Stream of Consciousness Novel: Definition & Examples

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      The Psychological novel is also known as psychological realism or Stream of Consciousness Novel, is a type of novel that focuses on the complex mental and emotional lives of its characters and explores the various levels of mental activity. Psychological novel is a work of fiction in which the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of the characters are of equal or greater interest than is the external action of the narrative. In a psychological novel the emotional reactions and internal states of the characters are influenced by external events in a meaningful symbiosis. This emphasis on the inner life of characters is a fundamental element of a vast body of fiction: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is perhaps the prime early example of it in dramatic form. The psychological novel first appeared in 17th century France. Although a preliminary touch of psychological approach is found in Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) and Laurence Sterne’s introspective first-person narrative Tristram Shandy (1759-67), the psychological novel did not appear in England until the Victorian era, when George Eliot became its first great exponent.

      The psychological novel reached its full potential only in the 20th century. Its development coincided with the growth of psychology and the discoveries of Sigmund Freud. The theories of Freud are credited as the source of the psychoanalytical novel. Freud was anticipated, however, by Shakespeare (in, for example, his treatment of Lady Macbeth’s somnambulistic guilt). Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment deals less with the ethical significance of a murder than with the soul of the murderer. Similarly, we can see the touches in Flaubert’s Emma Bovary, Tolstoy’s Anne Karenina and the novels of Henry James, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, Marcel Proust in French and some other novelists. The novels of Henry James are psychological in that the crucial events occur in the souls of the protagonists, and it was perhaps James more than any serious novelist before or since who convinced frivolous novel-readers that the psychological approach guarantees a lack of action and excitements. Virginia Woolf possibly borrowed the term from William James who used the technique to present an apparently unorganized, succession of images and ideas connected by association rather than logical sequences. Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage and James Joyce s A Portrait of the Artist as a Youngman, show only internal reality.

      The psychological novel turns away from external to internal reality from the outer world to the hidden world of fantasy and reverie. This type of novel is the voyage through the consciousness. In the psychological novel, plot is subordinate to and dependent upon the probing delineation of character. Events may not be presented in chronological order but they occur in the character’s thought associations, memories, fantasies, reveries, contemplations, and dreams. For instance, the action of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) takes place in Dublin in a 24-hour period, but the events of the day evoke associations that take the reader back and forth through the characters’ past and present lives. No traditional elements are used in this term of novel. Plot, character, tragedy, comedy, and the traditional elements like love, intrigue or hate could not create or communicate this modern sense of consciousness of mind. In fact, Virginia Woolf seems to have written in the imitation of Ulysses, which is a powerful study of ‘an ordinary mind on an ordinary day’. In the complex and ambiguous works of Franz Kafka, the subjective world is externalized, and events that appear to be happening in reality are governed by the subjective logic of dreams.

      Action is almost vanished from this novel type and only the psychological analysis of mind remains making the novel a succession of what is called ‘the interior monologues of the hero or heroine’ of the novel. The term interior monologue means the device by which the disassociated fragments of thoughts passing through the mind are represented. To the advocates of psychological novel life is not a series of incidents happening regularly or symmetrically. For them, life is “a semitransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end”. This is a pure psychology. It means that human experience is constantly changing. The richest experience comes in some exceptional moments. It is no factor morning or evening may represent eternity.

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