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The emotions a character feels--Hamlet's vengefulness when he realizes his uncle has killed his father, Anna Karenina's despair when she feels she can longer sustain her life, Marcel's joy when he tastes a piece of madeleine cake--are vital aspects of the experience of fiction. As Keith Oatley points out, it's not just the emotions of literary characters such as these in which we are interested. If we didn't ourselves experience emotions, we wouldn't go to the play, or watch the film, or read the book. In The Passionate Muse, Oatley, who is both a prize-winning novelist and a distinguished research psychologist, offers a hybrid book that alternates sections of an original short story, "One Another," with chapters that illuminate the psychology of emotion and fiction. Oatley not only provides insight into how people engage in stories, he also illuminates the value of emotion and the importance of stories for our psychological well-being. Indeed, he offers evidence that the more fiction we read, the better is our understandings of others. Through fiction, we come to know more about the emotions of others and ourselves.
Keith Oatley is Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Toronto. He is the author of three novels and six books of psychology, and co-author of the textbook Understanding Emotions.