There is a kind of literature that directly affects the reader—the transformative novel—influencing her process of becoming a responsive self socialized to an intentional ethical action and habituated to a particular shaping of her lived realities. The characters and situations encountered in these transformative novels people and define a reader’s moral imagination. The role of the moral imagination is to provide a space in the reader’s psychic life where the rich and diverse materials harvested from committed readings of transformative novels inspire and guide the reader’s process of deliberation.
Through these reflections an individual comes to fully know herself in relationship to the world around her, making choices about how she must meet the challenges presented in new situations or even in those experiences to which she mentally constitutes as repetitions of past experiences.
Transformative novels, read by the type of knowing readers for whom literature matters, change the reader’s worldview, acting (for her) as an entry point to multiple socialities, allowing her to engage with and overtly influence the world. These novels assist the reader in a variety of ways. Drawing from the experiences of two literary others—Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett—as they proceed through their own similar imaginative reflection, I will show that the committed reader learns ways of entering into the deliberative process herself and through the dramatic rehearsal of reflective intelligence recognizes her responsibility as an autonomous and unique individual whose own life and decisions matter and have consequence.
Not every novel provides consistently positive role models or scenarios, nor does every committed reader approach transformative novels in the same way. Although contextualization (the unique trajectory of a reader’s own personal history of reading and habits) is an important factor, in the reader’s imaginative playacting different roles there is an elliptic encounter with other readers (undergoing their own reflective deliberation) that transcends the limits of individual contexts and pushes the realm of the moral imagination into the social sphere.