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Psychological Fiction
Psychological thriller, psychological horror, psychological drama, psychological science fiction

In literature, psychological fiction (also psychological realism) is a narrative genre that emphasizes interior characterization and motivation to explore the spiritual, emotional, and mental lives of its characters. The mode of narration examines the reasons for the behaviours of the character, which propel the plot and explain the story.[1] Psychological realism is achieved with deep explorations and explanations of the mental states of the character's inner person, usually through narrative modes such as stream of consciousness and flashbacks.[2]

Early examples

The psychological novel has a rich past in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century works of Mme de Lafayette, the Abbé Prévost, Samuel Richardson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and many others, but it goes on being disinvented by ideologues and reinvented by their opponents because the subtleties of psychology defy most ideologies.[3]

The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki, written in 11th-century Japan, was considered by Jorge Luis Borges to be a psychological novel.[4] French theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, in A Thousand Plateaus, evaluated the 12th-century Arthurian author Chrétien de Troyes' Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart and Perceval, the Story of the Grail as early examples of the style of the psychological novel.[5]

Stendhal's The Red and the Black and Madame de La Fayette's The Princess of Cleves are considered the first precursors of the psychological novel.[6] The modern psychological novel originated, according to The Encyclopedia of the Novel, primarily in the works of Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun – in particular, Hunger (1890), Mysteries (1892), Pan (1894) and Victoria (1898).[7]

Notable examples

One of the greatest writers of the genre was Fyodor Dostoyevsky. His novels deal strongly with ideas, and characters who embody these ideas, how they play out in real world circumstances, and the value of them, most notably The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment.

In the literature of the United States, Henry James, Patrick McGrath, Arthur Miller, and Edith Wharton are considered "major contributor[s] to the practice of psychological realism."[8]


Psychological thriller

Main article: Psychological thriller

A subgenre of the thriller and psychological novel genres, emphasizing the inner mind and mentality of characters in a creative work. Because of its complexity, the genre often overlaps and/or incorporates elements of mystery, drama, action, slasher, and horror — often psychological horror. It bears similarities to the Gothic and detective fiction genres.[9]

Psychological horror

Main article: Psychological horror

A subgenre of the horror and psychological novel genres that relies on the psychological, emotional and mental states of characters to generate horror. On occasions, it overlaps with the psychological thriller subgenre to enhance the story suspensefully.

Psychological drama

Main article: Psychological drama

A subgenre of drama films with psychological elements, which focuses upon the emotional, mental, and psychological development of characters in a dramatic work. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Requiem for a Dream (2000), both based on novels, are notable examples of this subgenre.[10] Taxi Driver (1976) and The Wrestler (2008) are original psychological drama films.

Psychological science fiction

See also: Inner space (science fiction) and New Wave (science fiction)

Psychological science fiction refers to works that focus is on the character's inner struggle dealing with political or technological forces. A Clockwork Orange (1971) is a notable example of this genre.[11][12]


  1. ^ The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory Third Edition (1991) J.A. Cuddon, Ed. p. 709.
  2. ^ A Handbook to Literature Fourth Edition (1980), C. Hugh Holman, Ed., pp. 357–358
  3. ^ W. J. Leatherbarrow (18 July 2002). The Cambridge Companion to Dostoevskii. Cambridge University Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-521-65473-9.
  4. ^ Jorge Luis Borges, The Total Library:

    [The Tale of Genji, as translated by Arthur Waley,] is written with an almost miraculous naturalness, and what interests us is not the exoticism — the horrible word — but rather the human passions of the novel. Such interest is just: Murasaki's work is what one would quite precisely call a psychological novel. ... I dare to recommend this book to those who read me. The English translation that has inspired this brief insufficient note is called The Tale of Genji.

  5. ^ Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix (1987). "Year Zero: Faciality". A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Massumi, Brian. University of Minnesota Press. p. 174. ISBN 978-1-85168-637-7. When the novel began, with Chrétien de Troyes, for example, the essential character that would accompany it over the entire course of its history was already there: The knight of the novel of courtly love spends his time forgetting his name, what he is doing, what people say to him, he doesn't know where he is going or to whom he is speaking, he is continually drawing a line of absolute deterritorialization, but also losing his way, stopping, and falling into black holes. [...] Open Chrétien de Troyes to any page and you will find a catatonic knight seated on his steed, leaning on his lance, waiting, seeing the face of his loved one in the landscape; you have to hit him to make him respond. Lancelot, in the presence of the queen's white face, doesn't notice his horse plunge into the river; or he gets into a passing cart and it turns out to be the cart of disgrace.
  6. ^ Paul Schellinger, ed. (2014). "Psychological Novel and Roman d'analyse". Encyclopedia of the Novel. Routledge. p. 1057. ISBN 9781135918262.
  7. ^ Logan, Peter Melville; George, Olakunle; Hegeman, Susan; et al., eds. (2011). "Northern Europe". The Encyclopedia of the Novel, A–Li. Blackwell Publishing. p. 583. ISBN 978-1-4051-6184-8. Retrieved 6 February 2012. The most significant novelist of the Scandinavian countries is Knut Hamsun, who almost singlehandedly created the modern psychological novel through the publication of four works that probe the human subconscious, Sult (1890, Hunger), Mysterier (1892, Mysteries), Pan (1894), and Victoria (1898).
  8. ^ N. Baym, et al. Eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Shorter Seventh Edition, New York: W.W. Norton Co. 2008, p. 1697
  9. ^ Christopher Pittard, Blackwell Reference, Psychological Thrillers Archived 2018-06-14 at the Wayback Machine, Accessed November 3, 2013, "...characteristics of the genre as “a dissolving sense of reality; reticence in moral pronouncements; obsessive, pathological characters; the narrative privileging of complex, tortured relationships” ( Munt 1994)..."
  10. ^ "Subgenre - Psychological Drama". AllMovie. Archived from the original on 2021-08-12. Retrieved 2021-08-13.
  11. ^ Movies, All (24 February 2020). "Science Fiction » Psychological Sci-Fi". AllMovies. Archived from the original on 2 July 2022. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  12. ^ "SFE: Psychology". Retrieved 2024-03-03.

Further reading