An empathic reading of the romantics
Bennett, Sue Elna Burgamy
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While Freud concentrated on libidinal repressions, especially those associated with the oedipal struggles of father-son relationships, Jung was more interested in shared repressions--repressions that transcend nationality and history. An inherent sexism, however, permeates the works of both men. The theories of Heinz Kohut, on the other hand, expand the findings of Freud and Jung in a more gender-equal way by focusing on empathic interrelationships. Some psychological approaches to literature fail to consider empathic responses of readers. Certain authors, however, expose repressive tendencies in their fictional characters, thus encouraging readers to recognize and acknowledge these repressions in themselves and in others. Blake, Coleridge, and the Shelleys attempted to blur gender distinctions in some of their works, especially when those distinctions impose limitations or prescribe behaviors. These Romantic authors expressed alternative visions of the world by turning their focus inward, exploring the repressed characteristics of the human psyche. Rather than accept the cultural personas of the time, they chose to examine aspects of the psyche which their culture tended to discredit, repress, or ignore. In the process, these writers anticipated certain trends in current feminist theory, which suggest that the terms "feminine" and "masculine" are adjectives describing culturally constructed traits rather than biologically conditioned ones. Cultural norms shape feminine and masculine identities. How a reader reacts to a literature that disrupts those norms is the focus of this study.