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Historical realism

historical realism, historical realism definition
Historical realism requires the writer’s critical knowledge of the historicist who has a different interpretation of the historical events Hegel’s dialectical theory affected many thinkers concerned with social issues Both realist and modernist writers wanted to reflect the very changes in their societies in their own ways In that way, history is of great deal to literature and many literary artists preoccupied themselves with historical materials In the treatment of history, realist writers have accused society, like what the naturalists did, of being the responsible of the confusion and contradiction in which their heroes, often typical for suffering individuals who struggle against the mainstream ideas and wrong, or at least new, beliefs, find themselves They show us both the environment, factors that affect people and values that dominate the very spirits of the individuals and picture us a typical end they drag themselves to out of their free will which has been affected by what they see and what they come to believe in causing new emergent ideologies and believes that evoke new social formation and raise contradictions as a result of the hegemonic behaviours of the dominant class over the subservient one Moreover, literary works tend to reflect a specific historical moment that is of great significance to the writer or the world in which he lives

Wilfred L Guerin, along with others, as an explanation of what has been said, states that:

Although the historical-biographical approach has been evolving over many years, its basic tenets are perhaps most clearly articulated in the writings of the nineteenth-century French critic H A Taine, whose phrase race, milieu, et moment, elaborated in his History of English Literature, bespeaks a heredity and environmental determinism Put simply, this approach sees a literary work chiefly, if not exclusively, as a reflection of its author’s life and times or the life and times of the characters in the work17

Far from reflecting what happened to the coming generation, historical novel, which is the best emblem of historical realism, is considered to be good only on the basis of its truth as mentioned in the Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory "though writing fiction, the good historical novelist reaches his or her chosen period thoroughly and strives for verisimilitude"18 Examples of historical novelists are: Balzac, Stendhal and Thomas Mann in Europe, Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy in Britain

In his novel Le Rouge et le Noire, Standhal provides "an accurate and detailed knowledge of the political situation, the social stratification, and the economic circumstances of a perfectly definite historical moment, namely, that in which France found itself just before the July Revolution"19 to most of his scenes in order to make them comprehensible and also The characters, attitudes, and relationships of the dramatis personae, then, are very closely connected with contemporary historical circumstances; contemporary political and social conditions are woven into the action in a manner more detailed and more real than had been exhibited in any earlier novel, and indeed in any works of literary art except those expressly purporting to be politico-satirical, tracts20 And we can notice, in most of his novels, that “the element of current history and politics is too heavily emphasised”21

Realism is a historical product, because far from the writers’ talent for writing they need to be influenced by a cause and pushed by surrounding factors that lead to their creative production Since it is so, they base their works on a real, truthful and accurate event in addition to involving their ideologies and own comments to give the work a power and not just reduce it to a documentary act of historical recording Its origin was in French where writers were influenced by the socio-historical changes that took place due to the emerged scientific discoveries, industrial revolution, the rising intellectuality and the search for wider knowledge in every field in life


  • Auerbach, Erich Mimesis, trans William R Trask, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1953
  • Cuddon, J A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, London: Penguin Group, 1977
  • Eagleton, Terry Marxism and Literary Criticism London: Methuen & Co Ltd, 1976
  • Guerin, Wilfred L, Earle Labor, Lee Morgan, Jeanne C Reesman and John R Willingham, eds A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature, 3rd ed Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992
  • Heath, Stephen 'Realism, Modernism, and "language-consciousness"', in Realism in European Literature: Essays in Honour of J P Stern, ed Nicholas Boyle and Martin Swales Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986
  • Lukacs, George The Meaning of Contemporary Realism, trans John and Necke Mander, London: Merlin Press, 1963
  • Lukacs, George Studies in European Realism, trans Edith Bone, London: The Merlin Press, 1972
  • Microsoft Encarta 2007 © 1993–2006 Microsoft Corporation
  • Nagel, James and Tom Quirk, eds The Portable: American Realism Reader, United States of America: The Penguin Books, 1997
  • Watt, Ian The Rise of The Novel Harmondsworth: Penguin Books/Chatto& Windus, 1957
  • Wright, Andrew Fictional Discourse and Historical Space Hampshire: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1987

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