What are we doing when we adopt such fictional habits? I catch myself (and others) at this mimicry after movies, too: a particular way of holding the mouth, or of turning the head becomes habitual for an hour or a day, and I can often tell when friends are reading favorite authors by habits of speech or turns of phrase. Business coaches suggest that emulation of speech and habits can smooth communication by making us seem more familiar to the people we emulate — and psychologists suggest such emulation may reveal who's taking cues about how to behave from whom. Emulation clearly has some social functions.
But the way that fiction inspires emulation suggests that this kind of imitation is not only relational or about persuasion — and (in case this was in question) is not necessarily under conscious control. Instead, I suspect that mimicking the set Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle's mouth takes when he is figuring out a case somehow helps put me in a mood that enables me to approximate Foyle's abductive genius. Fiddling with my pocketknife just so perhaps signals that I'm feeling a bit lost for words. (Tipping my head to the side like Kidman's Woolf in The Hours might just signal my affection for Virgina Woolf — but it might also represent an aspiration to the kind of stark one liners her character usually delivers with head tilted, or a search for the subtle perspective her character appears to possess.)
Paying attention to these little ways we draw the experience of fiction into our non-reading experience of everyday life may tell us more about how what we read provides us new models for thinking about things — and even new things to do with our hands.
Benedict Carey (2008). You Remind Me of Me. Feb 12, The New York Times.
Stephen Daldry, Michael Cunningham, & David Hare (1998/2003). The Hours. Paramount Pictures.
Virginia Woolf (1927). Mrs. Dalloway. Hogarth Press.