Imagination, Inference, Intimacy: The Psychology of Pride and Prejudice

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A novel is based on suggestions from which readers construct characters and events in an imagined story world. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s suggestions derive from 3 sets of cues: (a) characters’ utterances; (b) thoughts of characters, of the narrator, and even of readers; and (c) narrated depictions of settings, characters, actions and events. Tracing people’s simulations of stories offers a route into the psychology of imagination, in which readers make inferences about what happens in a story. Austen invites intimacy with readers by metonymy, playfulness, and irony. Her novel does not seek to persuade; it communicates indirectly and with ambiguity. Among psychological effects of literary art such as Pride and Prejudice, readers can become better able to empathize and understand other people, and better able to understand and change themselves. For psychology, imaginative engagement in the simulations of fiction may be as important as empirical findings of causes of behavior.

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