Listen to part of a lecture in the United States’ Literature class.
The professor is discussing Realism.
In our last class, we finished up Romanticism, right?
So now let’s look at something completely different.
Realism as a literary technic was most popular in U.S. literature from around 1860 till 1890.
So it started pretty much around the time of the civil war.
And I think you’ll see right away how it is different from Romanticism or any other kind of literature.
There is a very specific point that makes it unique.
And that is that it shows people as they are and get you to look at them and also you know the things that need to be changed in the society.
And it doesn’t without being sentimental, not in that sort of over-emotional way, the way that romantic literature can.
Realism tells it like it is.
Let’s look society as a whole.
In the late 1800s, people were interested in the scientific method as well as rational philosophy, which says that people can discover the truth by using reason and factual analysis.
So reason and facts, ok.
And at the same time that realism was becoming popular.
there were a lot of political and socioeconomic changes happening in the country.
There was increased literacy, plus the growth of industrialism and urbanization, growth in population from immigration, and a rise in middle class affluence.
All these factors combined with the importance of reason and facts, meant readers were interested in really having a good understanding of all these changes, the changes going on in society.
A scourer named Amy Chaplin says, and I’m just paraphrasing here, that Realism is a way to understand and deal with social change, which makes a lot of sense I think.
So then, let’s take a closer look at the trips of the trend, and how realist writers did their work.
For one thing as we said, they focus on, express reality, and in great detail.
They inferred verisimilitude.
Shall I write down on board?
Ok. Verisimilitude means basically the same true or real, like say, a photograph rather than a painting in a way.
In fact, that’s a good analogy.
You see writers try to capture a moment in time and all its basic facts but without exaggeration, just like a camera does.
Anyway, the events, the things that happen in realistic literature are usually pretty much plausible.
I mean, you figure that they can probably happen to anyone.
And the characters are believable, too.
And actually, they are usually even more important than the plot.
There’re also……they talked the way the real people talk, authentic speaking styles from different regions, different parts of the country were captured in the text.
Does that make sense? Ok.
So, besides verisimilitude, another important characteristic of realism is the narrator’s objectivity.
Characters in the events were described without the narrator passing much judgment on them or anything or being too dramatic.
Basically, you are reading a story without too much extra comment from the narrator.
Ok, now we have an idea of what realism was.
So, who were the players?
Well, two important realist novelists were Rebecca Harding Davis and Mark Twain.
We’ll talk more about other realists tomorrow.
But for today, let’s just start by looking briefly at these two.
Rebecca Harding Davis was an author and journalist who, like other realists, was concerned about all those social changes going on.
She wrote mainly about some marginalized groups of the time, like women, native Americans, ah, immigrants.
Now her best known book is a novella called The Life in the Iron Mills.
It’s really a key text, because it’s one of the original realist works.
Her works overall have been pretty much ignored for a long time.
But some critics and scourers are starting to revisit them and study them more seriously.
Probably more from the historical aspects of the works and……but I think that’s great.
But if we are talking about great literature, literature that’s read and enjoyed today as something more than just a way of looking at that era, the era when that was written.
Well, a favorite of mine is Mark Twain.
I’m sure you have read or heard of his most famous book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
And Twain’s style, he goes back to what I said earlier, verisimilitude, the realistic way characters act and talk.
You should realize too that this was quite a contrast to earlier writers in the U.S., who try to emulate the British writers, try to be very elegant, at the expense of Realism.
You know, a lot of critics will tell you that American literature began with that book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.