Collegiate Affiliation

Elaine Auyoung (pronounced O-Young) is an associate professor of English and an affiliated faculty member of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies and the Center for Cognitive Sciences. Her multidisciplinary interests include nineteenth-century British literature and culture, the experience of reading, psychological approaches to the arts, feminist epistemology, and learning in the humanities. Her scholarship seeks to recover forms of knowledge and experience that disciplinary norms and institutional structures systematically exclude or discount.

She is the author of When Fiction Feels Real: Representation and the Reading Mind, which provides conceptual tools for examining reading experiences that literary critics have long dismissed as naïve and undisciplined. This book draws on psychological research on reading and cognition to account for how writers such as Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy bring readers into intimate relation with fictional characters and worlds by engaging their embodied knowledge and their readiness to form social impressions. In chapters on Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy, Auyoung argues that realist aesthetics is also distinguished by readers’ mediated, one-sided relation to objects, experiences, and characters that are never within reach.

Professor Auyoung is currently working on two book projects:

“Becoming Sensitive” intervenes in current efforts to specify the nature and value of literary critical expertise. It draws on feminist theories of epistemic injustice to show how the absence of adequate tools for conceptualizing humanistic knowledge has been perpetuated by higher education's ascetic, masculinist hierarchy of values. To demystify literary learning, this book draws on research in the learning sciences that challenges education’s historical emphasis on observable output. Findings on expertise and the inductive processes of perceptual and conceptual learning reveal how literature and literary study can structure students' perception and guide their attention, preparing them to approach novel problems and experiences in increasingly discriminating and flexible ways. This book seeks to provide new conceptual resources for articulating the value of the humanities, for continuing to democratize the literature classroom, and for bringing attention to topics within the humanities that have long been unjustly excluded or dismissed.

“Permission to Receive Joy" takes a trauma-informed approach to how fiction, poetry, visual art, music, and dance create uniquely powerful but fragile experiences of joy, wonder, connection, belonging, even transcendence. It argues that the immediate situational contexts in which we encounter the arts, and which artists and performers work to create, facilitate experiences of solidarity and self-forgetfulness unavailable to audiences in everyday life. Recognizing the extent to which aesthetic emotions and judgments depend on specific situational and relational contexts in turn compels us to grapple with the fragility of these temporary states. How might we continue to feel, judge, and act on behalf of others in the absence of conditions that facilitate fellow feeling, especially when real or imagined risks to ourselves intrude upon our attention?

Educational Background & Specialties
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Educational Background

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


  • Aesthetic Experience
  • Education and Learning in the Humanities
  • Methods of Reading
  • Nineteenth-Century British Literature and Culture
  • Psychological Approaches to the Arts
  • Literature and Philosophy
  • Epistemic Injustice