The eighteenth-century sentimental novel has thrived on a paradox: it narrates obviously fictitious tales in order to convey tangible moral standards for the actual world. The genre indulges in effusions of overwhelming feeling experienced by naïve and/or virtuous characters struggling to retain their goodness in a society corrupted by selfish ambition. Such idealized individuals – a popular example is the eponymous protagonist of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) – not only respond to other people’s misery with deeply felt sympathy: they encounter vice and ill-fortune themselves when humbly pursuing not ambitious, but common goals such as finding friendship, or establishing a family. While their heightened righteousness in the face of adverse twists of fate often fails to earn sentimental heroes and heroines a happy ending, it ensures them the sympathy of novel readers, as the tragic fate of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1747) illustrates. Fellow feeling is the prevalent sentiment of a genre that ‘showed people how to behave, how to express themselves in friendship and how to respond decently to life’s experiences.’94 The idea that a person’s individual consciousness is affected by the plight and suffering of others, which in turn provokes responses of tender feeling and sympathy, is an omnipresent conception in eighteenth-century fiction that permeates various novel developments, from epistolary writing to the radical novel. As a novelistic subgenre, sentimental novels highlighted ‘the individual and social importance of sensitivity to the troubles of others. In addition to representing heroes, and occasionally heroines, of extraordinary responsiveness, they also commented on social institutions.’95 It is not surprising, therefore, that the question whether sentimental novels have a didactic claim continues to inform literary scholarship, which understands their lack of mimetic representation either as a stylistic means deployed to serve an ideological agenda, or as a proof of their dislike of any form of cultural engagement.