Romantic Selfhood and the Selfie: Relating to the Novel

This essay offers a defense of the concept of “relatability,” an impulse in students we’ve long derided as unproductive and even ethically suspect. In particular, it aims to sketch out a series of attempts to use contemporary texts to disrupt students’ assumptions about their emotional and psychological distance from Romantic-era fiction. Rather than dismissing talk of readerly identification, I show how I have attempted to leverage my students’ desire to relate in order to launch a discussion of historical reading practices and the emergence of relatability as a value.