A Comeuppance Theory of Narrative and the Emotions

Blakey Vermeule

in Subversion and Sympathy

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199812042
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199315888 | DOI:
A Comeuppance Theory of Narrative and the Emotions

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This chapter examines the ways in which ideas of punishment and retribution—often involving the defeat of a rebellious woman—are woven into the plot structure of many nineteenth-century novels. Drawing on recent work in evolutionary psychology, it argues that the human mind is equipped to process narratives in particular ways, with emphasis on a particular sort of outcome: that in which some character gets his (or her) “comeuppance.” This view is used to present a reading of George Eliot's Middlemarch, in which the novelist mocks novelistic didacticism and yet, in crucial ways, surrenders to the demand for a resolution embodying “poetic justice.” It is argued that a strain of human thought and desire that guides the strategies of even the most complicated novels has relevance to thinking about law, and the permanent human interests that law embodies.

Keywords: punishment; retribution; nineteenth-century; British novels; George Eliot; Middlemarch; poetic justice; law

Chapter.  9087 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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