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Using the stories of literary characters to analyze your life

By Meghan Coppinger
Staff Writer

In consuming works of literature, characters bring fresh ideas, experiences and perspectives to the reader’s world. A literary critic and theorist noted this at the College’s inaugural lecture as part of the Visiting Speaker Series on Tuesday, April 7, in the Library Auditorium.

Peter Brooks, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholar at Princeton University, spoke to students and faculty of the English Department about “persons and optics” in novels and other literary pieces.

Brooks described “our understanding of ourselves” as something that can be helped when reading a novel. This theory comes from the work of several novelists, historians and experts, including Marcel Proust, T.J. Clark and Mark Twain.

“We need the novel because it changes our view of the world and the people in it,” Brooks said.

In other words, when you read and immerse yourself in a literary character’s world, you gain insight and reflection on who you are and how you would feel in a real-life scenario.

“It’s interesting to think of seeing the world through a different person’s eyes when you read a story,”  said Morgan Romba, a senior education and English double major who attended the lecture.

An important tip Brooks had for the audience, many of whom were aspiring educators, was to assist young readers who analyze characters too simply. They should neither believe characters are real people nor believe characters are black and white. Characters represent an opportunity to look at your own life, and the lives of others through a new lens.

“The more you read, the more insight you gain into other people’s lives,” Romba said.

Faculty welcomed the scholar and novelist with a warm speech, stating Brooks has multiple “identities” that make him a well-rounded and impressive expert.

“There is so much to admire in the identities of Peter Brooks,” English professor Michael Robertson said.

Brooks, described in his biography at the event as “one of the most prolific and highly regarded literary critics and theorists of his generation,” has authored many books and novels, with interests in “19th and 20th century novel, psychoanalysis and the interrelations of law and literature.”

In a lively discussion with the audience after the lecture, Brooks spoke of the excitement which crafting novels can bring.

“For me, trying to create a narrative was simultaneous with creating characters — it had to unfold,” Brooks said.

The event served as a useful networking experience for students to get to know more about literature beyond the textbook.

“It was very informative to get an expert’s opinion on what we read in class,” senior English major Whitney Hendrickson said.

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