Rae Greiner proposes that sympathy is integral to the form of the classic nineteenth-century realist novel. Following the philosophy of Adam Smith, Greiner argues that sympathy does more than foster emotional identification with others; it is a way of thinking along with them. By abstracting emotions, feelings turn into detached figures of speech that may be shared. Sympathy in this way produces realism; it is the imaginative process through which the real is substantiated.
In Sympathetic Realism in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction Greiner shows how this imaginative process of sympathy is written into three novelistic techniques regularly associated with nineteenth-century fiction: metonymy, free indirect discourse, and realist characterization. She explores the work of sentimentalist philosophers David Hume, Adam Smith, and Jeremy Bentham and realist novelists Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Joseph Conrad, and Henry James.