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The limits of empathy in literature?

The case of rape in Arundhati Roy’s work
Aline Lebel
Traduction de Yarri Kamara
Cet article est une traduction de :
Aux limites de l’empathie littéraire ? [fr]


This paper deals with the ethical, political and aesthetic issues linked to literary empathy, within a context of globalised circulation and mediatisation of literary works. It focuses on the study of a singular work that lends itself particularly well to such reflection: that of the Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy, a world-renowned author often presented as the voice of the oppressed in contemporary India. The paper starts with a contextualised analysis of the heated debate that Shekhar Kapur’s film Bandit Queen sparked in the 1990s, a debate to which Arundhati Roy actively contributed. This is followed by a micro-reading of a passage from Roy’s second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017, 2018 for the French edition), to see how interpretations from a close reading allow one to shift, or even partially respond to, the problems of literary empathy raised in criticisms of the film.

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1The 1980s and 1990s saw the rise of pragmatic and ethical strands in literary studies, and the question of empathy has since taken on greater importance both within theory and in new writing practices, and generated much debate. On the one hand, the contributions of cognitive psychology and the philosophies of care and of moral imagination have led to a reappraisal of the value of literature thanks to its capacity to “put us in another’s shoes” (Chavel, 2012). This responded well to the need to re-legitimise a field weakened by the faltering of formalist approaches. American liberal philosopher Martha Nussbaum (1992) proposed an argument that supported this new perspective on literature, and which has today become a reference. Starting from the principle that within a pluralist democratic regime any moral and civic life worthy of the name requires that one be confronted by a multiplicity of viewpoints, Nussbaum argued for the role that literature plays in developing the imagination of readers. Such theories were not, however, spared from criticism: proponents of Indian subaltern studies and postcolonial studies were among those who expressed reservations. They notably warned against the illusion of universal and depoliticised affective sharing, even though for the first time in history our societies, through permanent and transnational communication, seem forced into reciprocal transparency. The seductive power of the concept of empathy lies in its capacity to mobilise imaginaries of welcome and of sharing; however, it is also linked to more pejorative concepts of appropriation, voyeurism and exploitation (Samoyault, 2020).

  • 1 The main three works of Roy analysed in this paper were read in the following French editions: Le d (...)

2In order to examine how these questions inform both the writing and the reading of global contemporary literary texts, I will base my reflection on the analysis of a singular work: that of the Indian activist and novelist Arundhati Roy, author of two English-language novels – The God of Small Things (1997) and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017)1 – as well as several non-fiction political essays. Roy is a member of the cultural elite and very actively engaged with local communities, seeing herself as a conduit to make their voices heard on the international scene. Her work embodies, or even responds to, in an exemplary way, the issues raised by the effects of empathy in a globalised and mediatised stage for the reception of literature (Gallien, 2020). As a novelist, Roy is sensitive to the role literary works play in conscientizing international public opinion, and fully conscious of the dangers that over-mediatisation poses to modes of representing the suffering of others, especially when such suffering for readers is a “distant suffering” (Boltanski, 2016). The exceptional global success of Roy’s work and the place that the question of “imagination” (Roy, 2016) occupies in both its genesis as in its claimed effects make her books a particularly well-suited base for discussion on the (moral, political and cognitive) value of literary empathy, in a context of global circulation and mediatisation of literary works. For the writer, whether male or female, how do we define what is the right use of or the right distance to adopt from the suffering of others, when a novel has as its vocation to make the voice of the oppressed heard? For the reader, can we identity criteria to distinguish empathy from appropriation or voyeurism? How can we guarantee that the affective sharing that literature proffers has value?

3Given the richness of Roy’s work and the interdisciplinary nature of the concepts and questions addressed, it was necessary to focus on certain angles of analysis. The first choice was to focus my reflection on the examination of a theme which in the Indian context adds particularly weighty political and ethical dimensions to the question of empathy: sexual violence against women, and notably against subaltern Dalit (low-caste) and Adivasi (indigenous) women. In terms of methodology, my analysis uses tools forged by American theories on reader response, and more precisely on rhetorical reader-response criticism, as defined by the critic James Phelan (1993) and which was developed upon in France by the narratologist Raphaël Baroni (2017). Combining insights from rhetorical analysis and reception studies, my proposition is to articulate the study of the narrative structure of the texts with their reader effects, conditioned both by strategies of writing, the contexts of production and reception of the work, and the singular subjectivity of the reader. Without ignoring issues raised by the circulation of literary works, such an approach allows for an interpretation based on close reading of the works to serve as the main basis of analysis.

4Within this perspective, my analysis unfolds in two parts. I will first focus on recontextualising Arundhati Roy’s critique of artistic empathy so as to clarify the aesthetic, ethical and political issues at hand. I will then use a micro-reading of a passage taken from Roy’s second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, to see how such a reading complexifies the problems raised, or even provides an antidote to them.

An ethical, political and aesthetic critique of empathy

5To understand the role that the question of empathy played in the genesis of Arundhati Roy’s work, we return to a polemic, which can be considered as foundational, contained in two articles titled “The Great Indian Rape Trick I and II” (1994) published three years before The God of Small Things in the Sri Lankan weekly paper Sunday Observer, following the national and then international success of the film Bandit Queen. The film, directed by Shekhar Kapur, sold itself as a faithful adaptation of the biography of Phoolan Devi, the mythical “Indian Robin Hood” (Sen, 1991). The story of the low-caste woman, famous throughout India, is marked by multiple episodes of sexual violence, which led her to take the reins of an armed group of Dacoits (low-caste peasants dispossessed of their lands). She then became a symbol of resistance to the arbitrary power of large landowners for the inhabitants of Uttar Pradesh, her home-state. She conducted a campaign of punitive raids against large landowners until 1983 when she was captured and imprisoned. From this account, Kapur created a film “based on a true story,” which the critic Priyamvada Gopal (1999) proposed to categorise under the tradition of vigilante films, or more specifically the sub-genre of rape and revenge films, based around the rape and then the vengeance of a female character. Despite the figure of Phoolan Devi being treated like a heroine, the film’s release resulted in a great scandal as Devi publicly denounced a deformation of her story and a voyeuristic treatment of her rape.

6The ensuing controversy, which Arundhati Roy summarized and added to in her two articles, must be placed in the local and global political context of the 1990s. Dalit feminists in India at the time criticised the invisibilisation of sexual violence against lower-caste women within mainstream feminist movements, and more widely, within Indian society (Rao, 2009). Along with this quest for recognition, there was debate about the political and ethical implications of the representation of rape, which notably resulted in the denunciation of the practice of “atrocity photography,” which dispossessed victims of their own narratives (Misri, 2014). But the requirement of self-representation that was often proposed by activists as a solution to the instrumentalisation of subalterns’ voices and suffering, is also to be placed within the context of a general intensification of mass media communication and the advent of organized communitarianism (Lempérière, 2009). Beyond its historical and documentary value, the debate put forth by Roy has the merit of making the role of those various elements in the construction of an argument denouncing potentially harmful effects of artistic empathy perceptible.

7First of all, the indignation that the future novelist expressed was focused essentially on the aesthetic and ethical biases in Shekhar Kapur’s work. By choosing to graphically portray Devi’s rape, the director in Roy’s view betrayed Devi’s wishes to such an extent that “she ceased to be important” (GIRT, p. 892). This reproach can be interpreted in two ways. First it touches on the ethical limits of affective sharing, and raises a potential conflict between veracity and the representability of facts. The explicit character of the rape scene may be considered justified by Kapur because of its factual nature, but Roy argues that the requirement of justice is not to be confused with the desire to tell all. To avoid repeating the attack on the dignity of the young woman in question, certain atrocities (and especially the intimate experience of rape) must be left outside of the field of empathy for Roy. The second part of Roy’s denunciation concerns the question of the just use of another person’s story and the responsibilities that come with delegation of voice, all the more so when that delegation was not fully consented. The problem then is not just that the film violated the young woman’s intimacy, but that it did so explicitly against her will, thus raising the question of the responsibility of the artist as a mediator between the subject of the story and the audience.

8Such an approach could lead one to question the border between the moral and the political (do we have the right to tell all for greater effect?). But Roy eludes the question by presenting the political and social effects of Kapur’s work as indissociable from the ethical biases revealed by his aesthetic form. Even if the director sees himself as a socially conscious artist, his desire to dramatize the narrative of Devi’s experience, biases from the get-go the empathetic reaction of the audience, according to Roy:

Every time the Director has been faced with something that could disrupt the simple, pre-fabricated calculations of his cloying morality play, it has been tampered with and forced to fit. I’m not accusing him of having planned this. I believe that it comes from a vision that has been distorted by his own middle-class outrage, which he has then turned on his audience like a fire-fighter’s hose. (1994, p. 894)

9To facilitate affective sharing, a victim must appear as worthy of pity, that is they must appear sufficiently respectable to not be seen as deserving their ordeal in the audience’s system of values. Arundhati Roy here is addressing an Indian middle class, which may generally condemn rape, but conditions its pity based on a set of moral and sexual norms. The quest for an emotional effect leads to a double movement of instrumentalisation and depoliticisation of violence: pity appears as a sentiment that is, at the best, purely moral, and at the worst, tinged with complacent voyeurism:

How does one grade film-rapes on a scale from Exploitative to Non-exploitative? [...] Exploitative I’d say, is when the whole point of the exercise is to stand on high moral ground, and inform us, (as if we didn’t know), that rape is about abject humiliation. And, as in the case of this film, when it exploits exploitation. Phoolan has said (Pioneer, August 15 [1994]) that she thinks they’re no better shall (sic) the men who raped her. This producer/director duo.

And they’ve done it without dirtying their hands. What was that again? The complete domination of the soul? I guess you don’t need hands to hold souls down. (italics mine, GIRT, p. 900)

10With the concept of “exploitative,” Roy proposes two avenues of analysis to identify unjust uses of empathy. From the side of the author of the work, exploitation is linked to the act of appropriation, both emotional and discursive; this raises the question of the potential conflict between factual veracity and respect for the dignity and the wishes of the subject. From the side of reception, exploitation is linked to the risks of voyeurism and/or a moralised and depoliticised interpretation of suffering.

11Roy’s argument finds resonance with works in the field of subaltern studies, which were highly influential at the time in Anglophone academia, and which helped make theoretical and critical implications more explicit, and also widened the analysis. These implications are most eloquently expressed in the preface written by Gayatri Spivak for her translation of “Draupadi” (1981, 2007), a short story by Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi. Spivak offers a reading of the story based on reflection on the conditions for and the risks of affective sharing. The short story focuses on the account of the torture and gang rape of Draupadi (or Dopdi), an Adivasi Marxist activist, and portrays her confrontation with the officer responsible for her capture, Senanayak. The latter is presented in the story as an educated aesthete, interested in translating the mysterious song of the young woman whom he has had tortured and humiliated. Gayatri Spivak paints him a “First-World intellectual,” driven by the desire to understand their Third-World sisters, but at the same time an accomplice of the regimes of domination that subjugate them.

The approximation I notice relates to the author’s careful presentation of Senanayak as a pluralist aesthete. In theory, Senanayak can identify with the enemy. But pluralist aesthetes of the First World are, willy-nilly, participants in the production of an exploitative society. Hence, in practice, Senanayak must destroy the enemy, the menacing other. (Spivak, 2007, p. 24)

12Nothing can guarantee that empathetic projection is put at the service of an altruistic end. Through her reading of the short story, Spivak characterises the act of translation and interpretation itself as one of violent appropriation of another’s suffering. But her analysis, above all, has the merit of shedding light on a blind-spot in Arundhati Roy’s critique: the linguistic and cultural implications linked to the circulation of literary works and images well beyond the context in which they were produced. Roy’s choice to write The God of Small Things in English, placed her novel from the outset at the intersection of local and global, and after its success, linguistic and cultural implications took increasing importance in discussions about empathy. They were later on deepened by Roy’s fiction work.

13What writing strategies do Roy’s novels use to respond to the problems that she identifies, without offering a solution, in her polemical essays? The study of her novelistic treatment of rape shows an evolution towards a wider reassessment of the legitimacy of affective sharing. In The God of Small Things, the refusal of the “exploitative” appears in the negative, in the shadows and silences created through her writing. Cultural critic Deepti Misri (2014) goes as far as suggesting a conscious refusal of representation: “In The God of Small Things Roy steered clear of the Dalit woman as ‘the most subaltern of subalterns’ (the victim paradigm that she had found troubling in Bandit Queen) and focused instead on the vulnerability of the Dalit male body to caste and state violence.” She continues by questioning the value of this: “And yet, despite the risks Roy points to, surely there must be a way of acknowledging and confronting caste violence against Dalit and tribal women?” (p. 103). The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, published three years later, perhaps offers new responses to the problem. Here Roy renounces her choice of silence, and invents new modalities of empathetic sharing.

Towards a different use of pathos: from empathy to the ethics of care

  • 2 Name given to intersex/transgender people in Hindu cultural regions.

14A remarkable passage from The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’s explicit demonstrates very well Roy’s evolution. The passage appears a few pages before the end of the book, in the penultimate chapter, and it resolves the mystery of a central event of this grand polyphonic novel’s plot: the abandonment of Miss Jebeen II, the mysterious baby who is successively taken in by the two female protagonists of the novel, the rebel Tilo (alter ego of the author in the book) and the hijra2 Anjum, and who thus creates a link between the book’s main characters and the narrative lines of the story. It is a secondary character, the wise doctor Bhartiya, who brings to the child’s new family a letter of explanation written by her biological mother, and who translates and reads the letter aloud. The reader here discovers, as do the book’s characters, the story of comrade Revathy, the Adivasi Maoist fighter from the Bastar Forest, the true name of Miss Jebeen II—Udaya—, and that she was born of Revathy’s humiliation and gang rape by Indian police forces.

  • 3 In 2013, for example, the posting of a photo of young naked Adivasi woman on social media, followin (...)

15By choosing to close her novel with this account, Roy is choosing to directly confront the risks that she raised in her criticism of Kapur’s film. We may be talking about a work of fiction this time, however two factors bestow on the novel a strong touch of referentiality: the field interviews that Roy undertook among Naxalist fighters (members of Marxist peasant revolutionary groups, treated as “terrorists” by the Indian state), which she used to write the novel (Roy, 2012); and the analogy between the fictional episode and a scenario of “atrocity,” recurrent in the media3. Beyond the inherently axiological dimension of an account of a crime, the political and moral issues raised by this almost documentary representation are thus immediately perceptible to Indian readers. This time the rape is not left in the margins of the narration, in the subtext. It is integrated within a specular device that through a critical mise en abyme of writing techniques, enables the construction of a performative model of observation and interpretation of the suffering represented.

The fictional letter device: the responsibility of the mediator

16Roy’s concern to avoid abusive empathy is perceptible first in her use of the literary device of the fictional letter, which encourages strong discursive heterogeneity. Roy’s novel is polyphonic and features a multiplicity of voices, but her recourse to the fictionalised epistolary form reinforces the enunciative rupture. The letter is moreover typographically separate from the rest of the story (different font, non-aligned paragraphs) and characterized by a highly oral form and the use of non-standard language:

Dear Comrade Azad Bharathiya Garu, I am writing this to you because in my three days time in Jantar Mantar I observed you carefully. If anybody knows where is my child now, I think it might be you only. I am a Telugu woman and sorry I don’t know Hindi. My English is not good also. Sorry for that. I am Revathy, working as a full-timer with Communist Party of India (Maoist). When you will receive this letter I will be already killed. (MoUH, p. 417)

17The effects of this narrative strategy can be interpreted in diverse ways. It helps to reinforce the affective impact of the scene, generating through this fiction of voice a strong effect of presence. But it also creates distance, because the voice of the character only subsists in the form of a written trace; the interiority of the voice thus remains inaccessible to the narrator. From an ethical point of view the use of the fictionalised epistolary form is distinct then from free indirect discourse, a form frequently used in the rest of the novel and which blurs the boundary between the narrator’s voice and the voice of the characters. Pathos arises not from a total fusion with the point of view of the deceased, but from what in the letter resists appropriation and imagination. The horror and indignation provoked by the description of the violence suffered is thus superposed by a more diffuse feeling of melancholy, born of the awareness of an unbridgeable gap.

18Beyond its ethical value, this aesthetic choice also has political ramifications as highlighted by the work on fiction plurilingualism. The letter, in effect, is presented to us as the result of a double, or even triple, effort of translation. Written in “broken” English by a young Telegu-speaker, it is first translated into Urdu and oralised by Azad Bhartiya, and then re-transcribed in writing and in English by the narrator’s voice. The desired effect is to be understood through the lens of the conditions in which Arundhati’s Roy’s novel was received and the problems raised by delegation of voice, particularly sensitive in the Indian context where language, cast and mobility are articulated together. Doctor Bhartiya’s mediation can be seen as a parallel with Roy’s own role, as author of a novel written in English, in order to make known at both a national and a global level the suffering of a very real community to which her fictional character belongs. By representing this effort of translation, the text makes visible the violence that such effort necessarily implies for subalterns: the difficult access to language, and therefore to expression, and the dependence on a third-party (the translator). At the same time, it also highlights the ethical and political necessity of translation, as it is presented as a necessary condition for Revathy’s story to be received beyond the immediate context of its production. Empathetic sharing is preserved, without the power relations and responsibilities implicit in such sharing being erased.

Singularity and representativity of the account of the rape

19The strategy of the fictional letter may also be interpreted as an attempt to respond to the problems raised by the effects of representing rape: the risks of voyeurism and of the depoliticisation of violence. Despite the choice of first-person narration, the reader is in effect put in a position of exteriority with respect to the scene, without access to the victim’s intimacy. The style of the letter is factual and concise, rejecting any rhetorical excesses or overly stylized effects:

I thought they would kill me like Padmakka and Laxmi but they said “Don’t worry Blackie we will let you go. You must go and tell them what we did to you. […]” They kept on burning me and cutting me. But I am not crying at all. “Why don’t you scream? Your great leaders will come and save you. You people don’t scream?” Then one man forced open my mouth. I could not breathe. I thought I would die. They kept putting water on my face. Then all raped me many times. One is Udaya’s father. (MoUH, p. 422-423)

20Aside from a brief allusion to the traumatic shock of the experience (“I could not breathe. I thought I would die”), there are few allusions to the intimate experience. This aesthetic choice holds ethical value: by allowing the boundary between the intimate space and the external world to be re-established, it responds to the obligation of dignity, which Roy highlighted as essential in her article on the film Bandit Queen.

21The choice also helps highlight the exemplary value of the character’s narration: “This is the experience of so many women in the forest,” Revathy points out. She continues: “From that I took courage” (MoUH, p. 423). Far from Shekhar Kapur’s heroic gesture which singularises the larger-than-life figure of Phoolan Devi, the novelist uses Revathy’s story as a base for wider reflection on the specificity of the feminine experience of revolutionary activism, with a double objective. First, the choice counters the risk of depoliticisation and over-individualisation inherent in empathetic projection, without giving up the emotional resources of literature. The novel makes Revathy a complex and highly individualised character, a round character, while also bestowing her story with a collective, and therefore political significance. It highlights the exemplary nature of the story while also repositioning the rape episode within a continuum of various forms of violence suffered, at the intersection of gender, caste and ethnicity. “Women join because they are revolutionaries but also because they cannot bear their sufferings at home” (MoUH, p. 425) Revathy explains, evoking the tragic life of her mother, martyrised by her husband and then ostracised after her divorce.

22But the choice is also about deconstructing victimary representations, by inserting the account of violence experienced within a narrative that leaves space for a form of retaking / reclaiming of both political and discursive agency. This insistence on feminine activism, is also an opportunity to redefine the border between morality and politics. Roy denounces the deformations inflicted on Phoolan Devi’s story to better conform to the horizon of expectations of an Indian audience; she, by contrast, constructs through this passage a morally borderline experience. The fictional account is in effect to serve as a way of making the dilemma that Revathy faced appropriable: keep her child and give up her activism, or abandon her to remain in the forest. The writing insists on the complex mix of love, guilt and hatred which unites the mother to the child born of her rape. Roy’s novel helps us to think about how empathy can be used justly because it makes the tension between the moral and the political a key element of the emotional transfer. It is not Revathy’s act that is the target of moral condemnation, but rather the system which constrained her to act thus: “the morally intolerable” (Bourdelais & Fassin, 2010) that the novel constructs has not just ethical implications but also political ones.

Conclusion: new definitions of literary engagement

23How should we read this passage? Revathy’s letter does not formulate any precise demand: it appears as word charged with affect, and, in turn calls for a response on the emotional level, one that is both ethical and political. “Rest is for your decision” (MoUH, p. 417) thus affirms Revathy. She closes:

In the forest every day police is burning killing raping poor people. Outside there is you people to fight and take up issues. But inside there is us only. So I am returned to Dandakaranya to live and die by my gun. Thankyou Comrade for reading this. (MoUH, p. 426)

24The scene of discussion that follows allows for a mise en abyme of the readers’ reactions:

Each of the listeners recognized, in their own separate ways, something of themselves and their own stories, their own Indo-Pak, in the story of this unknown, faraway woman who was no longer alive. It made them close ranks around Miss Jebeen the Second like a formation of trees, or adult elephants -an impenetrable fortress in which she, unlike her biological mother, would grow up protected and loved. (MoUHp. 426)

25While the passage underscores the subjective experience of reading, it also shows the emergence every now and then of an “us,” fruit of empathetic sharing and of a sentiment of double responsibility towards the deceased mother and the child. This leads to a collective decision being taken:

What came up for immediate discussion in the graveyard Politburo, however, was whether or not Miss Jebeen the Second should ever know about the letter. Anjum, the General Secretary, was absolutely unambiguous about that. […], “She should know about her mother of course. Never about her father.” (MoUH, p. 426)

26Unlike the voyeuristic spectator projected by Shekhar Kapur’s film, the narrational figures constructed by the novel reveal a reading model. The device of course is performative, and this is reinforced by the positioning of the episode at the end of the novel. One could say that this literary form is implementing a new model of literary engagement, in the wake of the ethics of care (Tronto, 1993). The reaction of the fictional listeners to the letter, in effect, combines empathetic projection with the awareness of an irreducible distance: and results in concrete action being taken after collective deliberation guided by the double concern of correcting the injustice perpetrated against the deceased and protecting the child. In the passage, this decision is not endowed with a normative moral value: the reparational gesture only takes its significance with regard to the particular circumstances of the episode, and induces an irrevocable dose of negativity. Protecting the child, in effect, implies concealing her mother’s story, and the novel closes with the paradoxical mise en abyme of a new refusal of affective sharing, linked to the choice of silence and secrecy.

27Through this last detail, the novel reminds us of the ambivalence of its own conditions of production and reception. The gesture of writing supposes the breaking of a secret which places the author and the real readers at a distance from the characters. This awareness of the risk inherent in writing may be interpreted as the mark of a new definition of literary engagement: the author recognises the dilemma, but takes a position nonetheless. The device also has a performative aim. Symbolically engaged by the breach of secrecy, readers are invited to reflect on the conditions necessary for a just transmission of the story that they have just received. The question of empathy and affective sharing thus extends beyond the reception of the novel itself, towards its circulation in the long-term and within a globalised public space.

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1 The main three works of Roy analysed in this paper were read in the following French editions: Le dieu des petits riens [The God of Small Things] (GoST) translated from the English by Claude Demanuelli (1997); Le Ministère du Bonheur supreme [The Ministry of Utmost Happiness] (MoUH) translated from the English by Irène Margit (2018); “Prestidigitation à l’indienne: Un tour de haut viol – I et II,” [The Great Indian Rape Trick – I and II] in Mon cœur séditieux [My Seditious Heart] (GIRT) translated from the English by Irène Margit (2020). Quotes for the English version of this paper are taken from the original English works.

2 Name given to intersex/transgender people in Hindu cultural regions.

3 In 2013, for example, the posting of a photo of young naked Adivasi woman on social media, following a rape incident in Delhi, sparked heated debate which was spearheaded by the activist Madhuri Xalxo. Beyond the issue of the depoliticisation of images, Xalxo criticized the burden on “iconicity” that such images placed on the shoulders of Indigenous women.

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Aline Lebel, « The limits of empathy in literature? »Hybrid [En ligne], 10 | 2023, mis en ligne le 28 septembre 2023, consulté le 04 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Aline Lebel

Aline Lebel studied at the Ulm École Normale Supérieure where she obtained an honours agrégé degree in modern literature. She is a doctoral candidate in comparative literature and a lecturer at Paris-Nanterre University. Her thesis, which she is preparing under the supervision of Frédérique Leichter Flack, lies at the intersection of literary analysis, affective pragmatics and the history of sensibilities, and focuses on the concept of the “morally intolerable.” More generally, her research touches on the field of “literature and ethics” which has developed over the past fifteen years on both sides of the Atlantic, and which questions the use of moral shock in literature.

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