Literary Realism

We explain what literary realism is, its characteristics, themes and main authors. In addition, we tell you its origin and history.

flaubert literary realism
Authors like Flaubert sought to build a faithful portrait of the society of the time.

What is literary realism?

The literature of realism, summarized with the term literary realism, was a literary movement inscribed in the artistic current of realism or artistic realism, which also included the plastic arts, philosophy and even music. Realism arose in France in the mid-19th century, as an aesthetic reaction to the decadence of Romanticism and, to get away from the fabulations and fantasies of this movement, he proposed an artistic project that would copy reality as faithfully as possible (hence its name ).

Literary realism, in that sense, he set out to create literary works as close as possible to the real world, using for that a precise, objective, extensive and immensely descriptive language, with which they aspired to build a faithful portrait of the society of the time. These literary works were usually dense and voluminous, predominantly of the narrative genre, and affiliated with a bourgeois aesthetic, inherited from the French Enlightenment beginning in the 18th century.

Thus, while literary romanticism privileged poetry, dreams, subjectivities, folklore and nationalist sentiment, literary realism, on the other hand, embraced narrative, quasi-scientific description, universal themes, and a certain cosmopolitanismtypical of the nascent European industrial society.

See Also: Difference Between Realism and Naturalism

Characteristics of literary realism

Literary realism is characterized by the following:

  • It was a post-romantic literary movement, emerged in France after the so-called “Spring of Peoples” of 1848in tune with the legacy of the Enlightenment and positivism.
  • Despite beginning in France, where he produced some of the greatest works of national literature, it spread rapidly to the rest of Europe and from there to Latin America.
  • It was characterized by voluminous narrative works, with detailed language and lengthy descriptions and comparisons, that provided as much information as possible about the landscapes, scenes, and characters.
  • He rejected sentimentality, subjectivity, and exoticism, preferring instead the real, the everyday and social conflicts and materials of the modern human being.
  • The dialogues of the works tend to mirror characters’ speechwho symbolize the different social classes.
  • He paid a lot of attention to the psychology of the characters.represented through mechanisms such as the interior monologue.
  • in many works Analysis and comments from the author about the time lived were included., the social unrest that reflected the work or the decisions of the characters, with an academic or pedagogical spirit. This led to the creation of the so-called “thesis novel”.
  • The success of realism was understood as reflecting the rise of the industrial middle classes. in the West, whose bourgeois ideals conquered the national imagination.
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Origin and history of literary realism

literary realism stendhal origin history
Stendhal was one of the precursors of realism, with works such as Red and black.

Literary realism emerged, hand in hand with the rest of the realist art movement, in 19th century France. Talk of “realistic literature” began around 1825, borrowing the term from painting, and a couple of years later a completely new literary aesthetic was considered to have been born. This would be made even more formal with the launch in 1856 of the literary magazine Realismfounded by the writers Jules Champfleury (1821-1889) and Edmond Duranty (1833-1880).

The famous Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) and Stendhal are considered precursors of realism. (pen name of Henri Beyle, 1783-1842), but the realist style is considered to have reached its fullness and maturity with the work of the novelist Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880). Realism soon spread through England, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Germany and other European nations, to later cross the Atlantic and settle in the American nations.

In Latin America, realism engendered the costumbrista current which reflected the tensions between the rural life of the continent and its modern urban aspirations. This was later displaced by a more “European” realism at the end of the 19th century, which laid the foundations for the political and revolutionary literature of the 20th century. For its part, in the United States realism had a notable success at the hands of authors such as Herman Melville (1819-1891), Mark Twain (1835-1910) and Henry James (1843-1916).

Realism as a unified literary movement exhausted its forces at the beginning of the 20th century.and branched out into a diverse set of literary movements, such as naturalism, spiritualism, the psychological novel, and symbolism.

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Main themes of literary realism

Literary realism privileged urban, real themes, typical of contemporary industrial society, in which the dilemmas of social classes had a great presence. Among the main themes of his works are:

  • Povertymarginality and discrimination in industrial society.
  • The tensions between the social classes.
  • The social role of the woman against marriage, divorce and adultery.
  • Loneliness of the human being in front of the modern society.
  • The crimecrime and class struggle.
  • The question about the existence of God.

Most Important Realist Works and Authors

dickens literary realism
With characters like Oliver Twist, Dickens portrayed the Victorian industrial society.

Some of the most representative realistic authors and works in history in the different countries of Europe and America are:

  • Honore de Balzac (1799-1850). Famous French short story writer and novelist, whose most recognized realistic works are the novels the skin of zapa (1831), Eugenia Grandet (1834) and especially the human comedy (1830), a project of 137 interconnected short novels that aspired to portray French society, of which the author left 87 complete.
  • Stendhal (1783-1842). Pseudonym of the French writer Henri Beyle, whose most representative works are red and black (1830), The Charterhouse of Palma (1839) and Lucien Leuwen (1834), as well as various historical essays and biographies.
  • Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880). One of the greatest French exponents of literary realism, famous for his exhaustive and voluminous works such as Madame Bovary (1857), sentimental education (1869) and Bouvard and Pecuchet (1881), as well as the plays The candidate (1874) and the castle of hearts (1880).
  • Charles Dickens (1812-1870). English novelist of Victorian England, whose work is among the best known in the world, to such an extent that the adjective has been coined dickensian to refer to stories with characters and settings similar to their own. Among his main works are: Oliver Twist (1837), Christmas song (1843), Hard times (1854) and Big hopes (1861).
  • leo tolstoy (1828-1910). Russian novelist considered one of the most important authors of world literature, and whose work represents the pinnacle of 19th-century Russian realism. Among his great works are Anna Karenina (1878), War and peace (1865), The death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) and the stories “Sevastopol Tales” (1865) and “Father Sergio” (1898).
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881). One of the great Russian novelists of all time and a mandatory reference in universal literature, father among others of the psychological novel. His work has been influential in numerous subsequent authors and his novels stand out: Crime and Punishment (1866), The Karamazov brothers (1880), The player (1866) and the demoniacs (1872).
  • José María Eça de Queirós (1845-1900). Portuguese writer and diplomat, whose work is considered the pinnacle of realism in his country. His notable works include: The crime of Father Amaro (1875), Cousin Basilio (1878) and The Maia (1888).
  • Benito Perez Galdos (1843-1920). Spanish novelist, chronicler, playwright and politician, considered not only a distinguished author of Spanish realism, but of Spanish-language literature after Miguel de Cervantes. His work, transforming the Spanish aesthetic of the moment, produced great pieces, among which stand out: The Golden Fountain (1870), Mrs. Perfect (1876), The crazy house (1892) and Torquemada at the stake (1889).
  • Mark Twain (1835-1910). American writer and humorist, dedicated to journalism and public speaking, as well as a pilot and navigator. His most famous novels are The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), Tom Sawyer’s adventures (1878), prince and pauper (1881) and satire A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889).
  • henry james (1843-1916). American writer and literary critic but nationalized British, whose literary work is considered key in the Anglo-Saxon transition between realism and modernism. In his texts, he works with the point of view technique to delve into the psychology of the characters, and among them the novels stand out: Another twist (1898), portrait of a lady (1881), The Aspern Papers (1888) and the wings of the dove (1902).
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  • “Literary realism” on Wikipedia.
  • “Literary realism” (video) in
  • “Realism (art)”in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.