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'

George Becker, 1963 (Becker 36)
This section addresses the attitudes and conventions of literary realism and will make an effort to approximate a generalized definition of the genre. I have to stress that information provided here is provisional; do not consider it an absolute formula of the genre. These are not criteria. Rather, they are thumb rules that may assist in the identification and appreciation of literary realism.

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, summarizes 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 characterized by certain attitudes to the representation of reality, humanity and truth, which in turn have generated certain stylistic 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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Works Cited

  • Becker, George J. Documents of Modern Literary Realism. Princeton, New Jersey : Princeton University Press, 1963.
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
- Post-Modern Criticism

Practical Appreciation
- "Madame Bovary"
- "Everything is Illuminated"

Study Proposals




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