What can Alice in Wonderland teach us about childhood? Could reading Conversations with Friends guide us through first love? Does Esther Greenwood’s glittering success and subsequent collapse in The Bell Jar help us understand ambition? And, finally, what can we learn about death from Virginia Woolf?
Literature matters. Not only does it provide escapism and entertainment, but it also holds a mirror up to our lives to show us aspects of ourselves we may not have seen or understood. From jealousy to grief, fierce love to deep hatred, our inner lives become both stranger and more familiar when we explore them through fiction.
Josh Cohen, a psychoanalyst and Professor of Modern Literary Theory, delves deep into the inner lives of the most memorable and vivid characters in literature. His analysis of figures such as Jay Gatsby and Mrs Dalloway offers insights into the greatest questions about the human experience, ones that we can all learn from. He walks us through the different stages of existence, from childhood to old age, showing that literature is much more than a refuge from the banality and rigour of everyday life – through the experiences of its characters, it can show us ways to be wiser, more open and more self-aware.