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

See all articles by Vanessa L. Ryan

Vanessa L. Ryan

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: October 1, 2009

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Ryan, Vanessa L., Reading the Mind: From George Eliot’s Fiction to James Sully’s Psychology (October 1, 2009). Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 70, No. 4, pp. 615-635, October 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1732762

Vanessa L. Ryan (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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