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ENGL353 Reading Minds: Literature and Psychology

Focuses on the psychological dimensions of prominent literary texts. Canvasses the complex relationship between literature and psychology from a broad range of perspectives.

While literature is inherently interdisciplinary, the relationship between literature and psychology is perhaps particularly intimate. Reading takes us into the minds of characters, and these characters - like the humans upon whom they are modelled - frequently face a range of psychological challenges. In response, they may develop characterological adaptations that can generate problems in psychological functioning - problems that affect not just the characters themselves, but also those with whom they stand in relation.

In this paper, we read a range of literary texts with a view to understanding - both analytically and empathetically - some of these problems and adaptions, as well the changing ways in which they have been addressed by the clinical profession. Thus the paper begins with a critical analysis of the treatment of "madness" via conventional psychiatric institutions, before turning to the power of psychoanalysis in addressing questions such as trauma, narcissism, and impaired forms of relationality. Further, instead of simply considering these "pathologies" the property of individuals, the paper adopts a psychosocial lens to emphasise the broader social dimensions underpinning maladapted psychological formations, as well as their (frequently unconscious) transgenerational transmission. It concludes with a reflection on the little or big "madnesses" that may lie hidden within the very fabric of what is considered to be "sane" and "normal" in Western society.

At the end of this paper, students will have greater awareness of, and be able to reflect more deeply about, the psychological dimenions at work in literary texts and sociocultural discourses more broadly.

Paper title Reading Minds: Literature and Psychology
Paper code ENGL353
Subject English
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Semester 1 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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One 200-level ENGL paper or 54 points
Schedule C
Arts and Music
Teaching staff

Course Convenor: Dr Simone Drichel
Other lecturing staff: to be advised

Paper Structure

Assessment for this paper consists of one creative response (1,250 - 1,500 words), a research essay (2,500 words), and a final exam (3 hours).

Teaching Arrangements

Two 1-hour lectures per week.
1-hour tutorials at pre-announced times (eight in total).

  • Ken Kesey, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Penguin)
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (Penguin)
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein [1818 text] (Oxford)
  • Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (Phoenix)
  • Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (Mariner)
  • Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You (Penguin)
  • J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace (Vintage)
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Research.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

ENGL 353 aims to:

  • Present a selection of literary texts in relation to questions of psychology
  • Develop skills in various aspects of literary study, including theoretical tools and terms for analysis
  • Address aspects of essay writing, research and expression

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Semester 1

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Tuesday 11:00-11:50 9-14, 16, 18-22
Thursday 11:00-11:50 9-14, 16-22


Stream Days Times Weeks
Attend one stream from
A1 Thursday 13:00-13:50 10-12, 14, 17-18, 20-21
A2 Thursday 14:00-14:50 10-12, 14, 17-18, 20-21
A3 Thursday 15:00-15:50 10-12, 14, 17-18, 20-21