Hi Bernie,
	As it turns out I am currently reading your second book on George
Eliot.  And also currently reading Daniel Deronda.  So a livel7y dialogue
with you is in process here.
	I must say however that I find Norm's theory reductive and
solipsistic.  No quarrel with the notion that we "make" the character by
projecting our psyche into the text.  [Though also perhaps my position
allows the text 6to bite back into us much more than other theories of this
transaction since Prosser's allows.] My quarrel is with all the ways this
position has been used to protect the reader when the power of great
literature is always to expose us to so many things we don't want to
confront about ourselves.  Of course the same is true of most psychoanalytic
practices, especially in America today where the sacrificing of everything
radical in freud to the adaptation-attachment-happy talk ego/self proves
nothing aside from the fact that p-a in america has become the mental health
adjustment wing of conformity to the ideologies of late capitalism. 

walter a. davis
Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University

-----Original Message-----
From: Discussion Group for Psychology and the Arts
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Bernard Paris
Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 4:18 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Thoughts about complex characters

Dear Mac,

    Of course, there are great differences in how we understand the way real
people are motivated.  We may agree that a character is mimetic, round,
complex and have totally different explanations of that character's inner
life and behavior.  I rarely agree with anyone else's analysis of a
character--not fully at least; and except for my students (a special case),
I have rarely found anyone who entirely agreed with mine.  When I first
wrote on Hamlet, in the 1970s, I sent the essay to Norm Holland, who was
then at Buffalo while I was at Michigan State, and he thanked me for sharing
the account of "your Hamlet"--a response I did not appreciate.  I thought I
was writing about Shakespeare's Hamlet, not mine; but Norm was right, of
course.  Nobody else sees Hamlet the same way that I do, though I thought I
had provided a definitive explanation of his inner conflicts and behavior
(it still works for me).  Your Hamlet, Mac, is interesting, complex, etc.,
but he is not mine.  There is no more certain knowledge of the motivations
of mimetic characters than there is of real people.  But we are bound to
keep trying to make sense of both.  Topic for a new thread?

    To return to the topic of complex characters, I received an off-list
e-mail from Norm Holland that asked if I would "consider bracketing your 
types with 'as I, or somebody, perceives them.'"   I think this question 
is of general interest, and I hope the moderator would have posted it if
Norm had submitted it to PSYART.  The answer is, of course!  I tend to see
characters as mimetic and complex more often than most other literary
critics because I am more focused on the fecundity of detail of which W. J.
Harvey speaks, and I am more focused on details about characters' feeling,
inner conflicts, and relationships because I approach them from a
theoretical perspective that helps me first to register and then to make
sense of them.  I was trained to approach characters in terms of their
formal and thematic functions, and when I wrote my dissertation on George
Eliot, which became my first book (EXPERIMENTS IN LIFE: GEORGE ELIOT'S QUEST
FOR VALUES), I discussed her characters in relation to her Religion of
Humanity.  These readings were not wrong, but they were very incomplete in
that they simply ignored all the rich mimetic detail in which the greatness
of the characterization lay.  After several years of psychotherapy, I began
to reread George Eliot, and I found a very different author, one whose
psychological intuitions were amazing and whose characters escaped, and
indeed often subverted, their illustrative roles.  I tell this story in
GE's characters are complexly mimetic as I see them now, though they were
not as I saw them before. 

    What I like most about the thread that you started, Mac, is that it is
encouraging people to look at highly developed characters as imagined human
beings (my chapter on ANTIGONE was taken from a book with that title--NYUP,
1997); and this might help to promote the appreciation of mimetic
characterization, which has been unduly neglected in contemporary literary


walter a davis wrote:
> This is a superb outline of thoughts on the topic.  I keep coming back 
> to one statement, however, about how when an author creates a complex 
> mimetic character we legitimately understand them in terms of "our 
> knowledge of the way real people are motivated."  I come back to that 
> because that is, of course, the problem.  How paltry the understanding 
> most people have of the way real people are motivated.  And be that as 
> it may, it is an immense problem--the problem, in fact, of 
> psychoanalysis.  How are real people motivated? And how many theores 
> of motivation are defenses and flights from in depth psychological
> walter a. davis
> Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Discussion Group for Psychology and the Arts
> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Bernard Paris
> Sent: Monday, October 12, 2009 3:53 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Thoughts about complex characters
> Dear Psyarters,
> I have been quite interested in the thread about complex characters
> the analysis of such characters has been one of my special interests as a
> literary critic. I have had so much to say on the subject that I have not
> known where to begin, but Dianne Hunter's response to Nora Crow gives me a
> starting place.
> dhunter wrote:
>> I don't think the personae in ancient Greek drama pass muster as 
>> complex characters in the same way Hamlet does. No one, so far, on 
>> this list has claimed that Hamlet isn't a complex character.
>> Hamlet has a personality, mystery, an unconscious set of motives, a 
>> complicated relation of parts, interiority, a succession ofroles etc.
>> Oedipus, Antigone, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Orestes et al. seem to me 
>> to be types or roles, not personalities. They play roles and don't 
>> complain about having to do so. Racine's characters seem to me to be 
>> personae as well, not personalities in the way Shakespeare's Cleopatra 
>> has a personality.
> Nora Crow had written:
>>> In our idolizing of Shakespeare, are we not forgetting characters 
>>> _very_ far back in literary history, e.g., Oedipus, Antigone, and all 
>>> the other creations of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides?
> What we need, of course, is a sophisticated taxonomy of kinds of
> but this is a poorly charted area in critical discourse. The best taxonomy
> know of is the one set forth by Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg in THE
> NATURE OF NARRATIVE (1966), where they differentiate between aesthetic,
> illustrative, and mimetic characterization. Aesthetic characters must be
> understood primarily in terms of their technical functions and formal and
> dramatic effects. All characters have some aesthetic functions.
> characters are "concepts in anthropoid shape or fragments of the human
> psyche parading as whole human beings" (88). We try to understand "the
> principle they illustrate through their actions in a narrative framework."
> Behind realistic literature there is a strong "psychological impulse" that
> "tends toward the presentation of highly individualized figures who resist
> abstraction and generalization"(101). When we encounter fully drawn
> characters, "we are justified in asking questions about [their] motivation
> based on our knowledge of the ways in which real people are motivated"
> Mimetic characters usually play aesthetic and illustrative roles; but
> numerous details have been called forth by the author's desire to make
> lifelike, complex, and inwardly intelligible; and these will go unnoticed
> we confine ourselves to their formal and thematic functions.
> When we understand mimetic characters in motivational terms, we find that
> while they are part of the fictional world in which they exist, they are
> also autonomous beings with an inner logic of their own. They are the
> product of a character-creating impulse that tends to go its own way as
> authors become absorbed in imagining fictional beings and their
> relationships. They say, do, think, and feel things that belong to the
> portrayal of their psyches but that may have no other function. As W. J. 
> Harvey observes in CHARACTER AND THE NOVEL (1965), the mark of mimetic
> characterization is "a surplus margin of gratuitous life, a sheer excess
> material, a fecundity of detail and invention" that "often overflows the
> strict necessities of form" (188). This excess of material is not only
> unnecessary for the authors' formal and thematic purposes, it is often in
> conflict with them. There are almost always disparities between what great
> mimetic characters are supposed to illustrate and the detailed portrayal
> their inner life and behavior.
> E. M. Forster's discussion of "round" characters in ASPECTS OF THE NOVEL
> provides an excellent account of the tensions that often arise between
> theme, and mimesis. "The novelist," says Forster, "has a very mixed lot of
> ingredients to handle" (1949, 64). There is the story with its plot and
> themes. The story is about people; and the characters "arrive when evoked,
> but full of the spirit of mutiny." They are mischievous. They have
> parallels with people like ourselves, they try to live their own lives and
> are consequently often engaged in treason against the main scheme of the
> book. They 'run away,' they 'get out of hand': they are creations inside a
> creation" who are "often inharmonious" toward the larger whole of which
> are a part. "If they are given complete freedom, they kick the book to
> pieces, and if they are kept too sternly in check, they revenge themselves
> by dying, and destroy it by intestinal decay." Such characters frequently
> have a subversive effect on the works in which they appear.
> All the characters we think of as "complex" are round or mimetic
> but not all such characters are rendered in equal detail. As Shlomith
> (Routledge, 1996), there is a continuum from lesser to greater degrees of
> "complexity, development," and "penetration into the inner life." We need
> refinement of the Scholes and Kellogg taxonomy to help us talk about
> different levels of mimetic characterization, about the differences, say,
> between Antigone and Hamlet.
> In my view, Shakespeare and Dostoevsky are the two greatest creators of
> complex mimetic characters, but many great characters have been created by
> other authors as well. As I have said, I have devoted much of my career to
> analyzing such characters in motivational terms; and those who are
> interested can find an account of my work by visiting my
> website: <>. This website has not been
> for several years, so let me add some information here. 
> Macmillan in 2008. BARGAINS WITH FATE: 
> contains, among other things, my reading of HAMLET) was reissued by
> Transaction Publishers in 2008. It and several other books are available
> electronic form via the Links page. HEAVEN AND ITS DISCONTENTS: 
> MILTON'S CHARACTERS IN PARADISE LOST will be published by Transaction in
> Spring 2010. It discusses God, Satan, Adam, and Eve as complex characters,
> with God being the most complex, though Satan is also a masterpiece, of
> course.
> Most complex characters other than Shakespeare's have come after him. 
> His work was a remarkable leap forward, but a number of characters in
> earlier literature have a mimetic dimension. I have discussed
> several--Antigone, Creon, Walter, and patient Griselda--in IMAGINED HUMAN
> BEINGS; but, as some postings have suggested, there are others. I am
> including my chapter on ANTIGONE as an attachment to provide examples of
> complex characters before Shakespeare, though his greatest ones are far
> complex to be sure.
> Bernard Paris