What is Literary Realism?
Approximating a General Definition

Literary realism at its most basic level is 'a formula of art which, conceiving of reality in a certain way, undertakes to present a simulacrum of on the basis of more or less fixed rules'

Becker, George J. 'Introduction'. Documents of Modern Literary Realism, edited by Gerge J. Becker, Princeton University Press, 1963, p. 36.
This section addresses the attitudes and conventions of literary realism and will make an effort to approximate a generalised definition of the genre. I have to stress that information provided here is provisional; do not consider it an absolute formula of the genre. Keep in mind that literary realism is a genre that has undergone, and likely will continue to undergo, much change and experimentation.

Ultimately, the best way to establish for yourself what is literary realism is to read as many and as different works that might suggest literary realism. After all, the understanding of reality is relative and not identical for all, as both literary realist works and the criticism of them reflects.

This section builds on and, in part, summarises the information provided elsewhere on this site, i.e. Terminology and Aesthetics and a History of Literary Realism.

Approximating a General Definition

I am assuming the following hypothesis :

Literary realism constitutes an attempt to represent reality or aspect thereof. It does not refer directly to reality, but rather a perception of reality which it seeks to structure and communicate. It does not refer directly to reality, as that would be an act of imitation, and imitation is neither representation nor art. This representation constitutes in turn an attempt to understand and comprehend the world around us, our inter-relations and the relationships between our separate and collective realities.

Furthermore, literary realism is characterised by certain attitudes to the representation of reality, humanity and truth, which in turn have generated certain stylistic, conceptual and thematic conventions by which works of literary realism are constructed and which, when interacting with a reader, support these same attitudes and engender an appearance or sense of the real. The interaction between the reader and the literary realist text potentially affords a re-assessment or expansion by the reader of his or her experience, perception and understanding of reality, humanity and truth.

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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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