Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of realism?

The definition of realism is a genre of fiction that tries to reflect everyday life, especially that of working- and middle-class people.


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Last Updated May 25, 2023.

In literature, realism is a genre that portrays the practice of portraying fictional subject matter in an authentic way that realistically mimics actual life, with attention given to the mundanity of everyday life. Works of realism are typically concerned with the middle and lower classes.


Realism comes from the French word réalisme, from the Late Latin realis, meaning “real,” from the Latin res, meaning “thing, fact.”


Realism emerged as a conscious movement in France in the mid-19th century as a backlash against the stylized nature of Classicism and Romanticism. It remained popular throughout the 20th century. 


For example, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is a novel notable for its realist portrayal of middle-class life. Writers such as George EliotLeo TolstoySarah Orne Jewett, and Charles Dickens also incorporated elements of realism into their works. 

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