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?


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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