Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Financial, Wikipedia.


in literature, an approach that attempts to describe life without idealization or romantic subjectivity. Although realism is not limited to any one century or group of writers, it is most often associated with the literary movement in 19th-century France, specifically with the French novelists FlaubertFlaubert, Gustave
, 1821–80, French novelist, regarded as one of the supreme masters of the realistic novel. He was a scrupulous, slow writer, intent on the exact word (le mot juste) and complete objectivity.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and BalzacBalzac, Honoré de
, 1799–1850, French novelist, b. Tours. Balzac ranks among the great masters of the novel. Of a bourgeois family, he himself later added the "de" to his name.
..... Click the link for more information.
. George EliotEliot, Charles William,
1834–1926, American educator and president of Harvard, b. Boston, grad. Harvard, 1853. In 1854 he was appointed tutor in mathematics at Harvard and in 1858 became assistant professor of mathematics and chemistry.
..... Click the link for more information.
 introduced realism into England, and William Dean HowellsHowells, William Dean,
1837–1920, American novelist, critic, and editor, b. Martins Ferry, Ohio. Both in his own novels and in his critical writing, Howells was a champion of realism in American literature.
..... Click the link for more information.
 introduced it into the United States. Realism has been chiefly concerned with the commonplaces of everyday life among the middle and lower classes, where character is a product of social factors and environment is the integral element in the dramatic complications (see naturalismnaturalism,
in literature, an approach that proceeds from an analysis of reality in terms of natural forces, e.g., heredity, environment, physical drives. The chief literary theorist on naturalism was Émile Zola, who said in his essay Le Roman expérimental
..... Click the link for more information.
). In the drama, realism is most closely associated with IbsenIbsen, Henrik
, 1828–1906, Norwegian dramatist and poet. His early years were lonely and miserable. Distressed by the consequences of his family's financial ruin and on his own at sixteen, he first was apprenticed to an apothecary.
..... Click the link for more information.
's social plays. Later writers felt that realism laid too much emphasis on external reality. Many, notably Henry JamesJames, Henry,
1843–1916, American novelist and critic, b. New York City. A master of the psychological novel, James was an innovator in technique and one of the most distinctive prose stylists in English.

He was the son of Henry James, Sr.
..... Click the link for more information.
, turned to a psychological realism that closely examined the complex workings of the mind (see stream of consciousnessstream of consciousness,
in literature, technique that records the multifarious thoughts and feelings of a character without regard to logical argument or narrative sequence.
..... Click the link for more information.


in art, the movement of the mid-19th cent. formed in reaction against the severely academic production of the French school. Realist painters sought to portray what they saw without idealizing it, choosing their subjects from the commonplaces of everyday life. Major realists included Gustave CourbetCourbet, Gustave
, 1819–77, French painter, b. Ornans. He moved to Paris in 1839 and studied there, learning chiefly by copying masterpieces in the Louvre. An avowed realist, Courbet was always at odds with vested authority, aesthetic or political.
..... Click the link for more information.
, J. F. MilletMillet, Jean François,
1814–75, French painter. He was born into a poor farming family. In 1837 an award enabled him to go to Paris, where he studied with Delaroche.
..... Click the link for more information.
, and Honoré DaumierDaumier, Honoré
, 1808–79, French caricaturist, painter, and sculptor. Daumier was the greatest social satirist of his day. Son of a Marseilles glazier, he accompanied his family to Paris in 1816. There he studied under Lenoir and learned lithography.
..... Click the link for more information.
. In a broader sense the term is applied to an unembellished rendering of natural forms. In recent years realism has come to mean the presentation of forms and materials that are simply themselves, not primarily representations of things that already exist.


in philosophy. 1 In medieval philosophy realism represented a position taken on the problem of universalsuniversals,
in philosophy, term applied to general or abstract objects such as concepts, qualities, relations, and numbers, as opposed to particular objects. The exact nature of a universal deeply concerned thinkers in the Middle Ages.
..... Click the link for more information.
. There were two schools of realism. Extreme realism, represented by William of ChampeauxWilliam of Champeaux
, c.1070–1121, French scholastic philosopher. William studied and taught in Paris. In 1109 he founded the monastic school of St. Victor, which later became famous. From 1113 until his death he was bishop of Châlons-en-Champagne.
..... Click the link for more information.
, held that universals exist independently of both the human mind and particular things—a theory closely associated with that of PlatoPlato
, 427?–347 B.C., Greek philosopher. Plato's teachings have been among the most influential in the history of Western civilization. Life

After pursuing the liberal studies of his day, he became in 407 B.C. a pupil and friend of Socrates. From about 388 B.
..... Click the link for more information.
. Some other philosophers rejected this view for what can be termed moderate realism, which held that universals exist only in the mind of God, as patterns by which he creates particular things. St. Thomas AquinasThomas Aquinas, Saint
[Lat.,=from Aquino], 1225–74, Italian philosopher and theologian, Doctor of the Church, known as the Angelic Doctor, b. Rocca Secca (near Naples).
..... Click the link for more information.
 and John of SalisburyJohn of Salisbury
, c.1110–1180, English scholastic philosopher, b. Salisbury. He studied in France at Paris and Chartres under Abelard and other famous teachers. He was secretary to Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, and friend and secretary to St.
..... Click the link for more information.
 were proponents of moderate realism. 2 In epistemology realism represents the theory that particular things exist independently of our perception. This position is in direct contrast to the theory of idealism, which holds that reality exists only in the mind. Most contemporary British and American philosophy tends toward realism. Prominent modern realists have included Bertrand RussellRussell, Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3d Earl,
1872–1970, British philosopher, mathematician, and social reformer, b. Trelleck, Wales.
..... Click the link for more information.
, G. E. MooreMoore, George Edward,
1873–1958, English philosopher, b. Upper Norwood. He was educated at Cambridge, where he was a fellow (1898–1904) and then a lecturer (1911–25) in the department of moral sciences.
..... Click the link for more information.
, and C. D. Broad.


See J. D. Wild, Introduction to Realistic Philosophy (1948, repr. 1984); P. K. Feyerabend, Realism, Rationalism, and Scientific Method (Vol. 1, 1985); C. Wright, Realism, Meaning, and Truth (1987); R. L. Arrington, Rationalism, Realism, and Relativism (1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


  1. (PHILOSOPHY) the ONTOLOGICAL assertion that the objects in the world have an existence independently of our conception or perception of them (see also SCIENTIFIC REALISM; compare MATERIALISM). In this form realism is opposed to philosophical NOMINALISM, SCEPTICISM (e.g. HUME), PHENOMENALISM, neutral monism (see MIND), OPERATIONISM, INSTRUMENTALISM, and also KANTIAN philosophy. Central to this notion (that can unite sense 1 and sense 3 below) is that a realistic science aims to describe the nature and especially the ‘causal powers’ of the things which exist independently of our descriptions of them (see Bhaskar, 1986).
  2. (realist forms of idealist philosophy) the assertion of the existence outside time and space of abstract forms or universals which determine objects in the world. This includes the notion that the objects in the world are as we observe them (see IDEALISM).
  3. (sociological realism) the assertion that social reality, social structures, social currents, etc., have an existence over and above the existence of individual actors (e.g. DURKHEIM's social reality sui generis, his conception of'social facts as things’); compare METHODOLOGICAL INDIVIDUALISM.
  4. (LITERARY AND CULTURAL THEORY) literary texts taken as providing a realistic account which, on analysis, can be shown as a ‘realistic effect’ in which the DISCOURSE ‘positions the reader’ (C. MacCabe, Theoretical Essays, 1985).
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



in literature and art, the truthful, objective reflection of reality by specific means characteristic of various types of artistic creativity. In the history of art, realism has been specifically associated with well-defined creative methods—for example, Enlightenment realism, critical realism, and socialist realism. Although these methods are interrelated by a degree of continuity, each of them possesses its own characteristic properties. Different manifestations of realistic tendencies are encountered in the various forms and genres of art.

The Marxist-Leninist theory of art does not have a single definition that establishes the chronological limits of realism as a phenomenon and its scope and content as a concept. Among the many different points of view that have developed on these questions, two main conceptions are worth noting. According to one of them, realism is the basic trend in the progressive development of the artistic culture of mankind, in which the profound essence of art as a means for the spiritual and practical assimilation of reality is revealed. The degree of realism of a particular artistic phenomenon is determined by the degree to which it penetrates into life, by the extent of artistic cognition of the important aspects and qualities of life, especially social realities. In each period of history the character of realism changes. Sometimes realism reveals things in a more or less precisely expressed tendency; sometimes it crystallizes into a complete method that defines the artistic culture of its time.

The representatives of the second main point of view on the definition of realism have established definite chronological boundaries for realism, which they regard as a historically and typologically specific form of artistic cognition. They trace the origins of realism to either the Renaissance or the 18th century, associating the fullest manifestation of the specific features of realism in the past with 19th-century critical realism, and regarding 20th-century socialist realism as a new and higher stage. The characteristic feature of realism is considered to be the method of generalizing material drawn from life, or “typifi-cation” (tipizatsiia), a term derived from F. Engels’ description of the realistic novel as “typical characters in typical circumstances” (in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 37, p. 35). Thus, realism studies social reality, as well as the human personality in its indissoluble unity with social relations. This interpretation of the concept of realism developed chiefly on the basis of literary history, whereas the previously mentioned interpretation, which views realism as a continuing trend in the history of the arts, evolved primarily out of the study of the plastic arts.

Regardless of one’s point of view on the definition of realism, realistic art undoubtedly has at its disposal an unusually diverse assortment of methods of generalization, methods for approaching reality, and stylistic forms and devices. The considerable differences between Boccaccio’s realism and G. de Maupassant’s, between A. Dürer’s and H. Daumier’s, between A. S. Pushkin’s and V. V. Mayakovsky’s, and between K. S. Stanislavsky’s and B. Brecht’s, provide evidence of the existence of the broadest possibilities for a profoundly objective mastery of a historically changing world by artistic means. However, all realistic methods are characterized by a consistent trend toward recognizing and revealing the contradictions in reality, which, within specific, historically determined limits, can be truthfully reflected. In this sense, realism is characterized by the conviction that the essence of the objective, or real, world can be known by artistic means.

The various types and forms of art use diverse forms and techniques to reflect reality. The deep penetration of the essence of life’s phenomena—an essential and necessary characteristic of the realistic school and a typical feature of any realistic method—is manifested differently in the novel and in lyric poetry, in historical painting and in landscapes, and in artistic films and in animated cartoons. The depiction of life in the forms of life itself, which some Soviet aestheticians view as the specific characteristic of realism, is common in realistic art. At times it is the dominant characteristic, but it is not a mandatory feature of the realistic method, especially if the formula for realism is interpreted as a requirement that the image should be an adequate representation of the empirical aspect of the phenomena of reality. Not all depictions of the external facts of reality are realistic. The empirical reliability of an artistic image makes sense only when it is considered as an integral part of the truthful reflection of the essential aspects of reality. Sometimes the diverse facets of the profound content of reality can only be revealed by extreme hyberbole, by a sharpening or grotesque exaggeration of the “form of life itself.” A wide range of conventional devices and images makes possible the precise, expressive revelation of the truth of life, especially when the essence of a particular social phenomenon or idea is not adequately expressed in a single fact or object (for example, the creative work of Rabelais, Goya, M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin, A. P. Dovzhenko, and Brecht).

Artistic truth consists of two indissolubly linked aspects: the objective reflection of the essential aspects of life and a truthful aesthetic evaluation—that is, the correlation of the social aesthetic ideal characteristic of a particular art form with the potential for progressive development concealed in reality. This may be termed the truth of an ideal or of an aesthetic evaluation. The most profound and artistically harmonious results are achieved by realistic art when both aspects of aesthetic truth are integrally combined, as they are in Rembrandt’s portraits, Pushkin’s poetry, and L. N. Tolstoy’s novels.

In his work the realistic artist does not simply present a chronicle of life but makes a “poetic judgment” of it (F. Engels, ibid., vol. 36, p. 67). As N. G. Chernyshevskii observed, the realistic artist pronounces his own “sentence” on life. This is the root of the artist’s attitude toward reality (the tendency [tendentsiia] in realism). Didacticism, or an external, declarative quality that is alien to realism, arises when the tendency does not flow “out of the circumstances and the action” but is introduced into a work (Engels, ibid., p. 333).

The question of the relationship between realism and romanticism, which has provoked sharp disputes among scholars, is closely associated with the problem of the ideal in realistic art. Without denying that there is a unique romantic method in art, it should be emphasized that romanticism, far from being contradictory to realism, is often among its inseparable qualities, as is particularly evident in the art of socialist realism.

With regard to particular forms of artistic creativity such as music and architecture, which do not reproduce the forms of reality perceived by the senses, the problem of realism has not yet been sufficiently elucidated. The impossibility of excluding the category of truth from a consideration of the essence of realism raises the question of the nature of truthfulness in the expressive arts. For example, there are no grounds for the attempt to interpret realism in architecture as “truthfulness” in expressing function and structure in form, because this approach transfers the problem from the level of reflecting reality in an artistic image to the level of structural logic. Obviously, the problem of realism in architecture or music can be solved by approaching architectural or musical works as unique aesthetic models of reality. A model does not have to be absolutely congruent in form with the original, but its content should adequately represent the original. The expressive arts represent the objective reality or sociopsychological structure of a personality. Thus, realism in music depends on truthfulness in reflecting the emergence, development, and modification of feelings, moods, and experiences corresponding to the aesthetic ideal of a period.

No matter how broad and how diverse the possibilities and variants of realistic methods in art, they are far from limitless. There is no room for realism when artistic creativity breaks away from real life, embarks on a unique form of aesthetic agnosticism, and surrenders to subjectivist arbitrariness, as in contemporary modernism. In order to conceal the contradiction between realism and decadent bourgeois art, revisionist aestheticians such as R. Garaudy and E. Fischer have proposed the ideal of “realism without limits.” The contemporary struggle of ideologies in artistic creativity is manifested in the opposition between realism and decadent modernism, between realism and mass art, which is militantly bourgeois in its content but which, for the sake of accessibility, avidly imitates the realistic forms of depiction. In its definitions of realism, revisionist aesthetics ignores the criterion of truthfulness, thereby forfeiting any chance of arriving at an objective definition.

However, contemporary realism, like realism of the past, does not always appear in a “chemically pure” form. Realistic tendencies often struggle against tendencies that impede or limit the development of realism as an integral method. Thus, for example, the vital truth of reality is interwoven with religious spiritualism and mysticism in a number of works of Gothic art. Moreover, it is often far from possible to mechanically separate a realistic foundation from aesthetic principles that are alien to it. Artistic formats incorporating both realistic features and features unrelated to realism are frequently encountered (for example, symbolist tendencies in the creative work of M. A. Vrubel’ and A. A. Blok). Moreover, realistic and nonrealistic features may be inextricably interwoven in the creative work of a single artist. Thus, in early works by Mayakov-sky, futurist stylistics are integrally combined with a profoundly truthful protest against the bourgeois, philistine world. In a number of instances a contradiction may arise between a subjectivist perception of reality and the truthfulness of the artist’s social aesthetic ideal. This is characteristic, for example, of a number of contemporary progressive writers in the capitalist countries. Often, the contradiction in their works is resolved by the triumph of the realistic principle (for example, A. Adamov’s drama of the absurd, and the abandonment of surrealism by P. Eluard and L. Aragon).

Realistic art is often “more intelligent” than its creator: the truthful revelation of reality leads to the “victory” of realism over social illusions and political conservatism. Engels cited Balzac as an example of this phenomenon (ibid., vol. 37, p. 37), which, in V. I. Lenin’s opinion, was exemplified by L. N. Tolstoy. The works of a particular artist may sometimes be more profound, more truthful, and richer than his sociopolitical and philosophical views, which may be characterized by complex contradictions. This was true of I. S. Turgenev and F. M. Dos-toevsky. However, it is incorrect to conclude that artistic creativity does not depend on the author’s world view. In most cases, realism is associated with advanced social movements and arises as the artistic expression of society’s progressive potential. In its expression of social ideas, realism is frequently characterized by an openly tendentious quality, as is evident in the higher manifestations of 19th-century critical realism and particularly in socialist realism, the specific character of which requires consistent partiinost’ (party spirit).

The social foundation for realism changes in the course of history. However, as a rule, upsurges in artistic realism coincide with periods of broad ties between artistic culture and the popular masses. This does not mean that realism is always a direct expression of the interests of the working people. However, inasmuch as the people’s multifaceted grasp of life, as well as important social problems, is accessible to realism, narodnost’ (close ties with the people) is among realism’s strongest qualities.

All forms of realism inevitably prove to be historically limited because they are receptive primarily to definite aspects of reality and sensitive to the ideological and psychological facets of a particular period. The historical quality of realism is always manifested as an inherent one-sidedness. Thus, the art of the High Renaissance was, on the one hand, “blind” to social antagonisms but, on the other hand, unusually enthusiastic in its grasp of the Utopian dreams of social harmony that were characteristic of the period. Although the novels of 19th-century critical realism penetrate objectively into the life of bourgeois society, they are incomparable examples of the artistic study of social antagonisms and the complex dialectic of the human character. Thus, the task of analyzing realistic art does not consist in mechanically delimiting it from an abstract “antireal-ism.” This is a crude, dogmatic understanding of the problem. The dialectic of studying realism requires the revelation of the inner content of realism, in which the cognitive conquests of reality are inextricably connected with historically determined limitations. On this level it is possible to show that the logic of “artistic progress” ultimately leads to socialist realism.


Literature. In a historically specific sense, the term “realism” refers to a literary and artistic trend that emerged in the 18th century, flowering and attaining a comprehensive level of development in 19th-century critical realism, and continuing to develop through conflict and interaction with other trends during the 20th century.

In literature a number of the essential features of realism appeared during the Renaissance, primarily in the works of Cervantes and Shakespeare and especially in their portrayal of characters. A method for the precise typification of characters was elaborated by 17th-century classicism. However, realism did not develop intensively until later, in connection with the emergence of bourgeois society. During the 18th century, literature was democratized. In contrast to the literature of previous periods, which had reflected primarily the life style and ideals of the feudal upper classes, 18th-century literature selected as its principal heroes not monarchs and magnates but members of the middle class—merchants, townspeople, soldiers, and sailors, whose everyday activities and family lives were described. The spirit of Enlightenment ideology pervades 18th-century realistic literature, especially prose. Increasingly, the novel—a prose narrative about the destinies of ordinary people, an epic of private life—became the definitive literary genre. The most significant realistic novels of the 18th century were written in Great Britain (Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne), France (the Abbé Prévost, Diderot, J.-J. Rousseau), and Germany (the early works of Goethe). The bourgeois drama developed after the novel (G. Lillo [Great Britain], Diderot [France], and G. E. Lessing and the young J. C. F. von Schiller [Germany]). Eighteenth-century realism faithfully recreated the ordinary life of contemporary society and reflected social and moral conflicts, but its treatment of characters was linear and subordinate to moral criteria. Heroes are sharply distinguished from villains in 18th-century literature. Only in exceptional works, including novels by Fielding, Sterne, and Diderot, is the portrayal of personality outstanding for complexity and for a dialectical, contradictory quality.

At the beginning of the 19th century, romanticism, which was incomparably more profound than 18th-century Enlightenment realism, depicted the inner world of human beings, revealing the conflicts and antinomies of the personality and opening up its “subjective infiniteness.” Romanticism also introduced into art the principles of historicism and close ties with the people.

Critical realism, which developed in the 1830’s, had genetic ties with romanticism. In both schools disillusionment with the results of the bourgeois revolution was combined with a negative attitude toward the capitalist system, which was becoming entrenched. Stendhal and Balzac (France), as well as Dickens (Great Britain), created panoramic canvases of bourgeois society, revealing the “hidden meaning of a vast assortment of passions and events” (Balzac) and describing their social foundation. The Russian writer N. V. Gogol depicted the crisis of the system of landownership and serfdom.

The novel remained the principal genre in literary realism. Its action focused on motifs such as the personality’s struggle to assert itself in a property-owning world, the machinations of businessmen, and the misfortunes of the poor. Realism showed the corrupting effect of material prosperity on morals, the destruction of natural ties between people, and the transformation of marriage into a business deal. However, the critical spirit of realism during the first half of the 19th century was not a sign that writers lacked positive ideals. The power of their criticism depended on their characteristic humanism and their faith in progress.

Realism changed in the mid-19th century. In works by Stendhal, Balzac, and Dickens, man is capable of struggling against unfavorable conditions. By contrast, during the second half of the 19th century, Western literary realism depicted primarily the alienation and degradation of the personality and loss of character, will, and ability to struggle against the environment. This trend was most expressively revealed in the works of Thackeray and Flaubert. However, the alienation described by these writers is in contrast to the assertion of lofty humanism and the struggle for human ideals, which are to some extent characteristic of works by G. Eliot (Great Britain) but which are important elements in works by Turgenev and Tolstoy (Russia). The creative work of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, with its depth of insight into philosophical problems, its remarkably broad grasp of social reality, its compassion for the lot of the “insulted and injured,” and its precise psychological analysis, earned these writers, together with all Russian literature of the period, a place at the summit of 19th- and 20th-century realism.

During the last third of the 19th century the history of Western literature was dominated by naturalism, the most important representative of which was Zola.

From the 1830’s there were various degrees and forms of realism in the novel, but in drama, romanticism continued to prevail for a long time, even though a number of writers, including P. Mérimée (Jacquerie), Pushkin (Boris Godunov), and G. Büchner (Danton’s Death), tried to make the transition to realism. Their example did not attract any followers. Gogol’s The Inspector-General (1836) remained an isolated phenomenon for a long time. The development of the realistic drama did not begin in Russia until the second half of the 1850’s (A. N. Ostrov-skii). In the West the realistic drama first developed during the 1870’s and 1880’s (H. Ibsen).

During the 1880’s a new form of realism emerged in the creative work of A. P. Chekhov, which was characterized by extreme restraint in evaluative statements by the author, and by a completely objective depiction of everyday reality. At the same time, Chekhov transcended the naturalistic description of everyday life by virtue of the profound lyricism of his work. Although he remained a genuine humanist, his attitude toward existing social conditions was evident in the skeptical ridicule and bitter humor he directed at society.

Objective realism is combined with humanistic feeling in turn-of-the-century works by R. Rolland in the West and M. Gorky in Russia. They sought the solution to eternal problems in social reality, active humanism, and progressive sociopolitical movements. Gorky, a proletarian writer whose creative work went beyond the framework of democratic realism, was the founder of socialist realism, a new stage in the development of world art.

From the late 19th century to World War I (1914–18) the traditions of 19th-century realism continued to develop, as did democratic humanism and a critical attitude toward capitalist society. Among the writers whose works exemplified these trends were Rolland, Gorky, J. Galsworthy, T. Dreiser, H. Mann, and T. Mann. Together with a younger generation of writers, they developed the traditions of humanistic realism during the period between the October Revolution of 1917 and World War I through World War II (1939–45). The horrors of worldwide carnage inspired a significant antiwar literature (H. Barbusse, J. Hašek, E. M. Remarque, and R. Aldington, for example).

During the 1920’s and 1930’s the intensification of fascism and the growing danger of war evoked an antifascist and anti-militarist literature (for example, L. Feuchtwanger and A. Zweig). Influenced by the October Revolution of 1917, a number of bourgeois writers, including T. Mann, H. Mann, and R. Martin du Gard, became reconciled with socialist ideas. The growth of socialist realism in the USSR stimulated analogous trends in other countries, represented by R. Fox (Great Britain), M. Andersen Nexø (Denmark), and J. Becher, A. Seghers, and W. Bredel (Germany).

The work of major writers who rejected the traditional forms of realism was important to the development of realism. Proust’s precise analysis of the mind and Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness technique opened new possibilities for reflecting the inner life of the personality. J. Dos Passos created experimental forms in which he attempted to combine the traditional biographical narrative with the interior monologue, a collage of newspaper headlines, and the “newsreel” technique. In Faulkner’s works, narrative forms are fantastically transformed and synthesized.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s socialist realism was characterized by experimentation and innovation, with the goal of discovering literary forms that would adequately convey the turbulent, revolutionary character of the times. Highly expressive forms that shattered conventional genres and their stylistics were used in poetry by Mayakovsky and I. L. Sel’vinskii, in prose by V. V. Ivanov, and in drama by V. V. Vishnevskii. At the same time, another trend in socialist realism carried on the traditions of the Russian classical writers and Gorky. Among the representatives of this trend were A. A. Fadeev, M. A. Sho-lokhov, A. N. Tolstoy, L. M. Leonov, and K. A. Fedin.

In the mid-20th century, realism was the most productive method in world literature. Critical realism continued to develop in the literature of the capitalist countries. The literature of the socialist countries, which emerged after World War II, developed along the lines of socialist realism.

During the postwar decades literary realists who had begun their careers considerably earlier gained broad popularity (for example, F. Mauriac, B. Brecht, E. Waugh, and G. Greene). At the same time, a new generation of realists emerged, including A. Miller, N. Mailer, J. Jones, J. Salinger, J. Cheever, and S. Bellow (USA); J. Cary and C. P. Snow (Great Britain); and H. Boll, G. Grass, and S. Lenz (Federal Republic of Germany [FRG]). Documentary literature is a branch of realism (for example, plays by R. Hochhuth of the FRG and prose works by the American writer T. Capote).

Writers have continued to experiment with the narrative form, trying to bring it as close as possible to the direct “flow of events” and the stream of consciousness (for example, the French “new novel,” which often comes perilously close to pure subjectivism).

From the standpoint of literary style, the term “realism” refers to the literary means used in works characterized by the realistic method. For many centuries the language of literature was special and “poetic.” In almost all genres, works of art were written in verse. Even more important, literary language was distinguished from everyday language by ornamental figures of speech, as well as by a special rhythm. Although prose narratives originated comparatively early, they were for a long time confined to conventional forms of language that were more or less remote from everyday language. The introduction of conversational language was one of the primary elements of the realistic style. The vocabulary of works by Boccaccio, Rabelais, and Cervantes was, to a large extent, drawn from everyday language. Nonetheless, because of its syntax and, in particular, its subordination to the norms of rhetoric, the literary language of these writers was not genuinely realistic. Conversational language was not used in literature until the 18th century, and rhetorical elements were still common in the literature of that period.

Even in works by Dickens and Balzac the language was literary and characterized by romantic loftiness. Stendhal was the first 19th-century writer to refrain from rhetorical ornamentation and use precise, “dry” language in narrative descriptions and in the speech of his characters. In Russian literature Pushkin was the first to provide models of laconic, precise prose language that reproduced the natural structure of conversation and preserved its intonations. From that time, it became possible to refer to a “realistic style,” in the true sense of the term.

In each of the national literatures, as realism was affirmed as a literary trend, a corresponding literary style developed. The realistic style is characterized by a natural quality of speech that conforms to the standards of conversational speech. (There is a reciprocal relationship between literary language and everyday language: literature absorbs everyday language, but it also sets the standards for contemporary linguistic culture.) Moreover, in the realistic style, the description of a character is constantly enriched by the peculiarities of his speech—that is, by the reproduction of the individual and social features of his speech.

The standards of literary language established in the 19th-century classics of Russian literature are still in force, although the most recent literature also reflects changes in the linguistic culture. In the West, the 20th century was marked by a renewal of the literary language. For example, Hemingway endeavored to prune the superfluous from his language, to make it extremely laconic but at the same time capture multiple meanings. This is the essence of his “honest prose.” In addition to this trend in 20th-century literary style, there has been a revival of poetic devices in prose, such as figures of speech (including metaphors) and expressive imagery. I. Babel’, Faulkner, and M. Asturias are among the representatives of this style.


In the countries of the Orient elements of the “realistic method,” in the proper sense of the term, emerged in literatures that had gone through the “Eastern Renaissance” (especially Iranian poetry of the 12th through 15th centuries and the narrative prose of late medieval Chinese literature). Enlightenment realism and critical realism developed later in Oriental than in Western literatures. (These types of realism took shape in Chinese, Japanese, Iranian, Turkish, and Arabic literature, for example.) Moreover, in the countries of the Orient, literary realism developed not only as a result of internal social and literary evolution but also under the direct influence of Western and, subsequently, Russian literature. Many works by Oriental writers, including Lu Hsün, Akutagawa Ryunosuke, S. Hedayat, Taha Husayn, R. Tagore, and M. F. Akhundov, are among the internationally known works of literary realism.


Theater. In the theater, Enlightenment realism was expressed in the creative work of actors of the late 17th through 18th centuries, including T. Betterton and D. Garrick (Great Britain), I. A. Dmitrievskii (Russia), and W. Bogusławski (Poland). The development of realism in the theater in 19th-century Russia was, to a significant degree, determined by Russian dramaturgy—the works of Pushkin, A. S. Griboedov, and Gogol and later, the works of A. N. Ostrovskii, A. V. Sukhovo-Kobylin, L. N. Tolstoy, and Chekhov. The aesthetic principles of Pushkin and Gogol constituted the foundation for the creative work of the distinguished Russian actor M. S. Shchepkin, who overcame the limitations associated with the classicism of Enlightenment realism and who, for the first time, consistently implemented the principles of stage transformation (personation). The dramas written by Russian critical realists also inspired a constellation of realistic actors, who were associated primarily with the Malyi Theater in Moscow (the Sadovskiis, L. P. Ko-sitskaia, I. V. Samarin, and G. N. Fedotova, for example) and with the Aleksandrinskii Theater in St. Petersburg (I. I. Sosni-tskii, A. E. Martynov, V. V. Samoilov, and later, M. G. Savina). Russian stage realism was not sharply divided from romanticism, which at the turn of the 20th century was expressed in the creative work of the distinguished tragic actress M. N. Ermo-lova and the outstanding actor and director A. P. Lenskii.

As a result of the rise of realism in the 19th-century theater, the method of acting changed, emphasizing an increasingly complete, lifelike re-creation of the protagonist. Moreover, specific historical and social circumstances were portrayed on the stage. These changes gave rise to an emphasis on ensemble work and to the consideration of all aspects of the theater, including the organization of stage space, the design of sets, color, lighting, and sound. Consequently, during the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th, directing, as well as play-writing and the art of acting, became important in the theater. The stage productions of C. Kean (Great Britain) and the Meiningen Theater (Germany) were characterized by a striving for historical accuracy. Attempts at reforms to reinforce stage realism are associated with A. Antoine’s Théâtre Libre in France, the Independent Theatre in Great Britain, and the Krakow school, which developed under the direction of S. Koźmian in Poland. Among the outstanding realistic actors in Western Europe were E. Rossi, T. Salvini, and E. Duse (Italy); B. C. Coquelin (France); and W. Macready (Great Britain).

The principles of theatrical realism were most completely and integrally embodied in the innovative work of the Moscow Art Theater (MKhT). In directing and in acting, this theater is associated with the finest examples of stage realism, which drew on the principles of the school of “emotionally experiencing a role” and depended on the revelation of the integral process of the actor’s artistry as the creator of a role. (In directing, the MKhT is associated primarily with its founders, K. S. Stanislavsky and V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko. A constellation of masters of the art of acting received their training at MKhT, including I. M. Moskvin, V. I. Kachalov, O. L. Knipper-Chekho-va, and L. M. Leonidov.) In the artistry of the MKhT critical realism evolved toward socialist realism, as was revealed not only in the “truth of experiencing an artistic feeling” (Stanislavsky) but also in the creation of an entire, integrated image of the period that foreshadowed revolutionary shocks. The creative program of the MKhT was most clearly expressed in the staging of plays by Chekhov and Gorky.


Music. In music it is correct to refer to realism as a creative method only when a composer makes musical images concrete by using words, stage action, or visual and symbolic associations that rely on everyday and synthetic (including theatrical) genres. Realistic tendencies, including vivid visual scenes of everyday life and nature and psychologically specific portrayals of human characters, emerged in Renaissance music and were further developed in baroque and classical music. During the 18th century, realistic tendencies were clearly manifested in democratic musical theatrical genres, such as Italian, French, and Russian comic operas and Austrian and German Sing-spiels. During the first half of the 19th century, romantic composers, including Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Berlioz, and Liszt, made music more profound and intensified its national and historical specificity.

Socially typical and psychologically complex images were created by the late 19th-century composers Bizet (Carmen) and Verdi (Otello, Falstaff), and, to some extent, by Wagner (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg). This trend, which marked the emergence of realism as an original creative method in Western European music, had appeared even earlier in the school of critical realism in Russian music (A. S. Dargomyzhskii’s art songs and his opera The Mermaid). The achievements of M. I. Glinka in portraying the national life in music (for example, in the opera Ivan Susanin) were of great importance in laying the foundation for critical realism.

The peak of realism in music was reached in Tchaikovsky’s works, which often verged on romanticism, and in the works of the Russian Five, including M. P. Mussorgsky, A. P. Borodin, and, to some degree, N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, who never broke completely with romanticism. These composers created true-to-life, diverse musical images, based on the characteristic intonations and expressive means of folk songs, everyday music, and speech. The achievements of musical realism served as the foundation for the emergence and development of socialist realism during the 1920’s in Soviet music and in the creative work of certain foreign composers.


Representational art. In representational art the methods of critical realism may be traced to the 18th century. Enlightenment ideas inspired the turn to the everyday life of simple people, persistent attention to individual characters, and satirical depiction of social mores in the creative work of artists from the “third estate” (J. B. S. Chardin, J. B. Greuze, and J. A. Houdon [France]; W. Hogarth [Great Britain]; and D. N. Chodowiecki [Germany]). Classicist portraits reveal an interest in man as an individual (the French artists J. L. David and J. A. D. Ingres). Because Goya discovered living poetry in the environment and established new methods for the ruthless analysis of social contradictions, his creative work occupies a special place in the emergence of the realistic method. Goya was one of the originators of openly accusatory art.

From the end of the 18th century through the first third of the 19th—a period associated with the rise of romanticism—the development of representational art was characterized by the strengthening of realistic tendencies in portraits, genre paintings, and landscapes. In France, T. Géricault and E. Delacroix turned directly to nature, to living reality with all its seething, dramatic conflicts. They laid the foundation for the art of H. Daumier, which revealed with particular profundity the dramatic quality of contemporary life. Daumier transformed the elemental, antibourgeois feelings of the romantics into a consistent study of antagonistic society. By means of their achievements with the plein air method, C. Corot and the masters of the Barbizon school (T. Rousseau and C. F. Daubigny), who captured nature’s most subtle states and motifs, determined the subsequent development of the realistic style in landscape painting.

In Russian art of the first half of the 19th century, realistic tendencies were characteristic of O. A. Kiprenskii’s and V. A. Tropinin’s portraits, A. G. Venetsianov’s paintings on themes from the everyday life of the peasants, and S. F. Shchedrin’s landscapes. To a considerable extent, the creative work of K. P. Briullov laid the foundation for conscious adherence to the principles of realism. This was characteristic of the work of A. A. Ivanov, who combined the direct study of nature with profound philosophical generalizations, and especially the work of P. A. Fedotov, who depicted the life of the “little man” and offered a critical appraisal of the mores of serf-owning Russia. Because of the accusatory vigor of his works, Fedotov is recognized as the founder of Russian democratic realism of the second half of the 19th century.

Critical realism which developed throughout Europe, was manifested in Germany in the Biedermeier style, which poeticized everyday life, and in the works of the masters associated with that style, including G. F. Kersting, J. P. Hasenclever, L. F. Rayski, K.. Blechen, and C. Spitzweg, for example. In Poland, critical realism emerged in the romantically lofty creative art of P. Michatowski. The development of critical realism in Great Britain was marked by the triumph of the realistic landscape in the works of J. Constable. To a certain extent, critical realism influenced some of the Pre-Raphaelites (H. Hunt and F. M. Brown).

By the second half of the 19th century, realism had reached maturity, having developed diverse national and stylistic variants, all of which, however, were characterized by the general features of the realistic method, including specific fidelity in reproducing reality, attentive study of the environment and its diverse phenomena, and the assertion of the aesthetic value of everyday life. Also among the general features of the realistic method are an overt social tendency, expressed in the analysis of social phenomena and of the socially conditioned human character, and the treatment of reality as a time flow. (The latter is in contrast to classicism, with its cult of perfection and the static quality of being.)

The principles of critical realism were most fully revealed in French and Russian painting. The most important representative of realism in the mid- 19th century was G. Courbet, who, for the sake of effect, named his programmatic exhibition in 1855 the Pavilion of Realism. Courbet’s bold art, with its emphasis on the natural and its fearless attitude toward the prose of life, was met with hostility by the bourgeois public, who justifiably regarded realism as the artistic embodiment of democratic ideas. Harmony with everyday or dramatic phenomena, as well as an unbiased quality in the re-creation of the environment, was characteristic of J. F. Millet’s genre paintings, which celebrated the toil of the peasants, and of Manet’s compositions on contemporary, topical themes. Later, the same qualities were characteristic of the creative work of the impressionist masters, who are associated with important achievements in realistically conveying nature and in asserting the artistic value of everyday life in the modern city (C. Monet, A. Renoir, E. Degas, C. Pissarro, A. Sisley).

Nineteenth-century realism did not develop as extensively in sculpture as in painting and the graphic arts, and only a few significant masters emerged, including A. Rodin (France) and C. Meunier (Belgium). The rise of realism in Russian painting during the second half of the 19th century was inextricably linked with the democratic upsurge in social thought. An intent study of nature, as well as a profound empathy for the life and destiny of the common people, was combined with a consistent ideological trend and with the unmasking of the bourgeois serf-owning system. The group known as the peredvizhniki (“wanderers”), which flourished during the last third of the 19th century, consisted of a brilliant constellation of realistic artists, including V. G. Perov, I. N. Kramskoi, I. E. Repin, V. I. Surikov, N. N. Ge, I. I. Shishkin, A. K. Savrasov, and I. I. Levitan. The peredvizhniki consolidated the realistic style in genre and historical painting, portraits, and landscapes.

In the late 19th century representatives of realism emerged in other national schools—A. von Menzel and W. Leibl (Germany), M. Munkácsy (Hungary), J. Mánes and K. Purkynĕ (Bohemia), and W. Homer and T. Eakins (the USA). In the late 19th through early 20th centuries, the traditions of critical realism were carried on in the creative work of a number of important masters who retained firm ties with the democratic movement—for example, T. Steinlen and E. A. Bourdelle (France); M. Liebermann, M. Slevogt, H. Zille, and K. Kollwitz (Germany); J. Israëls (the Netherlands); and F. Brangwyn (Great Britain). At the beginning of the 20th century the traditions of realism were especially strong in Russia (V. A. Serov, K. A. Ko-rovin, S. V. Ivanov, N. A. Kasatkin, and A. S. Golubkina, for example). After the October Revolution of 1917 these traditions were among the sources from which socialist realist art developed.

During the 20th century realistic tendencies have been characteristic of attempts to establish new links with reality, new forms, and new means of artistic expression, as is evident in the work of a broad range of masters, including F. Masereel (Belgium), D. Rivera and D. Siqueiros (Mexico), A. Refregier (the USA), A. Fougeron (France), and R. Guttuso (Italy). The integral ties between realism and the progressive sociopolitical movements of the 20th century have become increasingly distinct and consistent, leading many artists to assimilate the method of social realism.



Dneprov, V. Problemy realizma. Leningrad, 1960.
Iezuitov, A. N. Voprosy realizma ν estetike K. Marksa i F. Engei’sa. Leningrad-Moscow, 1963.
Vaiman, S. T. Marksislskaia estetika i problemy realizma. Moscow, 1964.
Petrov, S. M. Realizm. Moscow, 1964.
Problemy stanovleniia realizma ν literaturakh Vostoka: Materialy diskussii. Moscow, 1964.
Konrad, N. I. “Problema realizma i literatury Vostoka.” In his book Zapad i Vostok, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1972.
Nikolaev, P. A. “Realizm kak teoretiko-literaturnaia problema (k istorii izucheniia).” In the collection Sovetskoe literaturovedenie za 50 let. Moscow, 1967.
“Realizm segodnia: Anketa.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1967, no. 3.
Lavretskii, A. Belinskii, Chernyshevskii, Dobroliubov ν bor’be za realizm, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968.
Realizm i khudozhestvennye iskaniia XX veka (collection of articles). Moscow, 1969.
Mikhailova, A. O khudozhestvennoi uslovnosti, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1970.
Redeker, H. Otrazhenie i deistvie: Dialektika realizma ν khudozhestven-nom tvorchestve. Moscow, 1971. (Translated from German.)
Suchkov, B. Istoricheskie sud’by realizma: Razmyshleniia o tvorcheskom metode, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1973.
Motyleva, T. Dostoianie sovremennogo realizma. Moscow, 1973.
Farbshtein, A. Teoriia realizma i problemy muzykal’noi estetiki. Leningrad, 1973.



an idealist school of philosophy that recognizes a reality lying outside of the consciousness and interprets it either as the existence of ideal objects (Plato, medieval Scholasticism) or as an object of cognition independent of the subject, the cognitive process, and experience (20th-century philosophical realism).

In medieval philosophy realism, like nominalism and con-ceptualism, was a variant of a solution to the controversy over universals, which was an attempt to define the ontological status of general concepts—that is, to resolve the question of their real (objective) existence. Unlike nominalism, which considered only the individual thing to be real and viewed common names as universal, and unlike conceptualism, which regarded the universal as a conceptual generalization based on the real similarity among objects, realism asserted that universals exist in reality, independently of the consciousness (universalia sunt realia).

The doctrine of realism is rich in nuances and variations, but two trends are usually distinguished: extreme realism, which asserts that universals exist independently of things, and moderate realism, which argues that universals are real but that they exist in individual, specific things. Because of pantheistic tendencies in its extreme expression, realism, like nominalism, came into conflict with the church. Therefore, the moderate form of realism prevailed during the Middle Ages.

Historically, the problem of universals originated in the Platonic theory of self-sufficient essences, or ideas that organize the world and, existing outside of concrete things, constitute another, ideal world. In contrast to Plato, Aristotle asserted that the general exists in an indissoluble relationship with the specific, of which it is the form. Both of these views were adopted in Scholasticism: the Platonic view as extreme realism, and the Aristotelian view as moderate realism.

Platonic realism, which was revised in the third and fourth centuries A.D. by the Neoplatonists and in patristic writing, became part of medieval philosophy. Augustine, the most important patristic philosopher, interpreted the ideas as the thoughts of the creator and the models for the creation of the world. Johannes Scotus Erigena (ninth century) believed that the general exists entirely in individual things and precedes the individual in the mind of god. In its corporeality the thing itself, which is the result of cloaking the essence in accidents (accidental attributes), represents the totality of intelligible qualities.

Extreme realism, which emerged during the 11th century as a challenge to the nominalism of Roscelin, was expressed in the teaching of Roscelin’s pupil, William of Champeaux, who argued that universals, as the “first substance,” are present in things as their essence. Anselm of Canterbury (11th century) and Adelard of Bath (12th century) also developed theories within the framework of Platonic realism. Although Anselm recognized the ideal existence of universals in the mind of god, he did not accept their existence on the level of things and outside the mind of man or god.

The realism of Albert the Great and his pupil Thomas Aquinas (13th century), who synthesized the ideas of Aristotle, Avi-cenna, and Christian theology, proved most durable and most acceptable to the church. According to Thomas Aquinas, universals have a threefold existence: “before things” in the mind of god, as the “ideas” and eternal prototypes of things; “within things” as their essences and substantial forms; and “after things” as concepts and the results of abstraction in the human mind. In Thomism universals are equated with Aristotelian form, and matter serves as the principle of individuation—that is, the differentiation of the universal into the particular.

Although moderate realism was seriously undermined by the nominalist William of Ockham, it survived through the 14th century. The last significant doctrine of moderate realism was developed by F. Suárez in the 16th century. Like classical rationalism, which inherited its tenets, medieval realism, in attempting to solve the problem of the universal and the individual, failed to resolve the contradictions arising from the interpretation of general concepts as abstractions preceding intellectual generalization.

In contemporary bourgeois philosophy realism is essentially an idealist epistemological conception. There are two schools of contemporary philosophical realism: absolute realism (neo-realism) and relative realism (critical realism). In bourgeois historical studies of philosophy, realism and idealism are often incorrectly juxtaposed.


Shtekl’, A. Istoriia srednevekovoi filosofii. Moscow, 1912.
Trakhtenberg, O. V. Ocherki po istorii zapadnoevropeiskoi srednevekovoi filosofii. Moscow, 1957.
Kotarbinski, T. “Spor ob universaliiakh ν srednie veka.” Izbr. proizv. Moscow, 1963.
Bogomolov, A. S. “Filosofskii realizm ν XX veke.” Vestnik MGU: Filosofiia. 1971, nos. 4–6.
Taylor, H. O. The Medieval Mind, 4th ed., vols. 1–2. Cambridge, Mass., 1959.
Grabmann, M. Die Geschichte der scholastischen Methode, vols. 1–2. Berlin, 1957.
Carré, M. H. Realists and Nominalists. Oxford, 1961.
Copleston, F. A History of Philosophy, vols. 2–3. New York, 1962–63.
Stegmüller, W. Glauben, Wissen und Erkennen, 2nd ed. Darmstadt, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a style of painting and sculpture that seeks to represent the familiar or typical in real life, rather than an idealized, formalized, or romantic interpretation of it
2. any similar school or style in other arts, esp literature
3. Philosophy the thesis that general terms such as common nouns refer to entities that have a real existence separate from the individuals which fall under them
4. Philosophy the theory that physical objects continue to exist whether they are perceived or not
5. Logic Philosophy the theory that the sense of a statement is given by a specification of its truth conditions, or that there is a reality independent of the speaker's conception of it that determines the truth or falsehood of every statement
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
To sum up, social realism covers all the events and it is capable to put all literary schools such as: romanticism and realism in itself".
But he does note the dangers of racial realism for ethnic and racial minorities.
Jenn Stephenson rehearses the origins of realism in the early novel to make sparkling sense of "realist performance that speaks against its own realist strategies" in Gardenf/Suburbia, a fascinating bifocal, fictionalized autobiographical walking tour of a Toronto neighbourhood (78).
Following the discussion of fictionalism in Chapter Four, Chapter Five introduces the recent 'explanatory turn' in the debate over mathematical realism. The explanatory turn involves the reformulation of indispensability arguments to focus on explanation.
In the last chapter, "More Than Words Can Say," the author investigates the aesthetic effects of magical realism. Following Franz Roh's assertion that "the new form of realism lay in its attitude of wonder at the world" (128), Robinson postulates that inside this realism there is an attempt to locate infinity in small things, while not illuminating the inner mechanism of magic realism's formula.
The first chapter contains one of the author's most lucid and sustained arguments, tracing East Central Europe's history as Western Europe's shadowy Other; Skrodzka suggests that the postcolonial theory of Said and Spivak can shed light on the relationship between Europe's East and West, as well as East Central European directors' choice of magic realism as a way to "destabilise" the dominant realistic discourse "from within" (1).
(9) This is a valid reading, but the tale also demonstrates how Champfleury was already playing with mixtures of the real before his supposed turn toward realism. It is the inclusion of realist moments in an otherwise fantastical text that makes Champfleury's story defy one of Roland Barthes's characterizations of nineteenth-century realism in his essay L'Effet de reel.
Finally, the cost realism definition further states that in doing your analysis you must look at each "offeror's proposed cost estimate." This is important.
Participants asked to donate money to a charity of their choice who were primed with realism reported being willing to give more than those primed with antirealism or not primed at all.
The book is divided into an introductory chapter on the oxymoronic nature of magical realism, six additional chapters dealing with the different interconnections between magical realism and a variety of -isms (namely, postmodernism, postcolonialism, ecocriticism, as well as Levinasian philosophy), and then some final "dialectical" remarks about the mode from the perspective provided by Theodor Adorno's concept of negative dialectics.
KEY WORDS: scientific realism, no-miracle argument, pessimistic meta-induction, theoretical explanations, limiting cases