Literary Realism: Origin, Characteristics, Authors And Works

He literary realismIt was a literary movement that developed in the mid-nineteenth century in France, later spread throughout the rest of Europe and then settled on the American continent. In the critics’ opinion, royalist writers rose up against the romantic movement that preceded them.

Unlike the romantic writers, the realists wrote about ordinary people and their lives. The revolution of literary realism reached mainly the novelistic genre. The dominant paradigm of novels during the second half of the nineteenth century ceased to be the romantic idealism that had prevailed in the first part of that century.

Literary novelism drew heavily on the scientific advances of its time. In a very special way, advances in psychological studies gave authors material to incorporate into the work the inner workings of their characters’ minds.

Similarly, social movements influenced the themes of the works. The emigration of the rural population to the cities seeking new opportunities, the birth of a middle class and the industrial revolution gave rise to successful novels.

On the other hand, literary realism opened new and diverse ways of expression for the human being. This meant the emergence of other movements, such as naturalism . The latter consisted of realism taken to its extreme maximum.


The beginnings of literary realism in Europe are attributed to the French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac. His accounts of ordinary French life were notable for their careful attention to detail. He conducted research and consultations with associates to learn more about specific topics.

In this way, Balzac guaranteed to portray daily life and customs in their fullness. He also brought his characters to life through the meticulous accumulation of details that related to the environment.

In America, writing under the pseudonym Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens was the original pioneer of literary realism. This renowned author was notable for his faithful reproduction of native speech and vocabulary patterns.

In addition to the use of the vernacular, Twain innovated by focusing on lower and middle class characters. Previously, the novels had focused on characters and experiences of social elites.

According to critics, Twain revolutionized the genre by incorporating socially discriminated characters in his novelistic work. At the time of its publication, criticism was generated within an ultra-conservative American society.

In fact, his novel from 1884 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn it was one of the most frequently banned books in public schools in the United States.

Characteristics of literary realism

Literary realism was born in contrast to Romanticism . The egocentricity and idealism that had been the raison d’être of the romantics are confronted with conflicting ideas and emotions that came from the realistic works.

In this way, everyday life begins to be objectively reflected in the works. The attempt to faithfully reproduce the reality of the time became a constant in the works of literary realism. In particular, peasant life and the exploitation of labor and the humble.

On the other hand, literary realism is directly opposed to fanciful themes in literature. In addition, he uses plain, unadorned and blunt language, seeking a thorough description to reflect the political, human and social reality of the moment.

The topics addressed are of social interest and the psyche of the characters is explored. The protagonists of the stories are ordinary people. Preferably, they are middle and lower class people who were not a source of inspiration during romanticism.

According to the type of protagonists in the works, the language used was that of everyday speech at the time. Style limitations were made to disappear and various registers and levels were covered.

Featured authors and works

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)

Honoré de Balzac was a prolific French journalist and writer. He is universally recognized for his masterpiece titledHuman comedy, written between 1830 and 1850. This work consisted of a series of interconnected novels that presented an overview of post-Napoleonic French life.

Of his extensive literary production can also be mentioned Zapa’s skin (1831), Little miseries of married life (1830-1846), Colonel Chabert 1832, The rural doctor(1833). As well asEugenia Grandet (1834) and The search for the absolute (1834).

In the same way he is very remembered for Goriot dad (1834), The girl with the golden eyes (1835) and The Duchess of Langeais(1836). In the same way withLily in the valley (1836) and The atheist’s mass (1836), among many other titles.

Samuel Clemens (1835-1910)

Known by the pseudonym Mark Twain, Samuel Langhorne Clemens was a renowned American speaker, writer, and comedian. Two of his novels are considered iconic,Tom Sawyer’s adventures (1876) and its sequel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).

Other works in his repertoire include The famous jumping frog from Calaveras (1865), The innocent abroad (1869), To the struggle(1872). He is also remembered forThe Prince and the Pauper (1882), Life on the Mississippi (1883) and  A Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (1889).

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a Russian novelist, essayist, short story writer, journalist, and philosopher. His literary works explored human psychology in the troubled political, social, and spiritual atmosphere of his home nation in the 19th century.

His most influential works were Poor people (1846), The double (1846), Memories of the house of the dead (1861-1862), Humiliated and offended (1861), Subsoil memories (1864), Crime and Punishment (1866), The idiot (1869), The demons (1871-72), The teenager (1875) and The Karamazov brothers (1879-80).

George Eliot (1819-1880)

George Eliot is the pseudonym by which Mary Ann Evans was known. She was one of the leading English novelists of the 19th century.

He had to use a male pseudonym to ensure that his works were taken seriously at a time when female authors were often associated exclusively with romance novels.

His first novel titled Adam bede was published with great success in 1856. Other successful titles followed, including The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas marner (1861), Romola (1863), Middlemarch (1872) and Daniel deronda (1876) and others.  

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)

Gustave Flaubert was a French novelist of the era of literary realism. He is the famous author of the universal masterpiece entitledMadam bovary(1857). Flaubert took 56 months to write this work and was initially persecuted for being considered immoral.

After this initial work, others followed that consolidated his reputation as a writer. Stand outSalambo (1862), Sentimental education (1869), The temptation of San Antonio (1874) and Three stories (1877), among a wide literary production.


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