“We want to be taught how to feel”. Narrating Sympathy in the Nineteenth-Century Novel.

  • Funder: Internal funding

Project Description

The discussion of sympathy in the novel has a long history, dating back to the 18th century. Research on sympathy and literature has traditionally been concerned with sympathetic identification, but over the last decade several scholars have turned their attention toward the formal aspects of sympathy within the genre itself. This research project follows this new tradition with a particular focus on the narration and the narrative voice of the 19th novel. In the nineteenth century, when the novel as a genre comes into its own, ‘sympathy’ carries with it social, cultural and political implications that transform the novelistic discourse and influence the aesthetic and ethical modes of narration. The narrator in Camilla Collett’s The District Governor’s Daughters alternates between sympathetic portrayal and ironic distance in order to reconcile the realistic depiction of Sophie’s emancipation with the reader’s seductive-romantic expectations to the genre. In the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell, the sympathetic narration draws attention to the plight of the working class and the novels of Fredrika Bremer and Emilie Flygare-Carlèn present sympathetic portrayals of the subjugated position of middle-class women. The narrator in George Eliot’s Middlemarch embraces a broader scope as it shifts the reader’s sympathy through constant changes in perspective and point of view, thus challenging our preconceptions and prejudices.

The aim of this research project is to investigate the ways in which sympathy operates within the narrative voice of a select number of British and Scandinavian novels of the nineteenth-century. Drawing on methods and theories from postclassical narratology, feminist criticism, affect studies and cognitive poetics as well as historical and rhetorical approaches to the study of literature, the project seek to understand how novels make us feel for others.

About the project

Project duration:



Uppsala universitet