Reading the Mind: From George Eliot’s Fiction to James Sully’s Psychology
Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 70, No. 4, pp. 615-635, October 2009
21 Pages Posted: 31 Dec 2010 Last revised: 4 Jan 2011
Date Written: October 1, 2009
This essay presents psychologist James Sully’s interest in George Eliot’s fiction as a compelling illustration of the bi-directional influences of science and literature. James Sully's 1881 essay "George Eliot's Art," published in Mind, reveals the vital influence on George Eliot's fiction of mid-nineteenth-century thories of mind, especially concepts of unconscious mental action. His perceptive reading of George Eliot's novels leads him to pose a question more characteristic of our time than of his, asking from the point of view of psychology, "what is the function of fiction?" Sully’s reading of George Eliot and his argument about novelistic agency allows us to reconsider more broadly what we mean when we speak of the "psychological novel" or of "consciousness" in fiction.
Keywords: Victorian, Nineteenth Century, Fiction, Novels, Cognition, Function, Psychological Novel, Consciousness, Unconscious Cerebration, George Eliot, James Sully
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