REALISM AND NATURALISM


REALISM AND NATURALISM
   When a current literary movement begins to be treated ironically, it usually means that a new set of literary ideas are in the ascendancy. The successor to national romanticism was realism, which also came from outside Scandinavia, particularly France, where two ofits greatest practitioners were the writers Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), best known for his novel Madame Bovary (1857), and Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). The term realism in literary studies denotes a style that tries to describe life as it is, without idealization or subjectivity. In the present context, however, it also refers to Scandinavian prose and drama written from around 1840 through the 1880s, but particularly in the 1870s. Only a few works from the 1840s can confidently be termed realistic. The best early example of realism in Scandinavian literature is arguably the novel Det garan (1839; tr. Sara Videbeck, 1919; Why Not? 1994) by the Swedish writer Carl Jonas Love Almqvist (17931866), which anticipates one of the favorite subjects of the realists, namely, the position of women in the family and in society. But the pseudonymous writings of the Danish philosopher-writer Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) may also be considered an example of realist concerns, inasmuch as they are written in conscious opposition to the ideas of the German romantics. Such a story of deceit and manipulation as "Forførerens Dagbog" (1843; The Seducer's Diary), the largest section in the first part of Kierkegaard's Enten-Eller (1843; tr. Either/Or, 1944), certainly shares many of the features of realist literature from the later decades.
   The realist movement manifested itself in a couple of different ways in Norwegian literature of the 1850s. Stylistically and narratologically, the peasant stories of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910) anticipate the prose writings of the 1870s in Norway. In her seminal novel Amtmandens Døttre (1854-1855; tr. The District Governor's Daughters, 1992), Camilla Collett (1813-1895) wrote about the marital fate of several sisters. Although her narrative technique—her story is replete with letters, diary entries, and direct statements aimed at the reader—is fairly traditional, both her subject and the indignation with which it is treated were harbingers of what was to come a little more than a decade later.
   Realism coexisted with late romantic idealism in Scandinavian literature throughout the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s, but an event in 1871 marks its complete triumph on the Scandinavian Parnassus. This event, after which any other literary style was clearly passe, was the first in a serious of lectures given by the Danish critic Georg Brandes (18421927), in which he called for a literary practice that would use literature to debate modern problems and issues. It is no exaggeration to say that just about every progressive writer in Scandinavia fell into line. In Denmark, Jens Peter Jacobsen produced two realist novels that adhered to the new program: Fru Marie Grubbe (1876; tr. Marie Grubbe, 1917) and Niels Lyhne (1880; tr. 1919, 1990). Swedish writer August Strindberg (1849-1912) wrote a great novel, Roda rummet (1879; tr. The Red Room, 1967), which offers a panoramic view of life among artists, intellectuals, and government employees in Stockholm.
   Brandes's influence was at least as great in Norwegian literature. Many of Ibsen's plays from the 1870s and early 1880s come to mind, for example, Samfundets støtter (1877; tr. The Pillars of Society, 1888), Et dukkehjem (1879; tr. ADoll's House, 1880), Gengangere (1881; Ghosts, 1885), and En folkefiende (1882; tr. An Enemy of the People, 1888), all of which deal with such favorite realist topics as corruption, the role of women, and outmoded ideas. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson vigorously advocated for Brandes's view of the purpose of literature and practiced it in such plays as En fallit (1875; tr. The Bankrupt, 1914), Redaktøren (1875; tr. The Editor, 1914), and Kongen (1877; tr. The King, 1914). The novelist Jonas Lie wrote Tremasteren "Fremtiden" (1872; tr. The Barque "Future," 1879), which is considered Norway's first novel about business affairs, and later Familjen paa Gilje (1883; tr. The Family at Gilje, 1920), which has the 1840s as its setting and which debates the right of women to choose their own paths through life. Specifically encouraged by Brandes, Lie's colleague Alexander Kielland (1849-1906) wrote a satirical novel, Garman og Worse (1880; tr. Garman and Worse, 1885), which castigated the rich for their treatment of the poor.
   The Scandinavian realists wanted to debate social issues not only for aesthetic reasons, but in order to bring about social change. The women's question is a good example. Women had no right to vote, could not hold political office, and were not entitled to control their own property. They had no access to higher education and were expected to spend their lives as wives and mothers. If they did not marry, they could usually look forward to a difficult old age in the home of a brother or sister. Most of the reforms that improved the lives and economic situation of women were first advocated by writers of novels, short stories, and plays.
   Implicit in the realist literary program was the sense that such advocacy was efficacious. When realism turns toward naturalism, however, such optimism largely disappears. While still critical ofsociety, the naturalists had little hope of reforming it. Influenced by the ideas of the French critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869), the novelist Emile Zola (1840-1902), particularly as expressed in his book Le roman experimental (1880), and natural science as practiced by Charles Darwin (1809-1892), the naturalists adhered to the doctrine of determinism, according to which human beings have no real agency but act according to their biological inheritance and the influence of their social milieu. Truth was to be found in nature rather than, as for the romantics, in some kind of transcendental reality, and the task of the naturalist writer was to imitate the scientist as far as possible. What would a certain literary character logically do, based on his or her biological and social background as well as his or her current environment? By setting up a kind of controlled experiment in their works, the naturalists attempted to create scientific truth through literature.
   These theoretical concerns had certain consequences for both the style of the naturalist literary work and the author's choice of subject matter. The story would be told in great detail, almost approaching that of a lab report, as in a short story by the Norwegian writer Amalie Skram (1846-1905) entitled "Karens jul" (1885; Karen's Christmas), in which an unwed teenage mother and her baby freeze to death in Christiania (now Oslo) a couple ofdays before Christmas. Skram is extremely generous in her description of the scene of the action. She gives, for example, the exact dimensions and floor plan of a small shack in which Karen has sought shelter, and even informs the reader about what kind of metal is used for the hook that holds the door closed. Her male colleague Arne Garborg (1851-1924) similarly offers numerous details in his naturalist works, for example, the novel Hjaa ho Mor (1890; Living with Mama), which is partly based on the life ofhis wife Hulda. The story of the development of a young girl named Fanny, Hjaa ho Mor seemingly tells about every detail of every stage in Fanny's development.
   Naturalists examined the sexual roles of men and women to show that men were biologically unable to control their sexual urges and to argue that women would make essentially the same choices as men if unrestrained by social norms, particularly by the teachings ofChristian-ity. In his novel Mannfolk (1886; Men), for example, Arne Garborg created a large number ofmale and female characters that illustrated these points. In Strindberg's play Fröken Julie (1888; tr. Miss Julie, 1912), both of the major characters, Julie and Jean, are powerless when faced with a combination of temptation and opportunity. The naturalists further argued that the daughters ofthe middle class were raised to become sexually dysfunctional, thus more or less compelling their future husbands to seek the company of prostitutes. Naturalist writers also frequently showed that young women who had to work for a living could not earn enough to support themselves as servants or by working in a store, and therefore were forced to prostitute themselves.
   Illness was another focus of the naturalists. Ibsen's play Gengangere (1881; tr. Ghosts, 1885), for example, deals with syphilis. Crime was also a topic, as in Jonas Lie's novel Livsslaven (1883; tr. One of Life's Slaves, 1895). A determinist view would argue against holding people morally and legally responsible for actions over which they have no control. From the perspective of determinism, for example, Nora's forgery in
   Ibsen's play Et dukkehjem (1879; tr. A Doll's House, 1880) should not be laid to her charge, as she is possibly unable to do anything else, given her situation in life, her biological inheritance, and the way she has been brought up.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • REALISM —    Shajitsu shugi (realism) is the Japanese literary and artistic term used to describe the depiction of reality without interpretation or exaggeration, in contrast to Romanticism. The term shajitsu implies the sketching or copying of reality,… …   Japanese literature and theater

  • Naturalism (literature) — Naturalism was a literary movement taking place from the 1880s to 1940s that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character. It was depicted as a literary… …   Wikipedia

  • Realism (visual arts) — Realism is a visual art style that depicts the actuality of what the eyes can see. Realists render everyday characters, situations, dilemmas, and objects, all in verisimilitude. They tend to discard theatrical drama, lofty subjects and classical… …   Wikipedia

  • Realism in the Balance — is a 1938 essay by Georg Lukács in which he defends the traditional realism of authors like Thomas Mann in the face of rising Modernist movements, such as Expressionism, Surrealism, and Naturalism. Practitioners of these movements, such as James… …   Wikipedia

  • realism — /ree euh liz euhm/, n. 1. interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc. 2. the tendency to view or represent things as they really are. 3. Fine Arts. a. treatment of forms, colors, space, etc …   Universalium

  • realism — In everyday use realism is commonly attributed to caution, or moderation in one s aspirations the converse of utopianism . The word is also used to describe a variety of approaches in literature and the visual arts in which accurate depiction of… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • Naturalism (arts) — Naturalism in art refers to the depiction of realistic objects in a natural setting. The Realism movement of the 19th century advocated naturalism in reaction to the stylized and idealized depictions of subjects in Romanticism, but many painters… …   Wikipedia

  • Realism (dramatic arts) — Realism was a general movement in the late nineteenth century that steered theatrical texts and performances toward greater fidelity to real life. The realist movement began with Henrik Ibsenfact|date=August 2008 and was largely developed by… …   Wikipedia

  • Naturalism —    Naturalism as a pure form was pioneered by Emile Zola, who imagined theatre as a slice of life in which romantic and sentimental elements, as well as the well made play structure, would give way to a scientific examination of unmediated… …   The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater

  • naturalism — [nach′ər əl iz΄əm, nach′rə liz΄əm] n. 1. action or thought based on natural desires or instincts 2. Literature Art etc. a) faithful adherence to nature; realism; specif., the principles and methods of a group of 19th cent. writers, including… …   English World dictionary


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.