Roberts argues that Clarissa's, Hester's, Isabel's, and Tess's "heroism" or "greatness" is measured not by her actions but by the extent to which others are moved by her. Therefore, the character cannot be studied without studying the response she generates, which, in these novels, is sympathy. Roberts asserts that each of the novels can be understood as a school of sympathy, through which we learn to behave and feel as gendered subjects, and that our response to the heroine is as carefully crafted as the character herself. Schools of Sympathy addresses issues of masochism, female victimization, the power of passive seduction, and the possibilities of heroism. As a counterpoint to these eighteenth- and nineteenth-century male perspectives, Roberts examines works by Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter that explicitly address these issues.