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
heads in agreement with novelists, dramatists or poets and congratulate them on having more or less faithfully copied a world we know or believe to be real?
The answer to this is probably ‘yes’, up to a point. If consciously, or not so consciously, we find ourselves saying, ‘yes, that’s just how it is’, ‘that’s how it must have been’ or ‘that’s true to life’, we are probably within the bounds of traditionally realistliterature. And if that is the case can there be much more in the way of interest or enlightenment to say about it? Our job as critics, analysts and
arguments of writers like Barthes, where modernism becomes less of an issue.
Influential in its popularisation of this anti-realist critique is Catherine Belsey’s Critical Practice (1980). Belsey offers lucid accounts of the structuralist and post-structuralist positions and, drawing on the work of Colin MacCabe and Stephen Heath, she provided a solid attack on realistliterature and its proponents. Besley’s book is also important because it suggests that readers themselves need to break out of ‘realism’ in their own reading practices.
The work of Riffaterre and
and knowledge. This also explains why Realistliterature has to balance the public and the private and establish a correct ratio for it, a process which involves authors and audience working collaboratively. I would suggest that rather than ‘common-sense realism’ being the default position, this mix of individual perception, common knowledge, authoritative statements, application of reason, belief and tradition, represents the default position. Let me call this ‘everyday realism’. This hardly amounts to a philosophy, since it is more a description of the general
perspective that will provoke changes in the
way we read now. And some of these are significant enough to merit re-emphasising here.
To begin with, the strong attachment of contemporary theologians (including
feminist theologians) to realistliterature should now be called into question. We
may wish to apply our ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ to the fact that contemporary theology (including feminist theology) shows a strong preference for this
particular genre. Feminist religious readers will wish to ask whether there is an
implicit understanding of God and the world that
represent change in previous periods, but here it is allied to the tenet of representing the world as it appears, rather than through the generic filters of satire or idealism. Sometimes, the Realist attachment to the contemporary may be socially motivated – to raise awareness of terrible working and living conditions – at other times simply partaking in the dominant aesthetic of Realism or the fashion for Realistliterature. But the second point to make is that there is (arguably) a correlation between Realism’s focus on representing the physical world, and industrial
Conflict, coercion, and the circumstances of politics
of ‘consistent realism’, the focus solely on power and
coercion, is echoed across numerous pages of the realistliterature. Niebuhr,
for instance, in his The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness identified
the latter as those ‘who know no law beyond their will and interest’ and,
furthermore, as ‘evil because they know no law beyond the self ’.64 Morgenthau
even went so far as to claim that fascism had failed as a practical philosophy
because it mistook individuals to be simply the object of political manipulation
rather than moral persons endowed with
has been seen as eminently suitable for the work of realistliterature.
Auerbach makes a general point about language as a tool in aid of realism. He firstly makes connections between the kinds of society there have been and the types of literature they have produced, and concomitantly he views language itself as a medium which is mastered differently, or employed differently, at different times. Only when it has a particular kind of capacity – for example, handling and conveying ‘complex factual data’ (Auerbach 1991 : 219) – can it move towards realism, or be
’ view that there is a real world and the language we use can and does tell us what it is like, the accuracy of which depends upon the skill of the artist.
One of the characteristic aims of Realism is that anything is fit material for art, because ‘all is true’, as Balzac has it in his Preface to Old Goriot . Put another way, a mirror does not choose what it reflects, it shows everything that it captures. However, a logical criticism of this analogy as it applies to Realistliterature is that of course writers select and manipulate their material, and if
young communist drew up for the retired miners and
Crisis and creativity
housewives of West Riding were largely devoid of modernist writers.
Thompson was especially determined to avoid TS Eliot, the star of
British modernism. But Thompson’s courses were also devoid of the
sort of ‘socialist realist’ literature being promoted by the Communist
Party as the ‘healthy alternative’ to ‘bourgeois’ modernism. The tutor
focused on the Romantic poets, Shakespeare and Victorian novelists.23
The late 1940s and early 1950s brought a major reorientation in