[00:03.00]NARRATOR: Listen to part of a lecture in a United States literature class. [00:07.55]The professor is discussing realism.
[00:11.16]MALE PROFESSOR: Ok,everyone, [00:12.50]in our last class we finished up Romanticism, right? [00:16.30]So now let’s look at something completely different. [00:19.00]Realism as a literary technique was most popular in U.S. literature from around 1860 till 1890. [00:26.50] So it started pretty much around the time of the Civil War. [00:30.99]And I think you'll see right away how it's different from Romanticism, or any other kind of literature. [00:36.72] It has a very specific point that makes it unique, [00:39.83]and that is that it shows people as they are, and gets you to look at them, and also, you know, the things that need to be changed in a society. [00:47.78] And it does it without being sentimental, not in that sort of overly emotional way, the way that Romantic literature can. [00:56.16] Realism tells it like it is.
[00:58.87]Let's look at society as a whole. [01:00.77]In the late 1800s, people were interested in the scientific method, as well as rational philosophy—which, uh, says that people can discover the truth by using reason and factual analysis. [01:13.27]So, reason and facts, OK.[01:16.27]And at the same time that realism was becoming popular there were a lot of political and socioeconomic changes happening in the country. [01:24.41]There was, uh, increased literacy, plus the growth of industrialism and urbanization, growth in population from immigration, and a rise in middle-class affluence. [01:38.10]All these factors, combined with the importance of reason and facts, meant that readers were interested in really having a good understanding of all these uh, changes, the changes going on in society. [01:51.62] A scholar named Amy Kaplan says, and I'm just paraphrasing here, that realism is a way to understand and deal with social change. Which makes a lot of sense, I think.[02:02.76]So, then, let’s take a closer look at the tricks of the trade, at how realist writers did their work. [02:09.85]For one thing, as we said, they focus on— big surprise—reality. And in great detail. [02:16.96]They aim for verisimilitude—[02:19.10] should I write that on the board?
[02:20.66]FEMALE STUDENTS & MALE STUDENTS: um-hms.
[02:21.67]MALE PROFESSOR: Ok.[02:23.45] Verisimilitude means, basically, to seem true or real. Like, say, a photograph, rather than a painting, in a way. [02:32.14]In fact, that's a good analogy. [02:34.54] You see, writers tried to capture a moment in time, and all its basic facts, but without exaggeration, just like a camera does.
[02:43.08]Anyway, the events, the things that happen in realist literature, are usually pretty much plausible, [02:49.99]I mean, you figure they could probably happen to anyone. [02:53.21] And the characters are believable too, [02:56.04]and actually, they're usually even more important than the plot. [02:59.54] They're also uh… they talk the way that real people talk, authentic speaking styles from different regions… different parts of the country were captured in the text. [03:11.06]Does that make sense?…[03:12.02]OK.
[03:13.70]So, besides verisimilitude, another important characteristic of realism is the narrator's objectivity. [03:21.41]Characters and events are described without the narrator's passing much judgment on them or anything, or being too dramatic. [03:28.80]Basically, you're reading a story without too much extra comment from the narrator.[03:33.12]OK. Now, we have an idea of what realism was. [03:37.73]So, who were the players? [03:40.22] Well, two important realist novelists were Rebecca Harding Davis and Mark Twain.[03:46.08] We’ll talk more about other realists tomorrow, [03:50.16] but for today let's just start by looking briefly at these two.
[03:53.71]Rebecca Harding Davis was an author and journalist who, like other realists, was concerned about all those social changes going on. [04:02.45] She wrote mainly about some marginalized groups of the time, like women, Native Americans, uh, immigrants. [04:09.65] Now, her best-known book is a novella called Life in the Iron Mills. [04:14.69]It's really a key text because it's one of the original realist works. [04:19.54] Her works overall have been pretty much ignored for a long time, [04:23.62] but some critics and scholars are starting to revisit them and study them more seriously, [04:28.66]probably more for the historical aspects of the works, and... and I think that’s great.
[04:34.68]But if we're talking about great literature, literature that's read and enjoyed today... as something more than just a way of looking at that era, the era when it was written, [04:44.64] well, a favorite of mine is Mark Twain. [04:47.90]I'm sure you've read or heard of his most famous book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. [04:53.42]And Twain's style… it goes back to what I said earlier, verisimilitude, the realistic way characters act and talk. [05:02.50]You should realize too that this was quite a contrast to earlier writers in the U.S. who tried to emulate British writers, tried to be very elegant—at the expense of realism. [05:13.63] Y'know, a lot of critics will tell you that American literature began with that book—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.