Realism in 19th Century American Fiction

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The 19th century is considered to mark the origin of realism as a literary movement in the United States. American writers following the era of change in American life, moved steadily from Romanticism towards Realism, which was to lead the next step of Naturalism. The process was gradual, reflecting the periodic fluctuations in the history of American society. In this process, the Civil War provided a dramatic point of cleavage. In 1865 at the end of the Civil War many of the authors who had been famous or influential before the war were dead or had lost their influence. Dead were Washington Irving, James F. Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. After the war in the 1880’s, it was not possible to deal with genteel literature. There was distaste for a polite literature characterized by idealizing sentiment and genteel affectation. The writers fought the Victorian element which was represented among others in false emotions and sentimentalism. There was an urge to depict the less rosy side in the society at the end of the 19th century. Thus, a growing feeling for a truly original literature was emerging as realism came as a reaction against Romanticism. Realism –which has been described as either a literary school, a literary movement or period, a way of looking at literature and life – aims at reproducing the material of everyday life (the actual life) as truthfully and as accurately as possible: “Realism in nothing more and nothing less than the truthful presentation of material” (Howells). Realism meant representing real life, life as it is with truth and accuracy. It involved verisimilitude, i.e. the appearance of truth, which is derived from observation and documentation. Realism urged at pragmatism in facing reality. It is thus to write about environment one knew, with strict regard to its actual properties as speech, behavior, scene. The adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain

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