Shannon Chamberlain

Dissertation Fellow
Photo of Shannon Chamberlain

By 1800, the British epistolary novel had declined. In her dissertation, “Contested Sympathies: Adam Smith and Late Eighteenth-­Century Epistolarity,” Shannon Chamberlain (English) identifies this change with influential ethical thinking about the nature of sympathy and communities of readers, particularly in Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments. She argues that Smith's work contains a subtle and sustained critique of the more fervent, personal kinds of sympathy that readers were expected to feel for characters in epistolary novels. Smith's sympathy is instead a form of conditional social consensus that requires acknowledgement of situations as sympathetic, rather than requiring readers to feel sympathy for individual characters. Most of all, it requires a narrator. Although Scottish Enlightenment philosophy and its theories of sympathy are often closely identified with the rise of the novel, the shift from a sympathy between reader and character to one between reader and author signals the fall of the eighteenth-century novel and the rise of nineteenth-century third-person styles of narration.