From the Realistic to the Naturalistic Novel



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From the Realistic to the Naturalistic Novel

  • STUDY QUESTIONS MILLENNIUM 2 P. 94

The Realistic Novel

  • This first part of the century was characterized by the development of the Realistic novel which tried to represent life as it really was.
  • The aim of the novelist was to create a fictional world considered by the readers real and credible and to which they reacted emotionally and rationally.
  • The novel of this period is, however, characterised by a mild realism.
  • MAIN FEATURES
  • Characters acted according to the rules of Victorian society and were judged by an omniscient narrator that expressed the dominant moral values and views of the time, making a clear distinction between “right” and “wrong”.
  • The stories were mainly set in cities, that represented industrial civilisation and were a symbol of anonymous life and alienation.
  • Plots were long with several subplots.
  • Deeper analysis of the characters’ inner world
  • The story generally ended happily or at least with good triumphing over evil.

The Novel in the second part of XIX century

  • During the second part of the Victorian Age the common set of values shared by novelists and readers started to break down.
  • Writers started to reject the Victorian moral view;
  • their point of view was not only different from but often against that of the prevailing moral code.
  • Naturalism
  • last three decades of the century
  • Main features
  • Naturalist writers aimed:
  • to write wholly realistic novels;
  • to apply a detached and scientific objectivity in describing characters, events, and social and natural settings;
  • to be as impersonal as possible, but their narrators often betrayed a sympathetic tone of voice;
  • Deterministic view* of life based on the belief that human beings are controlled by the social and economic environment;
  • Novels expose the worst evils, injustices and wrongs in society
  • Novelists express the pessimistic vision of an age overwhelmed by industrial progress and science;
  • The positive endings are more and more often replaced by tragic ones
  • *Determinism: the belief that all events are caused by things that happened before them and that people have no real ability to make choices or control what happens

The Realistic Novel in Europe

  • The Realistic Novel in Europe
  • French Realism:
  • Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)
  • the novel has to be a faithful reproduction of reality (see his “La comédie humaine”);
  • attempt to achieve scientific precision classifying men’s characters and lives as if they were animal species;
  • Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)
  • “Madame Bovary” – the supreme example of realistic novel;
  • importance of psychological and factual realism;
  • introduction of the impersonal narrator who has to be impassible and let the story speak for itself, without any comment on his part;
  • The influence of Positivism on the novel
  • the physical, social and psychological worlds could be described and classified with scientific precision;
  • Positivism results in Naturalism in England and France.
  • Positivism = A philosophical system recognizing only that which can be scientifically verified or which is capable of logical or mathematical proof, and therefore rejecting metaphysics and theism.

Naturalism

  • Naturalism
  • Émile Zola (1840 – 1902)
  • two main tasks:
    • to give voice to the lower classes with their miserable lives;
    • to attempt an objective and scientific description of reality;
  • to achieve this the novelist has to consider:
    • the individual character whose psychological and moral traits are hereditary;
    • the social and geographical environment;
    • the historical context;
  • Italian Verismo
  • Giovanni Verga (1840 – 1922), Luigi Capuana (1839 – 1915) and Federico De Roberto (1861 – 1927) are influenced by Zola’s theories
  • representation of contemporary Sicilian society in all its classes (see for example, workers and peasants in Verga’s “I Malavoglia” or the middle class and the aristocracy in his “Mastro Don Gesualdo”);
  • their focus on rural societies untouched by modern ways of life;
  • they do not believe in the possibility of social and political reforms, in progress or in science.
  • They have a pessimistic view of life.
  • They follow Flaubert’s use of the impersonal narrator

Reading and Speaking

  • Reading and Speaking
  • Is there a development in the English realistic novel?
  • Yes, there is. While Dickens uses a complex plot to show English social classes in their habits, problems, relations without questioning the foundations of the society he describes, Thomas Hardy adds psychological realism to a novel still relying on romantic plots.
  • Balzac’s idea of the novel takes into account social and scientific factors. What are they?
  • In the 19th century European novel, realism was the trend. Balzac not only fixed it in his one hundred novels but his ambition aimed at a faithful reproduction of reality, trying to classify men in a way similar to the classification of the animal species.
  • What other French novelist followed him in his attempt to achieve scientific precision?
  • His example was followed by Gustave Flaubert who showed the importance of psychological and factual realism in “Madame Bovary”, for example, where he introduced the impersonal narrator who has to let the story speak for itself, without any comment on his part.

What three factors did the novelist have to consider according to Zola?

  • What three factors did the novelist have to consider according to Zola?
  • The Italian “Veristi” described the tension between the old feudal rural world of Sicily and the new democratic urban instances from Italy after the political union and from Europe. Verga, Capuana, De Roberto use a detailed analysis of contemporary Sicily in all its social classes, but unlike the European naturalists they did not believe in the possibility of social and political reforms, in progress or in science. They had a pessimistic view of life. Nonetheless, they followed Flaubert’s use of the impersonal narrator.
  • In the second half of the 19th century the French novelist Émile Zola aimed at giving voice to the lower classes and to attempt a an objective and scientific description of reality considering three factors:
    • the individual character whose psychological and moral traits are hereditary;
    • the social and geographical environment;
    • the historical context;
  • What did the Italian Veristi have in common with the French naturalistic writers and in what ways were they different?

Describe in no more than three sentences the function of the narrator in realistic writing.

  • Describe in no more than three sentences the function of the narrator in realistic writing.
  • In realistic writers the narrator had to be impersonal, that is, he didn’t have to intervene in the story or make comments on it. Accurate observation, realism and detached scientific observation were its main aims.


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