Literature and Theatre

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Steven Earnshaw

Towards the latter half of the nineteenth century a new aesthetic, predominantly European in its earlier incarnations, reacts against Realism and produces what is collectively termed 'modernism'. Towards the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s a new aesthetic came to dominate, called 'postmodernism'. If modernism and Realism had some common points of contact, the relationship between Realism and postmodernism is completely antithetical and antagonistic. Much of what has been said about postmodern writing applies to magical realism. This chapter provides a detailed account of Postmodernism and magical realism by considering two exemplary texts, namely Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale and Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. It looks at Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End, which describes the minutiae of everyday life in the office of an advertising agency, with the unusual device of using the first-person plural for its narrative perspective.

in Beginning realism
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Series: Beginnings
Author: Steven Earnshaw

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 discussed.

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Steven Earnshaw

Many critics and theorists regard discussion of literary realism 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. It is 'the idea of poetry' that is under siege. This chapter discusses the idea of poetry conceived in different ways. It provides examples from the mini-canon of novels to show how the Realist novel is in thrall to the idea of poetry, while at the same time by its very form continues to operate against the idea of it. A STOP and THINK section helps readers explore the possibility of realism in poetry. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh represents the pressure in the nineteenth century for art to be 'realist', responding to concerns such as those articulated by Arthur Hugh Clough.

in Beginning realism
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Steven Earnshaw
in Beginning realism
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Steven Earnshaw

As a way of thinking about the complexity of realism, this chapter considers verisimilitude that is associated with it. There is no one element that defines literary realism; it is a mixture of philosophical tendencies, aesthetic aims and literary techniques. The chapter suggests the main characteristics of each in relation to Realism. The lack of significant theoretical work on realism in England is put down to a couple of reasons, which the chapter deals with briefly. The chapter also suggests a number of reasons for studying literary realism. To make things manageable at the start, as well as helping to boost clarity, a 'mini-canon' of Realist novels is used to explore preliminary definition of Realism. STOP and THINK sections in the chapter lists some points to consider when thinking about realist works, particularly novels.

in Beginning realism
Steven Earnshaw

This chapter looks at the different ways in which language is conceptualised in relation to the discussion of realism. It begins with some mid-nineteenth century non-fiction prose as examples of metonymy at work in realism. The chapter then provides some considerable space to Roland Barthes's 'The Reality Effect' because it will allow us to bring together the work on language. It examines more critically some of the assumptions about realism by looking more widely at the issue of detail. The use of prose in a linguistic style that is consistently rational, measured, metonymic and discursive would seem to bear out all complaints against the dullness of realism. The chapter presents a case study on Mrs Oliphant's Hester to explore the matter since the medium of language is portrayed as inadequate in its ability to represent the world and in its ability to enable us to comprehend the world.

in Beginning realism
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Steven Earnshaw

Some writers who straddled both periods from the 1880s and 1890s onwards, until the 1920s/1930s, moved away from Realism to modernism. This chapter looks first at George Gissing's The Unclassed which is predominantly in a Realist vein, yet which shows signs of dissatisfaction with Realism and the aesthetic ideas which inform it. It then moves on to an example of modernist fiction which dismantles virtually all of the tenets of Realism. Throughout both discussions we see the legacy of Realism transmute into ways which, even when ostensibly furthering the aims of Realism, amount to a quite strong refutation of it as an aesthetic. Having prepared the ground for the modernist novel, the chapter also looks at an exemplary, well-known production, Virginia Woolf 's Mrs Dalloway. A STOP and THINK section lists some questions for readers to answer themselves and understand the concepts of modernism and the modernist novel.

in Beginning realism
Steven Earnshaw

This chapter discusses some features that the nineteenth-century Realist novel exhibits and which underpin the Realist aesthetic. The first, and one of the most important aspects, is plausibility. The chapter looks at plot, a particularly tricky issue in discussion of Realism as well as causality, time, and endings of Charles Dickens's Dombey and Son as an example of plausibility. Other characteristics of the Realist novel discussed are narrative point of view, sympathy, empathy, subject matter, and proportion underpinning realist writing. STOP and THINK sections in the chapter help readers to think about the representation of the Realist novel and the validity of some of assertions related to Realism.

in Beginning realism
Steven Earnshaw

The Realist novel presents stories, characters and settings that are similar to those commonly found in the contemporary everyday world. This chapter looks at the characteristics of the Realist novel and suggests reasons why Realism dominates art in the nineteenth-century by considering two principles. There were numerous claims in the nineteenth century that the aim of art should be to represent the world faithfully, and this can be taken as the first principle of Realism: the faithful copy. The second principle is that it should deal with the contemporary 'here and now'. The chapter provides information on the factors contributing to the emphasis on contemporary reality, namely the consequences of industrialization, humanism, the growing authority of science, and the development of the social sciences. A STOP and THINK section in the chapter helps readers to compare their thoughts with the possible responses provided to questions on realism.

in Beginning realism
Steven Earnshaw

This chapter on philosophy and realism in the age of new media offers the perspectives on the concept of realism which are not dependent on literary history. It begins by providing information on Aristotle's and Plato's works in relation to realism. The chapter then discusses the relationship between literary realism and the philosophical position of common-sense realism, describing the feature of Nigel Warburton's summary of common-sense realism. It provides specific consideration to further thought about the philosophy of realism and the realist aesthetic. The chapter also describes the kind of default realist position taken up by the majority of people and with which nineteenth-century Realism accords. A STOP and THINK section lists questions for readers to answer by themselves and better understand realism. Finally, the chapter explores the values of the realist aesthetic and change in the nature of reality.

in Beginning realism