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
group of characteristic elements in works of literature. This chapter deals with a number of the objections that are raised in discussions of Realism, both from the Realistperiod and from twentieth- and twenty-first century criticisms. Although the chapter has sub-headings suggestive of quite discrete issues, there is a great deal of interdependency and overlap, which I would ask you to bear in mind throughout this chapter. Objections to the more diffuse term ‘realism’ are dealt with in Chapter 10 on philosophy.
The novel genre
The argument thus far has been
are various reasons as to why ‘the contemporary’ is overwhelmingly important. These various reasons combine and unite behind a belief in the primacy of the ‘here and now’ during the Realistperiod. The emphasis on the contemporary, like the emphasis on mirroring reality, is not without problems, of course, but again we will deal with this general feature in the manner that the Realists found it to be necessary before looking later on at the difficulties.
The factors contributing to the emphasis on contemporary reality are:
the consequences of industrialisation
Barton rather than William, the wronged virtuous man in Black-Ey’d Susan . The difficulties Brierly faces are more plausible than thoroughgoing melodrama would normally call for, since the situation when he struggles to break free from his past reputation has some Realist merit. Nevertheless, the accommodation of the playwright to the demands of a nineteenth-century audience demanding the sensational are easily discernible as the play progresses.
If English drama of the Realistperiod was hampered specifically by the audience’s desire for melodrama, it also faced a
House of Fiction . London: Rupert Hart-Davis .
Kolocotroni, Vassiliki , Jane Goldman and Olga Taxidou ( 2004 ), Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents . Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press . Includes much important modernist material, as well as critical statements from the Realistperiod.
Lawrence, D. H. ( 1956 ), Letter to Edward Garnett, 5 June 1914. The Letters of D H Lawrence . London: Heinemann .
Lawrence, D. H. ( 1982 ), Women in Love . Harmondsworth: Penguin .
Lewis, Pericles ( 2007 ), The Cambridge
distorted or abnormal and begin to fall outside of the dictates of the Realist aesthetic. The Realist writer must therefore maintain a sense of proportion in all things, particularly in subject matter and in the representation of the inner world of a character and the social world to which he or she belongs. Too much unmediated character ‘consciousness’, for instance, militates against putting things in just proportion. Hence the novels of Henry James, which overlap with the Realistperiod, are deemed to be on the fringes of what might be regarded as Realist (now and then