What are the similarities and differences between mid-twentieth-century British new realism and the realism of Charles Dickens?

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The “new realism” of mid-twentieth century British literature certainly differs from the realism of Charles Dickens, especially in its philosophical presuppositions. Let’s look at this in more detail.

Dickens and other realist writers of his day desired to portray the world as it was from an objective viewpoint. Think, for instance, of Dickens’s Oliver Twist, which shows us the realities of life on the London streets and the poverty of the people. However, we might note that there tends to be an idealism behind these kinds of realist works. They comment on society so that it might change and improve. This kind of realism also explores the depths of human nature.

New realism, though, sets itself in opposition to idealism. It tends to focus more on social structures than on human nature. It is often significantly darker and harsher than previous realistic novels, for it often lacks the deep down hope that there can be a change in society even as it describes social problems in vivid detail. Also, writers in this genre tend to write from a particular political or philosophical perspective.

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