The genre of Realism Literature was introduced during the early stages of the Victorian Era. This form of literature is probably the most popular genre, compared to other genres before and after the Victorian Era. The realism genre, like its name, tends to portray situations without much exaggeration. It uses journalistic techniques and narrative for these writings are factual in nature without commenting on the situation or the characters. The authors tended leave the judgement to the readers.
Themes of Realism Genre
The themes of the realism genre were the struggles of the common man and a comparative analysis lower class and the upper class with respect to their lifestyles and the lower class trying to climb the social ladder.
Why did Realism genre become popular?
During the Victorian Era, poetry was the most popular. With the entrance of this genre, it took the back seat. Realism gives great attention to detail and tries to replicate the true reality. One of the greatest novels of the realism genre during the Victorian Era was Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. It follows the protagonist, Pip’s journey, and his want to become a gentleman after inheriting a lot of money. The novel attempts to give an unbiased truth of every character and scene including the good and the ugly side of the characters.
One of the main reasons the Realism genre became popular was because of the growing middle call population as well as the literacy rate among them. They began to identify with the stories narrated in the novels and these also became accessible. Dickens, one if the pioneers of the genre began to publish his stories as periodicals in newspapers.
Characteristics of Realism genre
The realism novel spoke about the present situations without any frills or hyperbole. It used a simple and direct language. The authors were not afraid to show unhappy or dire situations. For example, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield show the hardships of boys who are born into poverty face. This struck chord with the middle-class population of Victorian England who felt that their problems were recognised.
The portrayal of Contemporary Life
They portray contemporary life. For example, Dickens’ fiction showed the hard truth of life. Oliver Twist and David Copperfield had a contemporary setting with no frivolity or hiding the hard truth of life which many young boys of the age faced. The novels portrayed the orphanages, the work which boys had to undertake and sometimes the cruel demeanour of the adults.
Other novels which were of the realism genre were Hard Times by Charles Dickens. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Kingsley’s Alton Locke and Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil. Sybil gave a social commentary on the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
Other novels which gave a social commentary on the society and situation during the Victorian Era were Nicholas Nickleby, which spoke about school in Yorkshire where unwanted children went and were subjected to cruelty and neglect. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton which spoke about factory workers and Kingsley’s Yeast portrayed the poverty in the rural regions of the country.
Literary Elements along with Realism
Many authors combined Realism with Gothic elements. For example, Wuthering Heights has numerous ghostly elements. The Woman in White opens with a possible apparition of a woman in a white dress asking for directions. This could be possible but the setting and the mood of the narrator gives a supernatural element to the story. Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Villette has the protagonist Lucy believe that she saw a nun who is most probably a ghost haunting the school where she is a teacher.
There is not a particular type of narration used in the realism genre. Charlotte Brontë’s Villette was a first-person narrative. However, other novels had an omniscient narrator. Some novelists who were known for this type f narration were Anthony Trollope and George Eliot. Eliot was perhaps the most successful with her experiments with the omniscient narration.
She fashioned her characters such that the readers would be able to completely understand what the characters are going through and the situation they are in. Another author during the Realism movement was Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. The author spoke of the characters’ misadventures, their moral dilemmas in a very straightforward way.
The narration in these novels was very descriptive but without any exaggeration. The narrator, which could be the protagonist, a character in the novel or an omniscient narrator explained the situation, the setting and painted a picture for the reader. However, the sentences were short and the descriptions were to the point.
Criticisms of Realism
While the Realism genre became very popular, it also faced multiple criticisms. One of the main disapprovals of this was the too real portrayal of the society along with talk about taboo topics. Another criticism which Realism genre received was that it became too negative and the authors were only focussed on the unpleasant.
Charles Dickens was very famous for his realistic novels. He was not afraid to show ugliness and depravity in his writing. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations were a few of his novels which showed dire situations and poverty while there was a contrast with people who were extremely wealthy. Through this, Dickens wanted to show how wide the gap between the upper class and the other classes were.
Other authors who were known for their work in this genre were Charlotte Bronte for Jane Eyre, George Elliot for Middlemarch and Thomas Hardy for Jude The Obscure.