The Beginner’s Guide to Realism in Literature

Realism in literature is a literary movement that emerged in the 19th century and sought to depict everyday life and the world as it truly is, without idealization or romanticism.

The realist writers aimed to portray characters and events in a manner that closely resembled the experiences and observations of ordinary people.

This movement was a reaction against the previous Romantic movement, which often focused on heightened emotions, exotic settings, and fantastical elements.

Characteristics of Realism

These are some of the main characteristics of realist literature

  1. Writers describe everyday activities.
  2. Realism is attention to detail, and an effort to replicate the true nature of reality in a way that novelists had never attempted.
  3. Their stories take place primarily in middle or lower-class society.
  4. Subjects are depicted without embellishment and interpretation
  5. The character is more important than the action and plot.
  6. Objectivity is totally important in its writing.
  7. The realist novel was heavily informed by journalistic techniques, such as objectivity and fidelity to the facts of the matter.
  8. Realism didn’t follow a plot structure because life doesn’t follow those patterns.
  9. Critics sometimes accused the practitioners of Realism of focusing only on the negative aspects of life.

Realist Writers and Their Literary Works

Famous realist authors include Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Mark Twain, and Thomas Hardy.

These writers crafted stories that depicted the human condition and the complexities of life with a focus on authenticity and a rejection of romanticized ideals.

Realism in literature continues to influence modern literary works as writers seek to explore the multifaceted aspects of the human experience.

  •  Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer. Among his novels are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often called “The Great American Novel”.
  • Mary Anne Evans (22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880; alternatively “Mary Ann” or “Marian”), known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator, and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is the author of seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda(1876), most of which are set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.
  • William Dean Howells was an American realist novelist, literary critic, and playwright, nicknamed “The Dean of American Letters”. He was particularly known for his tenure as editor of The Atlantic Monthly, as well as for his own prolific writings, including the Christmas story “Christmas Every Day” and the novels The Rise of Silas Lapham and A Traveler from Altruria.

Other Literary Movements and Periods

If you want to learn more about literary periods and movements, consider visiting some of these posts:

  1. Marxist Literary Criticism
  2. A Guide to Romanticism in Literature
  3. A Guide to The Enlightenment Literature
  4. A Guide to Postmodernism in Literature
  5. A Guide to the Beat Generation in Literature
  6. A Guide to Modernism in Literature
  7. The Beginner’s Guide to Realism in Literature
Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English