The Realism War
James, Twain, and Howells

Nineteenth-century Definitions of Romance
Romance focuses “upon the extraordinary, the mysterious, the imaginary.” –Bliss Perry (1903)
Nathaniel Hawthorne: the romance “has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer’s own choosing or creation” (Preface to The House of the Seven Gables)

1.    Renders reality in less volume and detail.
2.    Prefers action to character.
3.    Reality does not impinge as frequently on the action of the piece as in a novel.
4.    Characters not as complexly related to each other or to their society.
5.    Human relationships tend to be narrowly or obsessively involved rather than displaying a range of human relationships.

Romance (Continued)
6.    Origins and class of characters sometimes irrelevant, sometimes a mystery.
7.    Plot is highly colored, featuring astonishing events that have symbolic or allegorical import.
8.    Tends toward mythic, allegorical, or symbolic forms; Heightened diction.
9.    According to William Gilmore Simms, the romance is loftier than the novel and does not confine itself to what is known or even probable: "it grasps at the possible."

Nineteenth-Century Definitions of Realism
Realism is “that which does not shrink from the commonplace (although art dreads the commonplace) or from the unpleasant (although the aim of art is to give pleasure) in its effort to depict things as they are, life as it is” (229) and is used “in opposition to conventionalism, to idealism, to the imaginative, and to sentimentalism” (222). Bliss Perry

Nineteenth-Century Definitions of Realism
Realism sets itself at work to consider characters and events which are apparently the most ordinary and  uninteresting, in order to extract from these their full value and true meaning. In short, realism reveals.  Where we thought nothing worth of notice, it shows everything  to be rife with significance. George Parsons Lathrop, 'The Novel and its Future," Atlantic Monthly 34 (September 1874): 313‑24.

Nineteenth-Century Definitions of Realism, continued
Realism, n. The art of depicting nature as it is seen by toads. The charm suffusing a landscape painted by a mole, or a story written by a measuring-worm. --Ambrose Bierce The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Novel of Realism I
1.    Renders reality closely and in comprehensive detail.
2.    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.
3.    Character is more important than action and plot; Complex ethical choices are often the subject.
4.    Events will usually be plausible. Realistic novels avoid the sensational, dramatic elements of naturalistic novels and romances.

Novel of Realism II
5.    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).
6.    Selective presentation of reality with an emphasis on verisimilitude, even at the expense of a well-made plot.
7.    Diction is natural vernacular, not heightened or poetic; Tone may be comic, satiric, or matter-of-fact.
8.    Objectivity in presentation becomes increasingly important: overt authorial comments or intrusions diminish as the century progresses.

Romance and Realism: Taste and Class
Aspired to the ideal
Thought to be more genteel since it did not show the vulgar details of life
Thought to be more democratic
Critics stressed the potential for vulgarity and its emphasis on the commonplace
Potential “poison” for the pure of mind

Prevalence of Realism
"Realism is, in fact,something in the air. Realism is the state of mind, and it is the state of mind of the nineteenth century.”  --Richard Watson Gilder, 1887 (Editor of Scribner’s Monthly)

   Gilder at Mark Twain’s 70th Birthday Celebration
I found . . . that to do full justice to Mark Twain as a human being would require a thesis so detailed, learned and spacious that there is no time for it to-night.

He and you will rejoice in this, I am sure, for thus is, at least temporarily, averted that fatal result which was intimated in a recent English school examination where it was distinctly stated by one of the contestants that "in the United States people are put to death by elocution.“

W. D. Howells
Editor of the Atlantic Monthly, 1871-1881
“Editor’s Study” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (January 1886- March 1892)
Criticism and Fiction (1891; collected from “Editor’s Study” columns)

Howells’s Early Novels
Dr. Breen’s Practice (1881)
A Modern Instance (1882)
The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885)
April Hopes (1888)
Annie Kilburn (1889)

Howells on Realism
“Realism is nothing more and nothing less than the truthful treatment of material” --William Dean Howells, “Editor’s Study,” November 1889.

The Ideal Grasshopper
“We hope the time is coming when not only the artist, but the common, average man . . . .will reject the ideal grasshopper wherever he finds it . . . Because it is not like a real grasshopper”  --W. D. Howells, 1887

The Smiling Aspects of Life
We invite our novelists, therefore, to concern themselves with the more smiling aspects of life, which are the more American, and to seek the universal in the individual rather than in the commonplace.” –W. D. Howells, 1886

Howells on James (Century 1882)
The art of fiction has, in fact, become a finer art in our day than it was with Dickens and Thackeray . . . . These great men are of the past.
The new school derives from Hawthorne and George Eliot rather than any others . . . . This school, which is so largely of the future as well as the present, finds its chief exemplar in Mr. James.

The Reaction
A Literary Combination.
Mr. H-w-lls: Are you the tallest now, Mr. James?
Mr. J-mes (ignoring the question): Be so uncommonly kind, H-w-lls, as to let me down easy: it may be we have both got to grow.

James on Howells (1867)
In a letter to a friend: “He has little intellectual curiosity; so here he stands with his admirable organ of style, like a poor man holding a diamond and wondering how he can use it.”
At this point, James had not published even one novel. He had published reviews and a story.

James on Howells (1886)
He is animated by a love of the common, the immediate, the familiar and vulgar elements of life, and holds that in proportion as we move into the rare and strange we become vague and arbitrary; That truth of representation, in a word, can be achieved only so long as it is in our power to test and measure it.
“William Dean Howells,“Harper's Weekly 30 (19 June 1886): 394-395.

 Henry James and Realism
“The Art of Fiction,” 1884
Washington Square (1880)
The Portrait of a Lady  (1881)
The Bostonians (1886)
The Princess Casamassima (1886)
The Aspern Papers (1888)
The Turn of the Screw (1898)

From “The Art of Fiction”
The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting.
Experience is never limited and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web, of the finest silken threads, suspended in the chamber of consciousness and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue
A novel is a living thing, all one and continuous, like every other organism, and in proportion as it lives will it be found, I think, that in each of the parts there is something of each of the other parts.

From “The Art of Fiction”
We must grant the artist his subject, his idea, what the French call his donnée; our criticism is applied only to what he makes of it.
There is an old-fashioned distinction between the novel of character and the novel of incident . . . . It appears to me as little to the point as the equally celebrated distinction between the novel and the romance- to answer as little to any reality. There are bad novels and good novels, as there are bad pictures and good pictures; but that is the only distinction in which I see any meaning. . .

The War in the Press
George Pellew, “The New Battle of the Books,” Forum  5 (July 1888): 564-73.
Hamilton Wright Mabie, “The Two Eternal Types in Fiction,” 1895, and “A Typical Novel,” Andover Review 4 (November 1885).
James Lane Allen, “Realism and Romance,” New York Evening Post, 31 July 1886, p. 4.

Mark Twain
“Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” North American Review, 1895
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884/5)
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1890)
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1895)

Defending Realism
W. D. Howells
Henry James
H. H. Boyesen, “The Great Realists and the Empty Story-Tellers”
Mark Twain
Hamlin Garland
Thomas Sergeant Perry
George Pellew

Attacking Realism
W. R. Thayer, “The New Story-tellers and the Doom of Realism” Forum 18 (December 1894): 470-80.
H. C. Vedder.
Maurice Thompson.

Attacking Realism (England)
Robert Louis Stevenson
H. Rider Haggard
Andrew Lang

Attack on Howells I
H. C. Vedder. “Can it be that Mr. Howells gives us in his books a fair representation of life as he has known it?  Has his whole experience been of this stale, flat unprofitable sort?”
“Has he never known anybody who has a soul above buttons?” American Writers of Today, 1894.

Attack on Howells II: William Roscoe Thayer
French realism should be called “Epidermism,” not realism, because it reduces “literature, art, and morals to anarchy.”
The Rise of Silas Lapham was “produced by Epidermist methods” by an author who “smacked his lips” over Zola’s filth.
Picture of Emile Zola.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Romance beside his unstrung lute,
Lies stricken mute.
The old-time fire, the antique grace,
You will not find them anyplace,
Polemic, scientific air:
We strip Illusion of her veil;
We vivisect the nightingale
To probe the secret of his note.
The Muse in alien ways remote
Goes wandering.

Charles Dudley Warner, “Editor’s Drawer”
Young women should rise towards idealism, not sag towards realism.
Art and women are degraded by “servile imitation of nature.”
Only transcendent idealization in both could save us from “a realistic vulgarity and commonplace.”

Maurice Thompson: Realism As Disease.
Realists represent “literary decadence” and worship “the vulgar, the commonplace, and the insignificant.”
The best part of Howells is “romance disguised as realism. His literary tissue is healthy, the spirit of his work is even, calm, just, and his purpose is pure,” so he cannot be a realist.
Picture is Thomas Eakins’s The Gross Clinic (1875).

Reaction Against Realism: The Turn Toward Romanticism
“A large number of readers, who have wearied of minute descriptions of the commonplace, are to-day often found condemning an author who does not keep his hero in imminent danger of death through at least seventy-five percent of his pages.“  --John Kendrick Bangs, 1898

Howells to James, 1915
“I am comparatively a dead cult with my statues cast down and the grass growing over them in the pale moonlight” (Selected Letters 6: 31).