Empathic Sadism

Fritz Alwin Breithaupt

in The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies

Published in print January 2015 | ISBN: 9780199978069
Published online March 2015 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

Empathic Sadism

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)


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This chapter investigates sadistic empathic imaginations by readers. It suggests that empathy can paradoxically imply the wish for the suffering of the observed: Readers may desire the pain of others in order to feel for them and even feel like them. This phenomenon will be called empathy for empathy’s sake since it does not benefit the “empathizee,” but serves more selfish means of the “empathizer.” The chapter catalogs different forms of this empathic sadism, including real-world cases. In the context of narratology, the chapter argues for a differentiation between the implied reader (authorial audience) and an active implication of the reader in the process of reading. The chapter provides case studies of La Regenta by Leopoldo Alas, alias Clarín, (1884/85) and Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1896).

Keywords: empathy; narrative empathy; sadism; narratology; reader emotion; implied reader; authorial audience; Effi Briest; La Regenta

Article.  10540 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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