Possible Worlds Theory and Readers’ Emotions: The Construction of Textual Actual and Possible Worlds and Readers’ Responses to Literature

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis presents a cognitive stylistic exploration of readers’ emotional experiences of literature. The study adopts Possible Worlds Theory for the formulation of a typology of textual actual and possible worlds, which is employed to facilitate stylistic analysis of some of the ways in which novels elicit readers’ emotions. This thesis thus seeks to harness the rich potentiality of Possible Worlds Theory as a tool for the analysis of literature and its effects on readers. Readers’ emotions are studied in the tradition of reader response research in stylistics, with empirical reader data utilised to support the stylistic analysis presented here.

Three twentieth-century novels originally written in English form the central focus of this study: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (2006 [1995]), Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (2007 [1961]), and The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1999 [1989]) by Janice Galloway. These three texts were chosen firstly for their capacity to evoke emotions in readers, and secondly due to their varied thematic concerns and narrative style, thus enabling application of the typology developed for this thesis to a diverse selection of novels.

This thesis aims to offer two principal interdisciplinary and interdependent contributions. Firstly, I aim to demonstrate the capacity of Possible Worlds Theory to facilitate analysis of how fictional texts may affect readers’ emotions. Secondly, this thesis offers a contribution to the burgeoning study of readers’ emotions by suggesting the potential applications that Possible Worlds Theory offers to the field. Thirdly, alongside facilitating these principal contributions, the typology developed for analysis offers a framework for the exploration of how different forms of textual actual and possible worlds may interact with readers’ emotions. Fourthly, the analysis presented here suggests the utility of empirical reader data in examining the effects elicited by the construction of textual actual and possible worlds.
Date of AwardApr 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMarcello Giovanelli (Supervisor) & Chloe Harrison (Supervisor)


  • Possible Worlds Theory
  • readers' emotions
  • cognitive stylistics
  • reader response

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