Literary Movements  | Timeline  |  American AuthorsEnglish 311/511 English 413/513 | English 462/562

American Realism 1865-1890

Definitions Characteristics (from Richard Chase, The American Novel and Its Tradition)
      1. Renders reality closely and in comprehensive detail. Selective presentation of reality with an emphasis on verisimilitude, even at the expense of a well-made plot
      2. Character is more important than action and plot; complex ethical choices are often the subject.
      3. Characters appear in their real complexity of temperament and motive; they are in explicable relation to nature, to each other, to their social class, to their own past.
      4. Class is important; the novel has traditionally served the interests and aspirations of an insurgent middle class. (See Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel)
      5. Events will usually be plausible. Realistic novels avoid the sensational, dramatic elements of naturalistic novels and romances.
      6. Diction is natural vernacular, not heightened or poetic; tone may be comic, satiric, or matter-of-fact.
      7. Objectivity in presentation becomes increasingly important: overt authorial comments or intrusions diminish as the century progresses.
      8. Interior or psychological realism a variant form.
      9. Realism of James and Twain critically acclaimed in twentieth century; Howellsian realism fell into disfavor as part of early twentieth century rebellion against the "genteel tradition."
Practitioners Context and Controversy