Realism Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

The realist movement in literature had a broadsweeping and profound affect on international literature throughout the second half of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century.

Many realist novelists were nationally and internationally recognized, within their lifetimes, to be among the greatest writers of the century. The public reception of many major realist novels was overwhelmingly positive. In general, realist novels were commercially successful throughout France, Russia, and England, to the extent that many major realist writers were able to support themselves entirely from the proceeds of their publications. In England, Dickens achieved unprecedented, and perhaps unsurpassed, popularity with the public. In Russia, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were widely revered for their literary accomplishments. In France, Balzac, Maupassant, Flaubert, and Zola were all recognized as major literary figures.

Yet, while many realist novels were popular with the reading public, the unabashed view of contemporary society and unadorned representation of contemporary culture expressed by the realists were criticized in some corners as indecent and morally repugnant. In France, for example, the forces of government censorship stepped in to prosecute Flaubert for the publication of Madame Bovary, a tale of marital infidelity, based on the grounds that it violated what are considered laws of morality and decency. In a court of law, however, Flaubert’s novel was found not guilty, and the scandal only increased the book’s popularity.

Realist writers are widely celebrated for their mastery of objective, third-person narration. C. P. Snow, in The Realists, has described the powerful, “intelligent” narrative voice and sociological accuracy of realist novels as their most prominent contribution to literature. Snow observes, in The Realists: Eight Portraits, that “In great realistic novels, there is a presiding, unconcealed interpreting intelligence,” by which the fictional characters are “examined with the writer’s psychological resources and with...

(The entire section is 863 words.)