Terms used to describe artistic practices have different meanings from their
common usage, but 'realism' as an aesthetic idea cannot be too
far removed from the way we would talk about something 'real'.
This book explores the artistry and aesthetics of realist literature, along with
the assumptions of realist literature. It examines the different ways in which
theorists, critics and philosophers conceptualise 'realism'.
The book argues that a 'realist' sensibility is the ground on
which other modes of literature often exist. It considers verisimilitude that is
associated with the complexity of realism, describing the use of realism in two
ways: capital 'R' and small 'r'. A set of
realist novels is used to explore preliminary definition of realism. The STOP
and THINK section lists some points to consider when thinking about realist
works. The book looks at the characteristics of the Realist novel. It deals with
the objections raised in discussions of Realism, from the Realist period and
twentieth- and twenty-first century criticisms. The book provides information on
the novel genre, language that characterises Realism, and selection of novel
material. It looks at crucial elements such as stage design, and a technical
feature often overlooked, the aside, something which seems non-realistic, and
which might offer another view on Realism. The book talks about some writers who
straddled both periods from the 1880s and 1890s onwards, until the 1920s/1930s,
gradually moved away from Realism to modernism. Literary realism, and
Aristotle's and Plato's works in relation to realism are also
Space and the Speculative in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”
In a 1961 interview with the journalist Studs Terkel, James Baldwin offered a riveting assessment of Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues.” “It’s a fantastic kind of understatement,” Baldwin tells Terkel. “It’s the way I want to write.” Baldwin hears something in Bessie, a sonic and discursive quality he aspires to and identifies as “fantastic.” This essay considers the speculative undertones of Bessie’s blues and Baldwin’s literary realism. I argue that Bessie’s doubled vocalization in “Backwater Blues” lyrically declares her immobility and circumscription, while tonally staging freedom and boundlessness. Baldwin is drawn to this dual orientation and enunciation, a vocalization that in its iteration of the real transcends the social, spatial, and imaginative limitations of that order. If we read “Sonny’s Blues” the way Baldwin hears Bessie, as a fantastic kind of understatement, we discern subtle sonic and spatial iterations of the irreal. Attending to microtonal sounds in “Sonny’s Blues”—screams, whistling, jukeboxes—I show that the speculative emerges in Baldwin’s story when the sonic overrides the racialized inscription of space.
theorists, critics and philosophers conceptualise ‘realism’, and it explores the different approaches we might bring to both the theories of realism and the analysis of texts, realist and otherwise. As we observe, when we talk of realism as a philosophical attitude, it is a particular way of seeing and understanding the world, and when we speak of ‘literaryrealism’, we are identifying a class of literature that adheres to some version of this realist stance, and treats and presents its material accordingly. When we consider realism as a particular literary mode for
In this chapter I aim to give a sense of some of the most important critical work on literaryrealism from the mid-twentieth century to the present. The field is complex, contributing no doubt to the belief that realism is a ‘slippery’ term, and there can be no attempt here to be comprehensive. I begin by giving a sketch of the different channels of thought and arguments, and also place them in relation to the discussion on the preceding pages. One aspect that will emerge as significant, and which has not been quite so apparent as yet, is the
; the idea that beauty can be universally observed by those with good taste; the idea of genius as non-copyable inspiration; the idea that what is beautiful is also morally good. All of these ideas contributed to the Romanticism that Realism reacted against. In this light, I will jump back once more into the nineteenth century.
Philosophy and Realism
If philosophic and aesthetic principles do not wholly coincide with the realist impulse until the nineteenth century, we still might ask exactly how much does literaryRealism depend upon philosophical realism, or
, to blow a hair’s-breadth off
The dust of the actual.
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh , II, 476–83)
The previous chapters have focused on the novel from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards as being at the forefront of literaryRealism. Indeed, many critics and theorists regard discussion of literaryrealism as one related solely to the novel genre. However, Realism was such a dominant force in the nineteenth century that poetry and drama were obliged to respond to it. That this was the order of influence is repeatedly borne out by
The origins, characteristics and theoretical foundation of the nineteenth-century French realist, and naturalist tradition
, determinist tradition had a direct influence
on French literaryrealism during the nineteenth-century. Stendhal drew on
the ideas of Helvétius and the ideologues in his Le Rouge et le
noir (1830), and employed one of Helvétius’ key terms when
describing his novel as a chronique of French society. One of the key
ideas which Stendhal and other realists took from the ideologues was the
notion that people fell into broad categories
literaryrealism can be simultaneously stable (an accessible, truthful representation of social conditions
at a particular historical moment) yet sufficiently unstable to suggest
an evolving discourse (a vision of future possibilities both linguistic and
political). This difficulty was certainly not unique to Harkness, but in a
period of significant social change it went to the very heart of her task.
Social semantics, that is, a common discourse carrying cultural meaning
in the process of refinement by dynamic contemporary usage, is the raw
material that a novelist
Case studies of George Eliot and Harriet Martineau
Deborah M. Fratz
This chapter explores representations of impairment and disability in the
‘Literary Realism’ writings of George Eliot and Harriet Martineau and
investigates a different medium of popular perceptions and representations
of disability, that of popular fiction. Criticism addressing the use of
disabled characters in Victorian fiction frequently acknowledges how such
characters function by invoking feelings of sympathy, both within the
narrative and in readers. However, Deerbrook’s Maria Young and Philip Wakem
in The Mill on the Floss reverse our expectations: rather than being the
subjects of observation and sympathy, they operate as model observers of the
world around them. In this, they differ from the stereotypical role assigned
to disabled characters in other Victorian novels and seek to follow one of
the guiding principles of Literary Realism, the accurate portrayal of daily
life, rather than some romanticised notion.
This book considers ancient Egypt and its relics as depicted in literature across the Victorian era, addressing themes such as reanimated mummies and ancient Egyptian mythology, as well as contemporary consumer culture across a range of literary modes, from literary realism to Gothic fiction, from burlesque satire to historical novels, and from popular culture to the elite productions of the aesthetes and decadents. In doing so, it is the first multi-authored study to scrutinise ancient Egypt in nineteenth-century literature, bringing together a variety of literary methodologies to probe ancient Egypt’s complex connotations across this era. This collection scrutinises and illuminates the ways in which ancient Egypt was harnessed to question notions of race, imperialism, religion, gender, sexuality and the fluidity of literary genre. Collectively, the chapters demonstrate the pervasiveness of contemporary interest in ancient Egypt through the consideration of narratives and authors held as canonical in the nineteenth century, bringing these into conversation with new sources brought to light by the authors of these chapters. Discussing the works of major figures in nineteenth-century culture including Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, George Eliot, H. Rider Haggard, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde, this collection extends beyond British writing, to European and American literature. It weaves discussions of understudied figures – such as Charles Wells, Louisa Stuart Costello and Guy Boothby – into this analysis. Overall, it establishes the richness of a literary culture developing across the century often held to have ‘birthed’ the discipline of Egyptology, the scholarly means by which we might comprehend ancient Egyptian culture.