The following entry presents criticism on the representation of realism in world short fiction literature.
Viewed as a reaction to romanticism, literary realism is written from an objective perspective that simply and clearly represents the subject matter of the story, even at the expense of a well-made plot. Nineteenth-century realist writers addressed social, economic, and political concerns through their depictions of various aspects of life during that time, and they strove to accurately represent contemporary culture and people from every echelon of society. Realist fiction often had a documentary quality in that these authors accurately reported the details of a specific historical era. In their portrayals of love, marriage, and family, realists explored social and psychological factors contributing to conflicts in nineteenth-century domestic life. In fact, many are noted for their attention to the complexities of human psychology and the numerous factors contributing to individual motivation. Several realist authors have been praised for their ability to capture regional dialects as well as differences in the speech patterns of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Realist writers also addressed themes of religion, philosophy, and morality in their works.
Literary realism is most often associated with the mid-nineteenth-century movement that developed in France. Most scholars consider Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and Guy de Maupassant to be the major French realist writers of this time period. While Balzac is recognized as the originator of realism, Flaubert is celebrated as one of the world's great masters of the genre. Maupassant, who composed some three hundred short stories characterized by complex, tightly structured plots and an economical narrative style, is considered as one of the best short story writers of all time.
The realist movement later spread to other countries, most notably, Russia, England, and the United States. In Russia, the major realist writers are regarded to be Ivan Turgenev, Fedor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Anton Chekhov. Turgenev's short stories depict tales of rural peasant life in Russia, many exposing the institution of serfdom. His works also address psychological themes of love and passion that result in tragedy. Dostoevsky's novellas are celebrated as masterworks of psychological realism in their portrayal of individuals haunted by their own dark impulses. The main thematic concern of Tolstoy's stories are the struggles of the Russian peasantry, the place of women in Russian family and society, military life and combat, and psychological, philosophical, and religious reflections on life and death. Chekhov's stories portray characters from many sectors of Russian society, including the peasantry, the intelligentsia, and the world of industrial commerce. Often described as character-sketches, his short stories are characterized by simple plotlines, a precise, almost clinical, narrative voice, and lyrical language.
Realist short fiction written in English developed out of the influence of French and Russian literary realism. In England, the foremost author was Charles Dickens, while scholars later came to admire the writings of Anthony Trollope. In the United States, where realism appeared late in the 1800s, the best-known realist writers included William Dean Howells, Henry James, and Mark Twain. William Dean Howells is considered the most influential American literary realist of this time period. As editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly magazine, Howells established himself as a prominent literary critic, championing the realist writing of American authors as well as introducing European realist fiction to American readers. In his short stories and novellas, James utilized a number of original themes, the most notable of which is the American abroad, or the “international” story. While some critics have taken exception to including Twain's short story works within the opus of American literary realism, others contend that his use of vernacular speech and focus on standard nineteenth-century social and ethical issues–but with Twain's trademark caustic humor and acerbic wit–places him well within the boundaries of realist literature.
Honoré de Balzac
Adieu (novella) 1830
La Comédie humaine 20 vols. (novels, novellas, and short stories) 1842–53
The Human Comedy 40 vols. (novels, novellas, and short stories) 1895–98
Pestrye rasskazy (short stories) 1886
Nevinnye rechi (short stories) 1887
V sumerkakh (novella) 1887
Rasskazy (short stories) 1889
Lettres de mon moulin (short stories) 1869
Les contes du lundi (short stories) 1873
Sketches by Boz (short stories) 1836
*A Christmas Carol (novella) 1843
The Chimes (novella) 1844
Bednye lyudi [Poor Folk] (novella) 1846
Zapiski iz podpolya [Notes from Underground; also translated as Notes from the Underworld] (novella) 1864
Podrostok [A Raw Youth] (novella) 1876
†Trois contes [Three Tales] (short stories) 1877
Henry Blake Fuller
From the Other Side: Stories of Transatlantic Travel (short stories) 1898
William Dean Howells
Suburban Sketches (short stories) 1871
A Fearful Responsibility, and Other Stories (short stories) 1881
A Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales...
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Bates, H. E. The Modern Short Story: A Critical Survey, pp. 72-121. Boston: The Writer, Inc. Publishers, 1941.
[In the following excerpt, Bates provides an overview of nineteenth-century European realist short fiction writers Anton Chekhov (here spelled Tchehov), Guy de Maupassant, and Leo Tolstoy.]
TCHEHOV AND MAUPASSANT
In nineteenth-century America the short story took a series of halting steps forward, its performance rather resembling that of a child learning to walk. If at times it walked badly it could at least be said to be walking by itself; if it did not walk far it could also be said that vast continents are not explored in a day. It needs little perception to note the main defects of the American short story from Poe to Crane. It was often raw, facile, journalistic, prosy, cheap; it was unexperimental, and, except in rare instances, unpoetical. It was all these things, and much more; so that beside the European (not English) short story of the same day it appears to suffer from one huge and common defect. It lacked culture.
In Europe, on the other hand, culture rose readily and naturally to the top of artistic life like so much cream. By contrast with the saloon-bar back-cloths of Bret Harte, the Bowery of Crane, the embittered etchings of Bierce, the literary life and output of Europe appeared richly civilized, smooth, and settled. In France...
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Criticism: Realist Short Fiction In France
SOURCE: Sullivan, Edward D. Maupassant: The Short Stories, pp. 7-35. London: Edward Arnold, 1962.
[In the following excerpt, Sullivan categorizes Guy de Maupassant's short fiction.]
The world created by a short-story writer has its own coherence, its own identifying characteristics, its own structure, but when we try to examine it closely we are faced with a set of problems that are quite different from those involved in the analysis of an individual play, a short novel, or even a volume of poetry. Guy de Maupassant wrote over 300 short stories in a period of about ten years, roughly between 1880 and 1890; and, while it would be convenient if we could take one story and show that it embodies the characteristics of all the others, to do so would produce something either highly artificial or hopelessly misleading. Maupassant wrote many different kinds of stories—different in subject, in length, in technique, and in their impact on the reader; his interest changed with the passage of time, as he encountered new experiences, and he rewrote and re-used just about everything that he ever produced. To deal with this large and varied body of work we shall need to examine carefully a number of representative stories and make reference to a good many others if we are to discover the full meaning and value for ourselves of Maupassant's singularly sharp-eyed exploration of...
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SOURCE: Killick, Rachel. “Family Likeness in Flaubert and Maupassant: ‘La Legende de Saint Julien L'Hospitalier’ and ‘Le Donneur d'Eau Benite.’” Forum for Modern Language Studies 24, no. 4 (October 1988): 346-58.
[In the following essay, Killick considers the influence of Gustave Flaubert on Guy de Maupassant through a comparison of two stories that share similar elements of plot and theme.]
Flaubert's role as the young Maupassant's literary mentor is a well-established fact, attested by the 1870s correspondence and Flaubert's annotations of Maupassant's early work, particularly his verse. After 1880 Maupassant's articles on Flaubert and the Flaubertian tonality of his remarks on art and the novel demonstrate the permanence of that influence. In contrast, however, to the thorough critical documenting of these links, relatively little attention has been paid to any direct formative effect of Flaubert's fiction on that of Maupassant. No account has thus been taken of the striking relationship of resemblance and difference between “La Légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier” (first published in Le Bien Public of 19, 20, 21, 22 April 1877) and Maupassant's third published tale, “Le Donner d'eau bénite” (La Mosaïque, 10 November 1877).1
Interestingly, in the perspective of the literary father-son relationship, the two stories treat a common...
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SOURCE: Stipa, Ingrid. “Desire, Repetition and the Imaginary in Flaubert's ‘Un Cœur simple.’” Studies in Short Fiction 31:4 (fall 1994): 617-26.
[In the following essay, Stipa explores the literary symbolism underlying the serving-maid's obsessive infatuation with a dead parrot in Flaubert's story “Un Cœur simple.”]
While the writer's ironic perspective hovers incessantly above the story of “Un Cœur simple,” the carefully crafted narrative protects Felicite from its potentially venomous bite. A pattern of incremental repetitions played out within a network of strategic semiotic moves prepares the most important event of Felicite's life, her love relationship to a parrot. The carefully crafted structure combines with a mode of cognition Lacan would call “Imaginary” in that it allows the protagonist to process reality primarily through images, visual projections, and material objects rather than through a symbolic system based on arbitrary linguistic signs. Together they facilitate the transformation of Loulou from an ordinary household pet, a love object, to a sacred symbol, a visionary ideal, and a promise of redemption fusing libidinal and spiritual desire. It is the intent of this reading to focus on the component parts of this strategy, to trace the links between key events, and to analyze the subtle semiosis promoting the shift to different registers of signification....
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Criticism: Realist Short Fiction In Russia
SOURCE: Silbajoris, Rimvydas. “Images and Structures in Turgenev's Sportsman's Notebook.” Slavic and East European Journal 28, no. 2 (summer 1984): 180-91.
[In the following essay, Silbajoris discusses the ways in which the aesthetic principals of Ivan Turgenev inform the realist social critique expressed in his short story collection Sportsman's Notebook.]
The most common traditional readings of Turgenev's Sportsman's Notebook pertain to its social and political aspects and hold that the stories collected there represent Turgenev's intense moral and artistic effort to speak out against the institution of serfdom, as if in fulfillment of his “Hannibalic Oath.”1 Some of the stories, however, do not in themselves suggest such a clear-cut purpose, much less any definite program of action. Victor Ripp, a modern reader, adds a qualifying note to the established view:
The constraints on the Russian political imagination is [sic!] the unstated theme of Turgenev's Notes of a Hunter. Though he once claimed for it the force of a political manifesto, which supposedly induced Alexander II to emancipate the serfs, in the end the work is an illustration of how political positions in Russia were rendered incoherent and ineffectual.2
If there is a lack of political coherence in Sportsman's...
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SOURCE: Kagan-Kans, Eva. “The Russian Short Story, 1850-1880.” In The Russian Short Story: A Critical History, edited by Charles A. Moser, pp. 50-102. Boston: Twayne, 1986.
[In the following essay, Kagan-Kans provides an overview of the development of Russian realism during the period from 1850 to 1880, focusing on the short fiction of Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Fedor Dostoevsky, among others.]
The critic and man of letters Pavel Annenkov, who spoke of the 1840s as the “remarkable decade,” regarded the 1850s as a time of intellectual torpor. The first half of the decade corresponded with the last years of Nicholas I's reign, a time of extreme reaction and literary censorship. Nevertheless, for the history of Russian literature the decade is important because at that time certain artistic methods, with links to changes in the country's social and political life, came to the fore.
The literature of the 1850s may be regarded either as an epilogue to the natural school of the 1840s or as prologue to the new realism of the 1860s. In the 1850s there arose a new esthetic interest in the problem of reality, its functional links with man, and the nature of men itself. Literature began to deal with the confrontation between social norms and human nature, with the notion of the all-encompassing power of the times forming a major motif. The...
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SOURCE: Johnson, Ronald L. “The Master, 1895-1903.” In Anton Chekhov: A Study of the Short Fiction, pp. 76-103. New York: Twayne, 1993.
[In the following essay, Johnson contends that a shift in Chekhov's narrative perspective during the late period of his career added greater depth and complexity to his short stories.]
Raymond Carver believed an agreement might be reached among “thoughtful” readers that Chekhov was the greatest short story writer who ever lived, not only because of the “immense number” of stories he wrote, but the “awesome frequency” with which he produced masterpieces.1 That frequency is most apparent in this last period, from 1895 through 1903, when Chekhov treated the same subjects, but with a shift in point of view technique to include a narrating author persona in many stories. In general, this persona is disembodied, commenting on the characters and action as do the narrators in Henry James and George Eliot. A. P. Chudakov remarks that his characteristic manner of “depicting the world through a concrete, perceiving consciousness” has not been replaced. Rather the “old manner remains and a new one is added to it” (99-100).
Chekhov's contemporaries noticed this shift in point of view. One critic commented in 1898 that Chekhov was no longer the “objective artist” he had been earlier; that same year, another critic...
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Criticism: Realist Short Fiction In England
SOURCE: Stone, Donald D. “Trollope as a Short Story Writer.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 31, no. 1 (June 1976): 26-47.
[In the following essay, Stone provides an overview of the short fiction of Anthony Trollope.]
Anthony Trollope's stories constitute a substantial and substantially ignored portion of his prodigious output. He began writing them after having established, in his mid-forties, a reputation as author of the first three Barsetshire novels; and with the great success of Framley Parsonage in 1860, editors of Victorian middlebrow magazines began to importune him for short works bearing his name. To his young American friend, Kate Field, who had sent him one of her short stories for criticism, Trollope offered a formula for storytelling which demonstrates how modestly he may have regarded his own practice, at least in the beginning stages: “Tell some simple plot or story of more or less involved, but still common life, adventure, and try first to tell that in such form that idle minds may find some gentle sentiment and recreation in your work.”1 Such a goal indicates why so many of his stories, virtually all of them pleasant enough to read through, are not comparable to the more ambitious, more painstakingly constructed, efforts of James and Kipling, Lawrence and Joyce. Like Mrs. Gaskell and Dickens, Trollope was perfectly willing to produce slight works of an anecdotal...
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SOURCE: Allingham, Philip V. “Dickens's Aesthetic of the Short Story.” Dickensian 95, no. 448 (summer 1999): 144-53.
[In the following essay, Allingham delineates the defining characteristics of Dickens's short fiction.]
Like Mark Twain, Charles Dickens did not publish a thorough aesthetic or theory of the short story or novella, despite ample evidence that he has left of his mastery of these forms. However, throughout his essays, sketches, and novels Dickens addresses the necessity for fancy, and for fellow-feeling and an emotional and imaginative release in an increasingly Utilitarian age. His letters are a particularly useful resource in attempting to determine his attitudes towards short fiction. Certainly, he seems to have regarded short fiction as a testing ground for ideas and narrative strategies that he might later use in full-length novels, as well as an imaginative vacation from novel-writing. As Slater notes in his introduction to the two-volume Christmas Books, the shorter fiction is often characterized by an intimacy of tone and a style more colloquial than those found in the novels; furthermore, in the range of short fiction which Dickens produced from 1833 to 1867, one often finds ‘the theme of memory and its beneficial effect on the moral life’ (Slater vii) associated with painful rather than pleasant memories.
Twentieth-century critics until recently...
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Criticism: Realist Short Fiction In The United States
SOURCE: Current-Garcia, Eugene. “Shifting Trends toward Realism in Fiction.” In The American Short Story before 1850: A Critical History, pp. 119-24. Boston: Twayne, 1985.
[In the following essay, Current-Garcia discusses the emergence of a realist aesthetic in American short fiction of the mid-nineteenth century.]
By the 1850s many other American writers beside the Southwest yarn spinners were producing short fiction for the magazines and newspapers; but the short story itself, as a distinct literary form, still lacked independent status and respectability. Few besides Poe, Hawthorne, and Simms had tried to define its aesthetic significance or grappled with its formal requirements. Even such terms as tale, sketch, story, and short story were being used interchangeably with little conscious concern for the principles of unity and brevity laid down by Poe. Nevertheless, as the magazines proliferated and their circulations expanded, they depended more and more on short fiction to keep their readers happy. Scarcely a popular weekly or monthly periodical failed to include four or five tales in each issue—a steady stream of short fiction, most of it written by women, which could be casually dismissed as “the sentimental Godey type.”1 Typical titles, selected at random from hundreds like them by a recent scholar, suggest the accuracy of Hawthorne's scornful reference to “a...
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SOURCE: Hook, Andrew. “Reporting Reality: Mark Twain's Short Stories.” In The Nineteenth-Century American Short Story, edited by A. Robert Lee, pp. 103-19. London: Vision and Barnes and Noble, 1985.
[In the following essay, Hook contends that Mark Twain's greatest contribution to realism in his short fiction was primarily through his use of American vernacular speech.]
The short story is as American as apple-pie, and of all American authors Mark Twain is the most archetypally American. The result must be that Twain's short stories are the end of the line, the last word. Strangely, however, Twain himself does not seem to have thought so. Mark Twain saw himself as a great many things: journalist, Literary Man, novelist, lecturer, financial wizard, but never, apparently, as short story writer. He wrote nothing in the way of a planned book of stories; he published no collection exclusively of his short stories. Apart from one short piece entitled ‘How to Tell a Story’ (and even there he insisted that what he had to say referred to the oral tradition of story-telling), he had almost nothing to say about the ‘art’ of short fiction. Yet, in that admirable tradition to which the great majority of America's prose masters belong, Twain did write a large number of short stories. Just how large a number it is impossible to say, because, peculiarly in Twain's case, it is...
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SOURCE: Hocks, Richard A. “Early James: Social Realism and the International Scene.” In Henry James: A Study of the Short Fiction, pp. 12-35. Boston: Twayne, 1990.
[In the following essay, Hocks explores the international theme—the contrast between Americans and Europeans—in Henry James's short fiction.]
In James studies it is sometimes customary to cite “The Madonna of the Future” (1873) and “A Passionate Pilgrim” (1871) as early prototypes in James's evolution toward the international theme, yet many Jamesians would probably agree that both immature tales are uncertain in their focus. It is true that in “The Madonna” the artist-protagonist Theobald, an expatriate American and compatriot to the narrator, proclaims Americans “the disinherited of Art,” and that the narrator himself admits to being of the “famished race”;1 yet the real center of the tale seems to be the ironic disparity between a pristine aesthetic idealism and artistic practice, and thus more generally between ideality and actuality. Theobald can boast that as an artist he has not yet “added a grain to the rubbish of the world” (13:444), but the ironic cash value of that proposition (as William James might say) turns out to be both the narrator and reader's eventual surprise discovery that the canvas of his Raphaelesque masterpiece, his “Madonna of the Future,” has remained blank and...
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SOURCE: Tintner, Adeline R. “James's ‘The Patagonia’: A Critique of Trollope's ‘The Journey of Panama.’” Studies in Short Fiction 32, no. 1 (winter 1995): 59-67.
[In the following essay, Tintner treats Henry James's short story “The Patagonia” as an attempt to improve the characterization and plot of English realist Anthony Trollope's story “The Journey to Panama.”]
Five years before Henry James wrote “The Patagonia” (1888), James published his long essay on Trollope in which he noted that, although many of Trollope's short stories were “charming,” the presentation of his “British maiden” had not “a touch of the morbid.” James concluded that Trollope had “a wholesome mistrust of morbid analysis” (Partial Portraits 102). It is this deficiency, as James considered it, that he “corrected” in his version of Trollope's “The Journey to Panama” (1861). By introducing the actual suicide of James's heroine, Grace Mavis, presented as a “mysterious tragic act” (“Patagonia” 347), with all its unsaid deeper psychology into the framework of “The Journey to Panama,” James offers his critique of Trollope's tale when he remodels it as “The Patagonia.”
The publication in the nineteen-eighties of the complete collected tales of Anthony Trollope has given the scholar an opportunity to see some startling connections between one of the 40 tales...
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Crowley, John W. The Dean of American Letters: The Late Career of William Dean Howells. Amherst: University of Amherst Press, 1999, 146 p.
Biographical essay on American writer and editor William Dean Howells.
Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky, 4 vols. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976.
Four-volume biography of Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Glendinning, Victoria. Anthony Trollope. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1992, 551 p.
Biography of English writer Anthony Trollope.
Kaplan, Fred. Henry James: The Imagination of Genius: A Biography. New York: Morrow, 1992, 620 p.
Biography of American writer Henry James.
Rayfield, Donald. Anton Chekhov: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1998, 674 p.
Biography of Russian writer Anton Chekhov.
Robb, Graham. Balzac: A Life. New York: Norton, 1994, 521 p.
Biography of French writer Honore de Balzac.
Schapiro, Leonard Bertram. Turgenev, His Life and Times. New York: Random House, 1978, 382 p.
Biography of Russian writer Ivan Turgenev.
Smiley, Jane. Charles Dickens. New York: Viking, 2002, 212 p.
Concise biography of...
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