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date: 03 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

What does it mean for one fictional character to be more complex than another? One way to define complexity is to look at characters’ ability to reflect upon their own and other people’s mental states, that is, their ability to embed their own and other’s thoughts and feelings on a higher level. Taking as its starting point studies which have shown that people in weaker social positions engage in more active and perceptive attribution of mental states than people in stronger social positions, this chapter suggests that works of fiction can either follow or invert this real-life association, correlating their characters’ capacity for embedment with their relative social standing. Using case studies from English, Chinese, and Russian literary traditions, this chapter argues that cognition and ideology are bound with each other in a variety of historically specific forms, and that a cognitive-literary inquiry is thus fundamentally a historicist inquiry.

Keywords: Mansfield Park, Dream of the Red Chamber, Measure for Measure, Socialist Realism, sociocognitive complexity, theory of mind, social status, picaresque, Rachel Cusk, Frances Burney

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