By Jane Tombes (Photo by Jerry Lerner)

The Osher Institute is pleased to announce an exciting course for the fall 2012 Osher semester entitled “Think Like A Shrink: Understanding Literature through Psychology and vice versa.”

The course will be taught by Arlene Kagle Lerner, Ph.D,  a recently-retired clinical psychologist who has lectured extensively on topics in neurobiological psychopharmacology. Her research interests have included studies of mental illness in families as well as adolescent substance abuse and other dependencies. Her clinical experience includes sex and family therapy. She will use her knowledge of narcissistic character disorders along with unipolar and biopolar depression to focus on literary characters who could have had these disorders in the works she has chosen for her lectures. She will encourage her class members to look for these traits in characters who appeared in print before their diagnosis did. For example, was Jane Austen’s character Lady Susan a serious narcissist? And what about Jane Austen herself or Hamlet as victims of unipolar depression?

Arlene grew up in New York City and received her undergraduate degree in biology from Sarah Lawrence College with her Ph.D. from New York University. Her résumé is at least four pages long, but she was too modest to bring it to the interview. However, when I did finally receive it, I realized that the number of scholarships, not to mention honors and grant awards, as well as the long list of conferences and seminars in which she participated, is most impressive but far too long to include here. We probably read many of her articles in SELF magazine, for which she was a contributing editor in the 1980‘s.

Why did she come to Richmond? With no immediate plans to retire, she and her husband were encouraged by an old friend who had moved to Richmond to come and look around. Coincidental with their trip here, their rural home 90 miles out of NYC sold in five days which was totally unexpected. Since the Lerners simultaneously found a great condo in the Richmond Museum District, her life turned upside down in 18 hours. Arlene and her husband Jerry are loving all that Richmond has to offer, especially the incredible friendliness of everyone they meet.

We are very fortunate that she and her husband are here, and we look forward to getting to know them better. One final note: don’t forget to read the selections before class even if you have read them before. I am certain that you will gain new insight into central figures even in stories you thought you already understood.

The reading for this course includes Lady Susan, a little known novella (121 pages) by Jane Austen, the monologues of Hamlet by William Shakespeare and the first four chapters of The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (approximately 20 pages). Secondary reading and suggestions for movies will follow.