Realistic novel

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Realistic novel

Realistic novel: A type of novel that depicts characters, settings, and events in accordance with reality or, at least, in accordance with reality as most readers perceive it. Realistic novelists seek to write fictional narratives that present a plausible world. To achieve this goal, they typically include a variety of concrete details meant to ground their story lines in human experience.

Realistic novelists emphasize characterization. They typically present well-developed, round characters who are situated in a specific time, place, and culture and whose experiences and interactions with other characters could occur in real life. Perhaps most importantly, they establish convincing motivation for the thoughts, emotions, and actions of the characters as well as for the turns and twists of the plot. A realistic novel might depict the daily drudgery of a working-class girl forced to labor twelve hours a day in an English garment factory to help support her family, or it might depict the plush and lavish life of the Hungarian count who owns the factory and spends his days hosting society luncheons and playing croquet on the well-tended lawns of his English estate.

The realistic novel is most often contrasted with the romance, which eschews realistic verisimilitude. Nineteenth-century realism, in particular, developed largely in reaction to the idealized, conventional subjects, themes, and modes of representation associated with romanticism.

EXAMPLES: Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857); George Eliot’s (Mary Ann Evans) The Mill on the Floss (1860); Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1881); John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat (1935); Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy (1956—57); John Fowles’s Daniel Martin (1977); and Joyce Carol Oates’s Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart (1990). More contemporary examples of the realistic novel include Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999; adapted to film 2012) and Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper (2004; adapted to film 2009).