Realism In The Victorian Age

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What is Realism? In which ways can it be used? Isn’t it just a representation of reality for imitation’s sake? Or, for the contrary, can we understand this movement as something more than just this mere depiction of what appears to be real? Is there something more behind it? These and more questions will be discussed in this paper as I will try to present a clear view of what realism truly is in the Victorian Age. For this purpose, I will mainly analyse two of the most representative novels which interpret realism and define its nature, as both a cultural movement and a literary mode, being them Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

In this first point of contact I would like to draw a broad definition for what realism stands for, and, in doing so, I will appeal to Katherine Kearns, who asserts that “realism is an essentially pragmatic mode whose predication of character as something enacted, partially but inevitably, within environmental restrictions is design to reveal an imperilled ecological system of soul and society”. What she means by that is that realism functions as an individual morality within the society considered as a construct with its own laws and rules; that is to say, realism fulfil the task of didactic moral guide in order to produce a reformation of the self and the communal life. Therefore, realist authors will have a patent intention of communication with the Reader, so as to affect him in some special way.

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