing of Seneca and Montaigne, Wordsworth and George Eliot. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Abstract

This thesis investigates the ways in which literature creates therapeutic spaces in which to do personal thinking. By a combination of literary analysis and practical experimentation this thesis seeks to provide a contribution to the relation of the reading of literature to the practice of psychology. It argues that literature has a vital role to play in the real world, whilst insisting that the methods of close literary analysis and literary thinking are preserved. Chapter one establishes the relationship between Stoicism and certain modern day psychological therapies. It offers an analysis of the Roman philosopher Seneca’s letters in relation to the tragedies that preceded them. These texts are usually studied in isolation whereas this thesis identifies places of overlap and exchange between the two literary forms. Chapter two explores the work of the sixteenth-century essayist Michel de Montaigne, focussing on his valuable modification of Stoicism into what we might today recognise as an individual model of personal psychology and self-exploration. Chapter three examines Wordsworth’s relationship to Seneca and considers the poet’s transformation of Stoic thought into a philosophy of restorative transmutation. This chapter sets out what is meant by ‘literary thinking’ in relation to Wordsworth’s poetry and argues for its practical, therapeutic value in the world. Chapter four consists of two reading experiments which test the interpretations made within the previous chapter on modern readers. Experiment A compares reader responses to a newspaper article with responses to extracts from Wordsworth’s poetry. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of data collected suggests that, in certain cases, the poetry triggered more active reading, greater emotional focus, and higher levels of imaginative uncertainty. Experiment B examines the effects of sustained personal engagement with one of Wordsworth’s longer poems. Analysis of diaries written over a period of two weeks by a group of participants suggests that, in certain cases, the poetry encouraged blended forms of thinking and stimulated readers to shift out of default modes. Chapter five examines the therapeutic model that is contained within George Eliot’s realist novels, rooted to her reading of Wordsworth, Feuerbach and Spinoza. A third experiment, based upon a letter-writing task, tests whether/how her fiction can trigger significant thinking capacities in modern readers, such as the capacity for perspective taking. The thesis concludes by consolidating its vision of a literary-based form of therapy and discussing the implications for future research. It argues that the therapeutic potential of literature is specifically related to its ability to encourage the blending, widening, repositioning and reappraisal of thoughts.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: Faculty of Health and Life Sciences > Institute of Population Health
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2018 15:36
Last Modified: 18 Sep 2021 07:10
DOI: 10.17638/03025512
Supervisors:
URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/3025512