What Is Realism in Literature?

Updated: June 09, 2023
In literature, realism is the quality or condition of being true to life. It is an approach to writing that attempts to describe life without idealization or romanticization.
Detailed answer:

Realism in literature is a movement towards representing reality as accurately as possible.

The term realism was first used in 1855, when the French novelist Gustave Flaubert wrote a letter to his friend Maxime du Camp, saying that he wanted to write a book “la vie vraie” (“real life”). This was in response to the idealized portrayals of life that had come before him, and he wanted to capture the everyday lives of ordinary people. Realist writers sought to portray the everyday lives of ordinary people in a realistic way. They believed that literature should be accessible to as many people as possible.

Realist works often deal with social issues and problems. They often show the darker side of life, and can be quite pessimistic. Some well-known realist writers include Honoré de Balzac and Leo Tolstoy. Some famous realist works include “Le père Goriot,” by Honoré de Balzac; “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” by Leo Tolstoy; and “The Red Room,” by H.G. Wells.

Realist writers often use colloquial language and dialect to give their characters a more realistic voice—for example, using slang words like “cool” or “dude.”

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What Is Realism in Literature?. (2023, May 06). Retrieved from