Literary realism: what it is, how it arises, characteristics and best-known authors


¿What is literary realism?

When we talk about realism we refer to a trend that generated an artistic movement, in this case, we will focus on its development in the world of literature. Thus, literary realism was characterized by its focus on the resemblance between the forms of aesthetic representation with the reality in which they are inspired, so it focuses on exalting the resemblance of a work with the world as we know it.

What is literary realism

In literature, literary realism was a movement that found many differences with literary romanticism, in addition to other currents of which we have already spoken in this section. This was mainly due to the subjectivity and the importance to imagination that this current had advocated.

Origin of literary realism

The point of origin of what will become Literary Realism takes place in France during the first part of the 19th century at the end of the bourgeois revolution. Although there are several authors who will take this trend in their creations, it arises mainly with Henri Beyle “Stendhal” and Honoré Balzac, although it will develop to a greater extent at the hands of the writer Gustave Flaubert.

Thus, in his beginnings the writer Balzac will start with the writing of novels that pay special attention to details from investigations motivated by his interest in expanding his knowledge on specific aspects, which guarantees a kind of direct portrait that also put in expression the daily life and its customs. Experts mention several factors, among them romanticism, part of its genres such as the historical novel, articles on customs and aesthetic reflections would be determinant for the origin of realism. Realism will be the counterpoint of this movement.

In the American continent, literary realism came from different authors, one of them Samuel Clemens who wrote under his pseudonym Mark Twain. He specifically portrays native speech patterns, especially in middle and lower class characters. Many critics considered Twain to revolutionize the genre by adding marginalized characters in society within his work, which is why he was singled out by part of the conservative bosom of American society.

Development of the movement

It is important to keep in mind that realism has its first signs in the picaresque novel and Spanish medieval literature, as authors such as Miguel de Cervantes will be crucial in the influence of the movement. Thus, it is considered that the realist novel will be the epic of the bourgeois class.

At the end of the boom of realism at the time when the resources begin to be reduced and there is no variety within their creations, this movement will begin to divide into other currents that on the one hand renew the literary development and modify some of the already worked. Among them we can identify naturalism, which increases the principles that realism occupied to a greater extent, to such an extent that the novel becomes an instant document of the time moving through marginal and bourgeois environments.

Characteristics of realism in literature

To understand the development and importance of this literary movement, let us go on to review its most important characteristics and the features that were decisive for the work of the authors in posterity. Let’s see:

Differences from romanticism

The authors of this movement focused on evading reality and its historical context through the evocation of the past and nature. However, realism will break with these processes and places the author within the reality in which he finds himself directly, marking as a point of arrival works that were a faithful reflection of his own reality. In this way, both currents are confronted.

Appearance of humble characters

At this time, humble characters will be portrayed, since this return of the gaze to reality allows the characters to no longer be idealized beings taken to be “heroes”, but focus on humble and marginalized people of the lower social classes. In this way, visibility falls on their representations through communication and their real forms of expression.

Study of bourgeois life

This movement is considered typical of the bourgeoisie, especially because in its emergence this social class begins to gain recognition in the most important cities. Thus, the authors portray in their novels the characters and the most common situations of the members of bourgeois life in topics such as money, frequent problems and social relations. However, in these portraits the humble characters will be present, and although they do not steal the limelight, they take great strength in their development.

Colloquial language

In the process of reflecting reality, language is one of the most important points of focus for portraiture. Thus, the language of his literary works will be the reflection of the same reality in terms of language used in the country. Hence, popular language is present in the works, with sayings deeply rooted in their speakers within the novels.

The human being as the center of attention

With this movement, the human being regains the center of attention. Previously, literary works revolved around mythology, emotions and other themes, however, in its attempt to portray reality, the human being will be the starting point for the study of man and his behaviors within the reality of which he is a part.

Absence of sentimentalism

Another of the modifications proposed by realism was to make way for a particularly descriptive narration in which feelings are relegated to the background, an element that was vital in the authors of Romanticism. The focus was on the descriptions that could be made about the life of the characters and their dynamics within their social context, beyond how he lived it. Therefore, it was not uncommon for texts to be deeply descriptive and objective, eliminating subjectivity and giving way to realism in all its splendor.

Social commitment

One of the most important characteristics of realism is the social commitment it acquires with respect to the socio-political reform of different places. This is due to the fact that the authors were inspired by reality for the writing of their works, which is why in them, many times denouncements of injustices and different situations of a country appeared. Thus, literary realism was also a space for criticism of society from the inside that could bring the look to this kind of situations.

Authors of Literary Realism

Authors and most important works of Literary Realism

There were several authors who highlighted this movement and who left their characteristics in their works, especially in the narrative genre and with it, in the novels. Among them we find its predominant authors such as Gustave Flaubert from France, Henrik Ibsen from Norway, Alexandre Dumas (son) from France, Henry James from the United States, Guy de Maupassant from France, Stendhal from France, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens from England, Honoré de Balzac from France, William Makepeace Tackeray from England, among others who had contact with the movement during its expansion.

Some Spanish authors also stand out, such as Fernán Caballero, pseudonym of Cecilia Bölh de Faber, Leopoldo Alas (Clarín), Benito Pérez Galdós and Pedro Antonio de Alarcón. And in Latin America authors such as José Martí, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Julio Cortázar, Isabel Allende, among others.

Important works were War and Peace (1865-1869), Anna Karenina (1875-1877) and Resurrection (1879) by Tolstoy, Oliver Twist (1837-1839) by Dickens, The Brothers Karamazov (1879-1880), Crime and Punishment (1866) and The Idiot (1868-1869) by Dostoyevsky, Madame Bovary (1857) by Flaubert, La piel de zapa (1831) by Balzac, Rojo y negro (1830) and La cartuja de Parma (1839) by Stendhal, Doña Perfecta (1876), Marianela (1878) and La de Bringas (1884) by Benito Pérez, La Regenta (1884-1885) by Leopoldo Alas and Los pazos de Ulloa (1886-1887) by Emilia Pardo Razón, among others.

Undoubtedly, literary realism was one of the most important and expanding movements that would mark a decisive change for the literary development as it was being handled, as well as open the door to other possible creations of writers from different parts of the world.

To learn more about other movements in the world of literature, genres, authors, among others, be sure to visit our section to continue learning about this art.