From melancholy to ecstasy: Literature has its ways of evoking emotions

Professor Riikka Rossi investigates how text sweeps the reader along emotionally.

What are your research topics?

I investigate how literature depicts and evokes emotions: how literary works enchant, shock or make it possible for readers to empathise with others through text. I am particularly interested in the relationship between the characteristics and perceived emotional effects of texts. How is a melancholy, nostalgic or ecstatic atmosphere created in the text, or which features of style and narration can increase or delay the empathetic role-taking of the reader?

I examine emotions particularly in the context of Finnish literature. Literary texts can verbalise experiences of history, describing and creating emotional communities.

I have also studied emotions and cultural notions associated with the northern European environment from the perspective of Finnish literature. In addition, I am interested in developing new methods for the study of texts and emotions.

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact? 

The study of literature and emotions can increase understanding of what emotions are and what they do in societies.

I have explored the works of realist and naturalist authors, such as Juhani Aho, Minna Canth, Maria Jotuni and F.E. Sillanpää, which open up perspectives on the history of emotions. Many Finnish writers have described the experiences of those in vulnerable positions and made visible transgenerational structures of feeling.They have written about experiences of the Finnish famine of the 1860s, the Civil War and the Second World War.

While fiction is an interpretation of reality, it can describe complex emotions that are otherwise difficult to express. The development of theory and methods produces tools for investigating emotions more broadly and helps to understand how emotions are conveyed and evoked in texts.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now? 

The study of literature and emotions is a multidisciplinary research field where interdisciplinary collaboration can generate interesting results. Among other things, we are investigating the role of interaction in reader empathy, for which we have been developing a suitable method.

Currently, I am focusing on the relationship between phonetic features and emotional effects by utilising computational methods. As a literary historian, I am inspired by how research on emotional effects can produce new knowledge on the significance and historical functions of literary genres and styles.


Riikka Rossi is the Professor of Finnish Literature at the Faculty of Arts. 

Read about the other newly appointed professors.