The article uses the example of the European bildungsroman as represented paradigmatically in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795 – 96) to investigate the effects of reading. Goethe's text is sensitive to the embodied encounters that shape how we relate to the experience of reading, showing the forms of sensuous interaction in which literary reading has its roots. The model of reading presented in Goethe's text is contextualized with reference to debates about fiction circa 1800 but also to developmental psychology research into the emotional preconditions of an engagement with narrative and to recent discussions of the so-called paradox of fiction. To explore in more concrete terms the effect of reading Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, the article then turns to George Eliot's response in Daniel Deronda (1876). Goethe's novel appeals to the bodies of its characters and its readers. Eliot responds to this appeal by emphasizing that bodily reactions are themselves always shaped by history. However, it takes a certain sort of openness, which is learned more through interaction than through fiction, for characters and readers alike to confront the challenges and opportunities that an insight into the embodied nature of larger historical processes presents.

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