Why Do We Care About Literary Characters? by Blakey Vermeule - review by Philip Davis

Philip Davis

Novel Ideas

Why Do We Care About Literary Characters?

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Johns Hopkins University Press 273pp order from our bookshop
 

Students can get up to some embarrassing things, but one of the worst, in the eyes of the over-professionalised academic, is when they follow the untaught instincts of ordinary readers. It made her panic, Blakey Vermeule confesses, when a student in her graduate class at Northwestern University in 2002 committed a sudden terrible heresy: ‘talking about a fictional character as though he were a real person’! 

Literary theory has for decades declared the response that treats characters as if real to be a fallacy; it shows a naive ignorance of the fictionality of fiction to favour (as Vermeule puts it) mere ‘psychological interest’ over ‘more difficult topics’. These allegedly more difficult topics are of

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