• This book explores questions that are central to literary experience but remain difficult for critics to explain, such as how novels can seem to transport readers to fictional worlds that feel real, why literary characters can come to seem like intimate friends, and what is uniquely pleasurable about reading fiction. Drawing on psychological research on reading and cognition, this book provides literary studies with a new set of tools for analyzing the relationship between narrative technique and the phenomenology of reading. Focusing on classic novels by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Leo Tolstoy, and on poems by Thomas Hardy, this study exposes the underpinnings of the seemingly impossible achievement of realist fiction, introducing new perspectives on narrative theory, mimesis, and fictionality. It changes the way critics think about literary language, realist aesthetics, and the reading process, opening up a new field of inquiry centered on the relationship between fictional representation and comprehension.