What Is the Difference Between Realism and Naturalism in Literature

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. March 14, 2017
What Is the Difference Between Realism and Naturalism in Literature

Realism and naturalism are two literary movements with their differences, although they very close. At first glance, difference between these two major currents of literature of the 19th century are differentiated in the fact that realism wants to depict real life, and naturalism has a more scientific approach to the way society is depicted. In this article we'll study the characteristics of both, and give the names of the most famous authors and the most representative works of these schools before we see what distinguishes them.

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  1. Characteristics of Realism
  2. Characteristics of naturalism
  3. Realism and naturalism: what is the difference?

Characteristics of Realism

This literary movement appears in the 19th century and privileges a faithful representation (without idealization or artifices) of nature, men and the society which they live in. This movement is in reaction to the romanticism movement that had become popular Europe.

New themes emerged, such as the work of the employees, the conjugal relations and the struggles between the social strata. Many French historians place realism between 1850 and 1885, between romanticism and symbolism.

The main representatives of realism in literature are:

  • Honoré de Balzac (1799 - 1850), author of La Comédie Humaine, an immense fresco novella
  • Stendhal (1783 - 1842), author of Le Rouge et le Noir, which depicts the efforts of a provincial young man to escalate in society.
  • Flaubert (1821 - 1880), author of Madame Bovary, which is precisely a novel on the consequences of the romanticism trend.
  • Charles Dickens: Author of Great expectations, which narrates, in first person, the story of an orphan who ends up becoming a gentleman in London's society.
  • León Tolstoi : Author of War and Peace, a portrait of Russia's society during the amazing time of fifty years.
What Is the Difference Between Realism and Naturalism in Literature - Characteristics of Realism

Characteristics of naturalism

This school inherits the achievements of realism and aims to portray reality in all its aspects, including the most common and mundane, and this through detached objectivity. The leader of naturalism in literature is Émile Zola, author of a literary fresco, Les Rougon-Macquart (cycle of 20 novels).

The collection of novels Les Soirées de Médan is considered the manifesto of naturalism. It brings together 6 novels, signed by the following authors:

  • Émile Zola (1840 -1902): L'Attaque du Moulin
  • Guy of Maupassant (1850 - 1893): Boule of Suif
  • J.-K Huymans (1848 - 1907): Sac au dos
  • Henry Céard (1851 - 1924): La Saignée
  • Léon Hennique (1850 - 1935): L'Affaire du Grand 7
  • Paul Alexis (1847 - 1901): Après la bataille

Apart from this collection, other important authors include:

  • Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928): author of Jude the Obscure, a controversial novel about a working-class young man who falls in love with his cousin.
  • Stephen Crane (1871 - 1900): author of the Open Boat, a novel that depicts the isolation of a man from society.
What Is the Difference Between Realism and Naturalism in Literature - Characteristics of naturalism

Realism and naturalism: what is the difference?

For many historians and literary critics, Naturalism is only a variant of Realism. Zola and the Medan group would then be the second realistic generation. The truth is, that both Realists and naturalists strive to describe reality as it is, want to separate man from god and talk about society in a subjective manner, free of unnecessary figures of speech, far from the idealistic views of romanticism.

But we can distinguish the two movements by saying that Naturalism makes reality its only obsession: everything must be painted with precision and objectivity, while the realists allow themselves some distance, especially when showing their views or taking the risk of issuing a subjective opinion on the subject they are writing about.

Moreover, naturalism, as it has a more scientific approach, works with the idea that men are conditioned by the environment they were born in (genetic, environmental and social factors will determine the fate of a character in a naturalist novel), and usually chooses characters of lower classes, whereas realism generally prefers middle-class characters.

Flaubert wrote to Turgenev in 1877: "Reality, in my opinion, must be a springboard. Our friends are convinced that this alone constitutes the whole State!" This materialism makes me indignant, and almost every Monday , I have a fit of irritation reading the soap operas of this brave Zola "

The historical context also enlightens us: realism comes in reaction to Romanticism, while Naturalism applies to mimic the methods of science: observation on the ground and objectivity in the analysis.

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What Is the Difference Between Realism and Naturalism in Literature