At the start of Chapter 1 I set out some general features of the Realistnovel, and then concentrated on what I suggested were two overriding concerns – ‘the faithful copy’ and ‘the here and now’ – along with some discussion of the motivations and consequences for these two principles. I now look at some of those other features that the Realistnovel exhibits and which underpin the Realist aesthetic.
If I were to set out these characteristics in a rather abstract, analytical manner, it would soon become apparent, if it is not already, that there is no novel
that there is a set of beliefs and works in the nineteenth century which we identify as constituting Realism, and that the literary form most associated with it is the novel. The problem here is that some of the features identified in Chapters 1 and 2 as part of the Realistnovel could be said to be typical of the novel as a whole prior to the 1840s.
It is important to remember that the novel genre is still a new and emerging form in the nineteenth century and that Realist writers do not have to contend with arguments about what a novel traditionally is and
Characteristics of the Realistnovel
The Realistnovel presents stories, characters and settings that are similar to those commonly found in the contemporary everyday world. This requires events to take place in the present or recent past, and the events themselves are usually organised in a linear, chronological sequence, and located in places familiar to author and audience either through direct observation or report. The characters and storylines are plausible, and in this they are therefore commonplace rather than out of the ordinary. The desire to
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
Mahawatte explores George Eliot‘s use of the Gothic in Middlemarch (1871–72) and in particular the literary connections between Dorothea Casaubon and the heroine of the Gothic novel. He argues that Eliot has a conflicting relationship with this figure, at once wanting to satirize her, and yet also deploying Gothic images and resonances to add an authenticity of affect to her social commentary. Using Jerold E. Hogle‘s idea that the Gothic re-fakes what is already read as a copy, Mahawatte presents Dorothea as a quasi-reproduction of Sophia Lee‘s heroines in The Recess; or, A Tale of Other Times (1783–85) and also as part of a Gothic process within a social realist novel.
sees that poetry will be the most resistant form of writing to Realism. In this he was echoing a common sentiment, for the Realistnovel was seen as the antithesis of poetry, and was felt to be in direct opposition to whatever it was (and perhaps is) that poetry stands for.
The sentiment that poetry was no longer required had begun early in the century. Bernard Richards cites Bentham’s argument that the arts might have a utility value, similar to a game like ‘pushpin’, but could offer nothing more (1830); Thomas Love Peacock’s The Four Ages of Poetry (1819
the job well, we may easily forget that the subject matter has in fact been mediated, that it is a question of ‘representation’, that it is not really ‘real’ or ‘true’, it only appears to be. It could be argued that readers of realistnovels do sometimes take events and characters in novels to be real world events and real world characters. People used to visit Little Nell’s grave at St Bartholomew’s church in the village of Tong, Shropshire, England, believing her to have been buried there (‘supposed grave’, I should say?). But we know these people were deluded
not without their own merits, and once again to throw into relief the Realistnovel.
Foremost in any discussion of Realist drama within what is characterised as Victorian theatre is the playwright Tom Robertson, whose plays Society (1865), Ours (1866) and Caste (1867), among others, were great successes in their time. He is sometimes portrayed as a playwright who single-handedly attempted to bring a greater realism to theatrical practice at a time when it was dominated by melodrama, pure entertainment and the spectacular. Indeed, his particular brand of
‘top includes that low symbolically, as a primary eroticised constituent
of its own fantasy life’ (5). The disavowal of the ‘low-other’ is therefore
matched by its surreptitious movement towards forbidden and
scandalous object of desire.
The realistnovel and the grotesque
Debates about the relationship between the realistnovel and the
grotesque have often crystallised around the figure of Charles Dickens
and, while much of the criticism on his novels tends to emphasise his
role as a realist and his works’ impulse towards social reform, as for
fully taken into account before any attempt is made to apply Lukácsian
ideas to the formation of a model of cinematic realism.
One of the most trenchant criticisms levelled against
Lukács is that his model of realism is umbilically associated with a
particular form of literature – the nineteenth century realistnovel
– and that, as a consequence of this concentrated focus, his work
dismisses some of the most vital artistic