Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Talia Schaffer

Committee Members

Rachel Brownstein

Caroline Reitz

Nancy Yousef

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles


epistemology, affect, ethics of care, relationality, individualism, sympathy


Knowing Others, Or Not makes two overarching claims about the nineteenth-century novel’s depictions of relations. First, they are overwhelmingly concerned with epistemological questions about knowing others, and second, more often than not, the problem of other minds is portrayed as productive of both pleasure and valuable negative affects. While much scholarship on the relational nineteenth century focuses on either sympathy or social responsibility within the framework of liberal individualism, I show instead that the authors in this study—Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Wilkie Collins, and George Eliot—repeatedly register doubt about the usefulness or possibility of authenticity, and posit the pleasure that bad feelings can bring to characters and readers. As my subtitle indicates, I focus on four sites of epistemological inquiry: performances of authenticity, care relations that distinguish between care as an action and care as a feeling, foreboding as a feeling unlike anxiety that stems from accurate knowledge, and acknowledgment of others in the place of sympathy or knowledge. Throughout, this dissertation asks questions about performance, affect, and knowledge—What emotions are structurally expected in what contexts? What social performances are demanded and by whom? What options are there for acting out? How can we allow for radical difference while acknowledging shared values?—and attends to the centrality of, and indeed encouragement of, bad behavior and feelings in the nineteenth-century novel.