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c h a p t e r 1 part 1. smith’s sympathetic protocols If [a man] would act so as that the impartial spectator may enter into the principles of his conduct, which is what of all things he has the greatest desire to do, he must, upon this, as upon all other occasions, humble the arrogance of his self-love, and bring it down to something which other men can go along with. —Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments Contrasting three approaches to literary realism—that of medieval typology, Ian Watt’s “formal realism,” and the causal realism of novelists like George Eliot— Marshall Brown concludes that realism is “an attribute, a quality, an impression created by the novel.”1 Not “something ‘in’ the novel but the novel’s impact on readers,” realism names a way of responding to literary texts: it designates “a structure of consciousness” (233, 226). Harry E. Shaw makes a comparable claim on behalf of nineteenth-century realism in particular. Charting patterns and relations , it cultivates a “habit”—or habits—“of mind.”2 Following this line of thinking , I argue that the realism of the nineteenth-century British novel—the “period and genre that gave [realism] currency”—is best understood as a “sympathetic realism ,” not simply because these novels promote or are about sympathy (though they often do, and are), but because they employ forms designed to enact sympathetic habits of mind in readers: structures of consciousness shaped according to sympathetic protocols (Brown 224). And because his conception of sympathy is instrumental for our understanding of the realism developed in this period, I foGoing Along with Others Adam Smith and the Realists 16 s y m p a t h e t i c r e a l i s m cus on Adam Smith, about whose theory of sympathy I will be putting forth three main claims. First, Smith’s 1759 The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) offers not merely a sentimental moral theory, in which moral value derives in conjunction with human sentiments, but a social theory in which narrative plays a major role. Second, Smith’s model of sympathy—a highly abstract operation for producing fellow-feeling—helps to clarify the sympathetic dimensions of some of the realists ’ signature formal and technical innovations. And, third, the most significant of these innovations, realist historicism, is best explained relative to sympathetic premises devised by Smith. This argument hinges on the easily forgotten fact that sympathy and feeling are not the same. A mechanism by way of which we imagine and (sometimes) produce feelings, sympathy is an operation of mind, fundamentally a cognitive process. Sympathy usually results in feeling but is not equivalent to it. Understanding it in this way allows us to see that sympathy, like the realism Brown describes, designates a way for minds to conceive other people and situations and make judgments about their conditions. When sympathy works, people typically respond feelingly, to be sure, but not with any necessary feeling more precise than that which Smith calls the feeling of “going along with” others.3 That last phrase will prove crucial. “Something which other men can go along with” signi fies an attitude, a state of mind, common to both sympathy and realist verisimilitude in the historicist mode (TMS 83). In sympathetically “going along with” another, one shares with her an imagined mental companionship rather than a one-dimensional emotional identity. Nineteenth-century realism engenders and refines such states of mind, thus giving shape to a double impression: that these novels feel real is an effect of the imaginative experiences of mental sharing they generate, and of the fellow-feeling to which those experiences give rise. And—a further step—it is in this complex rhetorical and imaginative process that the nineteenth-century realist novel makes it claims on history. For in responding to the situations in which others find themselves, in “going along with” their imagined states of mind, we enter into what Shaw describes as “a mode of grasping life in history,” an appreciation of the narrative unfolding of historical events (131). Sympathy with others (including other selves) is at the very heart of the realist novel’s historical enterprise. Building on Shaw’s contention that nineteenth-century realist plots are “primarily involved in the mobilization of will,” and that they are “in this sense ‘rhetorical,’ for they call upon the reader to respond,” I show that the responses demanded by realism are often sympathetic...


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