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Age Differences in Responding to the Literary Character: Secondary School Pupils Vs. University Students

17 ottobre 2018 -
Age Differences in Responding to the Literary Character: Secondary School Pupils Vs. University Students

Contributo selezionato da Filodiritto tra quelli pubblicati nei Proceedings “International Conference Beliefs and Behaviours in Education and Culture - 2016”

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Contribution selected by Filodiritto among those published in the Proceedings “International Conference Beliefs and Behaviours in Education and Culture - 2016”

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In this paper, I propose a comparative analysis between the receptions of the same literary text by two categories of readers: secondary school pupils and university students.

Today’s youth’s reading is essential for cultural development of contemporary society, and the interrelationship between the literary text and its readers needs special attention from each language and literature educator. In this paper, I propose a comparative analysis between the receptions of the same literary text by two categories of readers: secondary school pupils and university students.

In this analysis, I perceive literature as a form of communication, which opens the receptors’ perception subtly, involving their imagination and creativity. In order for it to be, the story has to find its place in ourselves, because any literary work lives not (only) between the covers of a book, but in the readers’ imagination. After appropriating the work, the readers render it back to reality, by its effects on “real” life and by sharing the book values with the others. From this angle, I base my approach on perspectives on the empirical study of literature, which emphasize the idea that, besides the analysis of the literary critic, the reception of everyday readers also needs to be taken into consideration [1].

Another premise is that the analysis of the hypothetical reader needs to be completed by investigations on statistic readers, groups of real readers with identifiable social status [2].

Applying literary questionnaires focused on real readers’ reading is one of the most frequently techniques of investigating literary reception. In my analysis, I have investigated two groups of readers, 25 secondary school pupils from the “William Shakespeare Theoretical High School” in Timișoara and 25 students of the West University of Timișoara.

I have decided to apply literary questionnaires on reading Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, because I consider this great love novel a book about reading as well. The book shows us how the main character, Emma Bovary, defines herself in relationship with the world she finds in her readings. The novel narrates Emma’s adulterous story, based mainly on a communication rupture between she and her husband, the rural doctor Charles Bovary. Influenced by the romantic world of the popular novels she reads, Emma is looking for passionate love in two adulterous relationships, which also end in great disappointment. The fact that Charles does not appreciate the literary values in the same manner as Emma is a source of her sentimental detachment of him: “In Eugene Sue she studied descriptions of furniture; she read Balzac and George Sand, seeking in them imaginary satisfaction for her own desires. Even at table she had her book by her and turned over the pages while Charles ate and talked to her (my italics). […] This was an existence outside that of all others, between heaven and earth, in the midst of storms, having something of the sublime. For the rest of the world it was lost, with no particular place and as if non-existent. The nearer things were, moreover, the more her thoughts turned away from them.” (Part I, Chapter IX). [3]

Although Charles’ mother tried to make his son love reading, she is insensitive to romance literature and tries to forbid Emma’s readings, considering that sort of literature a real poison.

Emma shares the same reading strategies with Leon, a young student who will become her lover, and their first meeting at the inn “Lion d’Or” shows not only their common passions, but their involvement in literature reading:

“My wife doesn’t care about it,” said Charles; “although she has been advised to take

exercise, she prefers always sitting in her room reading.”

“Like me,” replied Leon. “And indeed, what is better than to sit by one’s fireside in the evening with a book, while the wind beats against the window and the lamp is burning?”

“What, indeed?” she said, fixing her large black eyes wide open upon him.

“One thinks of nothing,” he continued; “the hours slip by. Motionless we traverse countries we fancy we see, and your thought, blinding with the fiction, playing with the details, follows the outline of the adventures. It mingles with the characters, and it seems as if it were yourself palpitating beneath their costumes.”

“That is true! That is true?” she said.

“Has it ever happened to you,” Leon went on, “to come across some vague idea of one’s own in a book, some dim image that comes back to you from afar, and as the completest expression of your own slightest sentiment?”

“I have experienced it,” she replied. (Part two, Chapter II) [3].

Analysing the real readers’ reception of the book I am referring in my paper to different literary communities and the way that they read the same text. In many approaches to literary reception, the role of the “common” reader is also emphasized. Literature should not be regarded only from the canonical point of view, as the literary critic is not an unchallenged authority. This is why I take into account the empirical approach on literary reception promoted by researchers from Canada (like David S. Miall, Don Kuiken, Marissa Bortolussi etc. [4]), Italy (Aldo Nemesio) etc. and the previous theoretical directions of reader-response criticism (Stanley Fish [5], Norman Holland, David Bleich) and those of the aesthetics of reception (Hans Robert Jauss, Wolfgang Iser) [6].


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