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.