Literature Promotes Empathy and Self Understanding, Example of

As I was steeping myself in the art of the popular genre writers of the day—Thomas B. Costain (The Black Rose, The Silver Chalice), Frances Parkinson Keyes (Dinner at Antoine’s, Came a Cavalier), Samuel Shellabarger (Captain from Castile, Prince of Foxes), Frank Yerby (The Foxes of Harrow, A Woman Called Fancy)—I was also marching through the middlebrow writers (John P. Marquand, Pearl S. Buck, John O’Hara), the current literary heroes (Waugh, Orwell, Faulkner), and the classics: Balzac, Dickens, Hardy, Twain. My crucial literary experience of these pre-college years was my first reading of Emma, when I was sixteen. When Emma behaves so rudely to poor, harmless, talkative Miss Bates in the famous scene of the picnic on Box Hill, I was suffused with mortification: I had been forced to look at my own acts of carelessness and unkindness. Jane Austen had pinned me to the wall. It was the first time I really made the connection between what I was reading and my inner self. There was no religious instruction in my life, no guiding principles other than to work hard, and my mind was not a philosophical one. It was in the novel, beginning with Emma, that I would discover some kind of moral compass.

Avid Reader: A Life
Robert Gottlieb