Critical Approaches
Marxist Criticism

Great realism 'does not portray an immediately obvious aspect of reality but one which is permanent and objectively more significant, namely man in the whole range of his relations to the real world, above all those which outlast fashion'

Lukács, Georg. Studies in European Realism. Translated by Edith Bone, The Merlin Press, 1972, p. 48.
Marxist literary criticism focuses on the revolutionary qualities and value of a literary work. Works that reflect on or reveal the workings and effects of capitalism and consumer society are of particular interest to Marxist criticism. To the Marxist mind, 'capitalism impoverishes, dehumanizes, mechanizes human beings' (Brecht 68).

practical application
Literary realism is an apt candidate for Marxist criticism due to some of its principal attitudes and conventions, e.g. the focus on different social circumstances and environments and their interrelations and the representation of society as a whole organism; the democratisation of subject-matter and the resistance to the ideal; and the strain of sympathy for mankind.

Within Marxist criticism, we find a variety of critical approaches to the subject of literary realism, and a variety of suggested criteria as to a definition of literary realism, ranging from severe formalism to an experimental attitude. What many Marxists have in common, however, is the attitude to literary realism that it has the potential to set man free by shattering the ruling concepts of reality and undermining and revealing the consequences of capitalism. Thus Marxist criticism not only offers a definition, but also a purpose of literary realism.

eternal truths
In addition, Marxist criticism, being ideologically based, focuses on the representation of "essence", i.e. the understanding that there exist constant, eternal truths, such as the evils of capitalism, equally valid and relevant to mankind and his society at all times.

Precisely because of the powerful focus on particular aspects of literary realism, and its unique, arguably one-sided, perspective, Marxist criticism can serve as a valuable approach to the genre and appreciation of the same. Especially when one engages literary realism critically for the first time.

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Works Cited

  • Brecht, Bertolt. 'Against Georg Lukács'. Aesthetics and Politics, edited by Ronald Taylor, Verso, 1980, pp. 68-85.
Suggested Further Reading

  • Taylor, Ronald, editor. Aesthetics and Politics. Verso, 1980.
  • Williams, Raymond. The Long Revolution. Penguin, 1980, pp. 300-316.
Table of Contents


Difficulties of a Definition

Terminology and Aesthetics
- What is in a Word?
- the Real and the Realistic
- Reality and Fiction

a History of Literary Realism
- Introduction
- Early Literary Realism
- Late Literary Realism

What is Literary Realism?
- Approximating a Definition
- Attitudes
- Conventions

Critical Approaches
- Introduction
- Formalism
- Reader Response Theory
- Aesthetics
- Marxist Criticism
- Post-Structural Criticism
- Postmodern Criticism
- Postmodern Anti-Realism

Practical Appreciation
- Madame Bovary
- Everything is Illuminated

Study Proposals




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