Realism is a movement in art, which started in the mid nineteenth century in France around 1840s, and later spread to the entire world. Realism entered literature at almost at the same time. Its real objective was to root out what is called fantastic and romantic in literature and art, to insert what is real. Realists rejected Romanticism, which had dominated French literature and art since the early 19th century. Realism revolted against the exotic subject matter and the exaggerated emotionalism and drama of the Romantic movement. Instead, it sought to portray real and typical contemporary people and situations with truth and accuracy, and not avoiding unpleasant or sordid aspects of life.

In its specific sense realism refers to a artistic movement characterized by subjects painted from everyday life in a naturalistic manner; however the term is also generally used to describe artworks painted in a realistic almost photographic way.

In literature, writers use realism as a literary technique to describe story elements, such as setting, characters, themes, etc., without using elaborate imagery, or figurative language, such as similes and metaphors. Through realism, writers explain things without decorative language or sugar-coating the events. Realism is something opposite to romanticism and idealism.


Literary realism is part of the realist art movement that started in nineteenth-century France and lasted until the early twentieth century. It began as a reaction to eighteenth-century Romanticism and the rise of the bourgeois in Europe. Works of Romanticism were thought to be too exotic and to have lost touch with the real world.

The roots of literary realism lie in France, where realist writers published works of realism in novels and in serial form in newspapers. The earliest realist writers include Honoré de Balzac, who infused his writing with complex characters and detailed observations about society, and Gustave Flaubert, who established realist narration as we know it today.


Honoré de Balzac (1799 –1850) was a French novelist and playwright, considered as one of the earlier realist writer. Owing to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. He is renowned for his multi-faceted characters; even his lesser characters are complex, morally ambiguous and fully human. Inanimate objects are imbued with character as well; the city of Paris, a backdrop for much of his writing, takes on many human qualities. His writing influenced many famous writers, including the novelists Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, and Henry James.

Among his famous novels are; Illusions Perdues, Colonel Chabert, Gobseck ,The Unknown Masterpiece, Cousin Bette and The Magic Skin.

When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.

-Honoré de Balzac

Literary realism existed, in some form, in England before the genre was fully defined. Some critics credit the first British novelists, like Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson, as realists, because they wrote about issues related to the middle class

George Eliot (pen name), real name Mary Ann Evans (1819 –1880) was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era and was also known for being realist writer. Although female authors were published under their own names during her lifetime, she wanted to escape the stereotype of women’s writing being limited to lighthearted romances. She also wanted to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic.

She wrote seven novels, Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1862–63), Felix Holt, the Radical (1866), Middlemarch (1871–72) and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of which are set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.

It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.

-George Eliot

Henry James (1843 – 1916) was an American-British author regarded as a key transitional figure between literary realism and literary modernism, and is considered by many to be among the greatest novelists in the English language. James published articles and books of criticism, travel, biography, autobiography, and plays. Born in the United States, James largely relocated to Europe as a young man and eventually settled in England, becoming a British subject in 1915, one year before his death. James was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911, 1912 and 1916.

He is best known for a number of novels dealing with the social and marital interplay between émigré Americans, English people, and continental Europeans. His novels include The Turn of the screw, The Portrait of Lady, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and Washington Square.

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.

-Henry James


Adam Bede” is one of the best examples of Victorian literature that aims to highlight social realism. Victorian society was rigid and afflicted with prejudices and bigotry against women. This realism includes the elements of realistic presentation – highlighting the poor people, and reflecting on their problems by setting them in the rural background, and presenting their religious and the moral sense.

Social gap was another issue in that society. As in the novel, the remnants of feudalism were still alive in Hay-slope society. Hetty belonged to the working class and was madly in love with Arthur Donnithorne, who belonged to a feudal class. This held a certain charm for the people of the working class. She wanted to marry him, to be the wife of an honorable feudal man. However, her fantasy was destroyed, as it lead to a tragic end. This left a deep mark on the psyche of Hay-slope inhabitants. Hetty’s personal accident suggests the harsh reality of a society that faces two unequal and different classes, as they try to unite due to emotions rather than reason.

Follow us on Social Media

One Reply to “Realism”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *