A.S. Byatt ruminates


Thomas Pavel once gave a splendid paper on the changes in the presentation of human nature during the history of the novel. In the beginning, he said, characters had immortal souls, and their actions took place in a battle between good and evil for the salvation or damnation of these souls. In later sentimental novels, souls had been replaced by hearts; what mattered was romantic love, and the recognition of other selves. Later still, he said, the heart had been replaced by the psyche – a system of unconscious drives, revealed in dreams, not clear to the characters, though controlled by the author, who like the analyst, understood the forms of energy and action. Iris Murdoch felt that humans – including those of her characters who were philosophers and psychoanalysts – had not understood the shift in the moral world that had come about with the absconding of God, the vanishing of external, metaphysical moral authority. Her analysts tend to be daemonic, manipulating what she described as a “system” and a “mechanism” of sadomasochism.

more from the TLS here.