Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 250
Erich Auerbach's Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, published in 1946 is the author's best known work. It follows the history of realism in literature to the twentieth century. It is a standard of monographs on literary criticism, and follows the representation of reality in literature
Auerbach begins with the among oldest pieces of Western literature: Homer's Odyssey and the New Testament's Book of Genesis. Specifically, Auerbach views these texts for their attention to the psychological motivations of the characters, and the level of historical realism the plots and narrative exhibit.
Realism, more specifically, is supposed to be the sort of every day life of work's characters. Literature, in this capacity (according to Auerbach) can be viewed in light of the culture in which it was written (a literary criticism school called "historicism").
There are 20 chapters, each treating one or two seminal texts from the same time period. Auerbach's principle of selection, too, is important. He is particularly concerned with "epochs" (and here follows Hegel's view of history as the transition from thesis to antithesis to synthesis in a scheme of historical progress). In this fashion, Auerbach observes varying levels of attention to realism in literary works in a methodical fashion throughout history.
Overall, Auerbach's work spans about 3000 years of literary history (from Homer and the Old Testament to Virginia Wolf and Marcel Proust's modern works). It remains a touchstone work on literary criticism, both for its comprehensive scope as well as the diverse works (in various languages) considered.
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