Elaine Auyoung

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Department of English .
Pillsbury Hall
310 Pillsbury Drive SE

Elaine Auyoung (pronounced O-Young) is Director of Undergraduate Studies, Hawkins Professor and Associate Professor of English, and Affiliate Faculty of the Center for Cognitive Sciences. She specializes in nineteenth-century British literature and culture, the global history and theory of the novel, and psychological approaches to the arts. Her first book, When Fiction Feels Real: Representation and the Reading Mind (Oxford UP, 2018; paperback, October 2021), provides literary studies with a new cross-disciplinary method for examining the relationship between novelistic technique and literary experience, focusing on how realist writers from Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy bring readers into intimate relation with fictional persons and worlds. Professor Auyoung's essays have appeared in New Literary History, Victorian Studies, Poetics Today, The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies, Nineteenth-Century Literature, and Victorian Literature and Culture. She held a McKnight Land-Grant Professorship from 2018–2020 and received the 2019 Ruth Christie Distinguished Teaching Award for Faculty in English.

Her current book project, "Unselfing: What We Can Ask of the Arts," accounts for how the arts––including fiction, poetry, painting, music, and dance––create uniquely powerful but fragile experiences of absorption, intimacy, belonging, even transcendence. It recovers the profoundly social underpinnings of aesthetic response and, in doing so, invites us to distinguish the conditions that give rise to aesthetic experience from those that shape our ordinary feelings and judgments. Recognizing that aesthetic emotions are extremely context-sensitive challenges longstanding assumptions about the relationship between art and moral action, alerting us to a vital new role for critical inquiry and for aesthetic education: attuning ourselves to how specific contexts enable or foreclose aesthetic attention. By developing awareness of how situational contexts shape the way we see, feel, and judge, we can more precisely understand why solidarity is so difficult to sustain and how we might act in ways even more aligned with our values.

Educational Background & Specialties

Educational Background

  • PhD: English, Harvard University.
  • BA: English with Honors and with Distinction, Stanford University.


  • Psychology and the arts
  • Philosophy and literature
  • Reading and education
  • History and theory of the novel
  • Nineteenth-century British literature and culture
Courses Taught
  • ENGL 5510. Moral Action and the Arts
  • ENGL 5510. Reading and Readers
  • ENGL 5150. Nineteenth-Century Realism
  • ENGL 4152. Nineteenth-Century British Novel
  • ENGL 3004W. Survey of British Literature and Culture II
  • ENGL 3001W. Textual Analysis, Methods
  • ENGL 1701. Modern Fiction
  • ENGL 1919. Jane Austen's Afterlives
Research & Professional Activities

Professional Activities

  • Member: MLA Executive Committee on Cognitive and Affect Studies , 2018 - 2023
  • Auyoung, Elaine. When Fiction Feels Real: Representation and the Reading Mind. Oxford University Press, 2018. Link
  • Auyoung, Elaine. "What We Mean by Reading," New Literary History 51 (2020): 93-114.
  • Auyoung, Elaine. "On the Unspoken Intimacy of Aesthetic Experience: Hardy and Degas," Poetics Today 41 (2020): 301-314.
  • Auyoung, Elaine, eds. Dennis Denisoff and Talia Schaffer. "Narrative Theory." The Routledge Companion to Victorian Literature (2019): 217–25.
  • Auyoung, Elaine. "Human in the Humanities." Victorian Literature and Culture 47.3 (2019): 657-61.
  • Auyoung, Elaine. "Reading." Victorian Literature and Culture 46.3/4 (2018): 823-36.
  • Auyoung, Elaine. “Phantoms and Fictional Persons: Hardy’s Phenomenology of Loss.”Victorian Studies 59 (2017): 399-408.
  • Auyoung, Elaine, eds. Dino Felluga, Pamela K. Gilbert, and Linda K. Hughes. "Cognitive Studies." The Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature (2015):
  • Auyoung, Elaine, ed. Lisa Zunshine. "Rethinking the Reality Effect: Detail and the Novel." The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies (2015): 581-592.
  • Auyoung, Elaine. "Standing Outside Bleak House." Nineteenth-Century Literature 68 (2013): 180-200.
  • Auyoung, Elaine, eds. Lars Bernaerts, Dirk de Geest, Luc Herman, Bart Vervaeck. "Partial Cues and Narrative Understanding in Anna Karenina." Stories and Minds: Cognitive Approaches to Literary Narrative (2013): 59-76.
  • Auyoung, Elaine. "The Sense of Something More in Art and Experience." Style 44 (2010): 547-65.
  • Donald V. Hawkins Professorship, 2021 - 2022
  • Ruth Christie Distinguished Teaching Award, 2019 - 2020
  • McKnight Land-Grant Professorship, 2018 - 2020
  • Imagine Fund Annual Award, 2017 - 2018
  • Single-Semester Leave, University of Minnesota, Fall 2017
  • Faculty Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, University of Minnesota, Fall 2014
  • Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, Rutgers University, 2011 - 2013
  • Harper-Schmidt Fellowship in the Humanities, University of Chicago, 2011 (declined)
  • Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching, 2011
  • Graduate Fellowship, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, 2009 - 2010