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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton October 6, 2023

I fucking love you! Emotional address in Fleabag, or how viewers’ empathy becomes voyeurism

  • Julie Neveux EMAIL logo


This paper examines the effects of emotional language and telecinematic direct address in the BBC television series Fleabag (2016–2019) on viewers’ empathetic engagement, showing how multimodal narratives can invite empathy. In this series, direct address, often used to create intimacy with the audience, is the vehicle through which the eponymous protagonist shares or does not share her emotional states with those within or outside the diegesis. This way of communicating her feelings, I argue, shapes and intensifies viewers’ potential empathetic engagement in different ways throughout the series. In particular, I explain that the way in which Fleabag recurrently uses expressive language, most prominently swear words, while addressing the audience, initially invites viewer’s empathy in Season 1, before a stylistic shift in Season 2 eventually redefines this kind of emotional address: at the end of the series, viewers’ empathy is disinvited, positioning them as unwanted voyeurs.

Corresponding author: Julie Neveux, Sorbonne Université, Paris, France, E-mail:


I would like to thank both anonymous reviewers for their useful suggestions. I am also deeply grateful to the editors of this Special Issue, in particular Fransina Stradling, whose multiple, enthusiastic and expert re-readings have considerably improved this paper. Any errors that might remain are mine.


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Published Online: 2023-10-06
Published in Print: 2023-10-26

© 2023 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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