5 April 2023 at 7:35:29 am
Tohoku Gakuin University
Yoriko Izumi is a professor of English Literature at Tohoku Gakuin University, Japan. Her work focuses specifically on 20th-century British novels and short stories. She also works on the potential for bibliotherapy from a literary research viewpoint.
Reading Short Stories for Psychological Well-Being
W. S. Maugham, O. Henry, Bibliotherapy
This presentation aims to explore, through a close reading of two stories written by W. S. Maugham (1874–1965) and O. Henry (1862–1910), the bibliotherapeutic potential of reading short stories.
Bibliotherapy is defined as ‘the use of selected reading materials as a therapeutic adjuvant in medicine and psychiatry, also guidance in the solution of personal problems through directed reading’ (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary). In the past 2 decades, the objects and applications covered by bibliotherapy have become flexible and extensive; accordingly, studies and reports on this subject have continued to increase. Indeed, books have served as valuable sources of wisdom for countless readers for centuries; they have healed our anguish, inspired our courage to move forward and offered us living models, among others. Meanwhile, bibliotherapy is an attempt to link literary works with a more practical potential by determining, through design, how books facilitate the management of different problems, including enuresis, divorce, alcohol dependency, low self-esteem and ethnic identity.
While many studies in the last 20 years have used self-help books for bibliotherapy, a mapping of academic papers focusing on the therapeutic role of literary texts has confirmed that all forms of literature (novels, poetry, short stories, fables and haikus) are helpful in readjusting readers to their experiences and lives. These studies also suggest the further urgency of developing the potential for bibliotherapy from a literary research viewpoint.
As an attempt to develop this line of thinking, this presentation examines the literary techniques and skills adopted in W. S. Maugham’s ‘The Fall of Edward Barnard’ and O. Henry’s ‘Witches Loaves’. A common feature extracted from these two short stories is the role of place – that is, by depicting characters who settle down in a quiet life in specific locations, the authors provide hints as to where and how one can find happiness. Maugham’s manipulating voice effectively facilitates the reader’s identification with a character in that they are given the opportunity to interpret the character’s motive and then reflect on their own. Henry’s typical style of ending readjusts the reader’s perception, the viewpoint from which they face their personal experience. In addition, the two writers’ experiences and life histories formed their unique and even sceptical thoughts on what we are as humans. Various themes, such as egoism, misconception, indiscrimination, loneliness, disposition, integrity, sensitivity, vulnerability, self-sacrifice and compassion, are well portrayed and inferred through the writers’ sensitivity.
Thank you very much for organizing the conference. I would like to ask you two things.
As it is still during the academic term in Japan, I have to arrive in Tokyo in the morning of June 23 to go back to work. So, it will be appreciated if I can present my paper (when accepted) during the first 3 days (June 20, 21, 22). For my presentation, I would like to use PowerPoint. Thank you very much in advance for your support and management.