Realism is a literary movement which began in the late 19th century and has since had a profound influence on the written word today. It is a literary style which focuses on the accurate representation of life and its events, often with a focus on its more mundane details. Realism seeks to portray life as it actually is, rather than idealising it, and so often eschews fanciful elements in favor of typical, down to earth settings and characters.
Realism was first popularised in England by writers such as George Eliot and Thomas Hardy (a depiction of Tess from Hardy’s famous novel Tess of the D’urbervilles is shown above), who sought to portray life in a more honest and relatable way. These writers sought to portray characters who were neither perfect nor heroic, but were instead more ‘realistic’, complex and often flawed individuals who made their own mistakes and strove to overcome their internal and external struggles. This style of writing was incredibly influential in the development of English literature, inspiring other authors, including Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, who all sought to portray life in this more honest manner.
Realism had a huge effect on all forms of literature, but perhaps particularly so the novel. Its rise as a popular form of literature was largely due to realism’s influence, as stories often sought to portray everyday life in a more identifiable way. Classics such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre were incredibly influential in the development of the novel, and their emphasis on realism was a major contributing factor in their success.
Realism also had an influence on the development of poetry in England. Poets such as Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning and John Keats all wrote about events and experiences which were often more rooted in reality than Romanticism.
Realism has had a profound effect on English literature, and this can still be seen in the works of modern writers. On the page it has served to create a more genuine representation of life, inspiring authors to focus on people in a more accurate way.