Realism and Henry James Essay

Realism and Henry James Essay

Length: 1779 words (5.1 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Powerful Essays

Open Document

Essay Preview

Realism, in the broadest of definitions, is the faithful representation of reality or verisimilitude. The realist is considered to be the “philosophical extrovert” . Within the scope of American literature, ‘realism’ spans the time period from the Civil War to the turn of the century. Some claim that American realism was the product of a country shaken by war combined with technological advances and increased consciousness of nationhood. Realism, according to Weinberg, “denies the continuum of time as meaningful dimension of experience because time cannot be seen or touched” . In essence, realism was a solution to the problem of the past. It “made a religion out of newness and contemporaneity” . However, some critics of realism have criticized it as having been “exposed as an insidious agent of the capitalistic-imperialistic-bourgeois hegemony” .

The advent of realism was much appreciated by writers everywhere for it was a response to the changing cultural needs. William Dean Howells, Mark Twain and Henry James are few of the pioneers of American realism. With time, Howells abandoned the idea of the past and worked solely in the representation of American life. Twain, however, was in a limbo between his bonds with the past and a promise to the present. At this time it was James, who reconciled the ties of history and with an intellectual commitment to the present.

James wrote The Art of Fiction in 1884 in a critical response to Walter Besant’s lecture on the same topic. James’s basic aim in this critique was to critically analyze Besant’s thoughts on fiction whilst putting forward what he believed the art and form of fiction to be. James contends that fictional writing is the representation of real life. In The Art of Fiction he claims that a novel “is a proof of life and curiosity” . At another point in this discourse he writes, “The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does attempt to represent life” . This is synonymous with the definition of realism that I have stated above which claims that realism in literature is the representation of life.

In the essay, James highlights the basis, which he believes, are essential for a piece of fiction to become art. According to him, a piece of fiction should be informative and should not carry with it the load of moral judgments or analysis. The characters and their psychological process should...


... middle of paper ...


...r, Everett. "William Dean Howells' Theory of Critical Realism." ELH 16 (1949): 151-166.
•     Crowley, John W. "The Portrait of a Lady and The Rise of Silas Lapham: The Company They Kept." (n.d.): 117-134.
•     Dicovery of a Genius: William Dean Howells and Henry James. Ed. Albert Monrdell. New York: Twayne, 1961.
•     James, Henry. "The Art of Fiction." Longman's Magazine (1884).
•     James, Henry. What Maisie Knew. New York, 1909.
•     Pizer, Donald. "Late Nineteenth-Century American Realism: An Essay in Definition." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 16 (1961): 263-269.
•     Rouse, H. Blair. "Charles Dickens and Henry James: Two Approaches to the Art of Fiction." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 5 (1950): 151-157.
•     Salomon, Roger B. "Realism as Disinheritance: Twain, Howells and
James." American Quarterly 16 (1964): 531-544.
•     Weinberg, Bernard. French Realism: The Critical Reaction, 1830-1870. (Oxford, 1937) pp. 122-123.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Realism and Henry James Essay

- Realism, in the broadest of definitions, is the faithful representation of reality or verisimilitude. The realist is considered to be the “philosophical extrovert” . Within the scope of American literature, ‘realism’ spans the time period from the Civil War to the turn of the century. Some claim that American realism was the product of a country shaken by war combined with technological advances and increased consciousness of nationhood. Realism, according to Weinberg, “denies the continuum of time as meaningful dimension of experience because time cannot be seen or touched” ....   [tags: essays research papers fc]

Powerful Essays
1779 words (5.1 pages)

Convention and Realism in Henry James’ Washington Square Essay

- Convention and Realism in Henry James’ Washington Square Realism, as described by William Dean Howells in the late nineteenth century, replaces the high art and style of the literature of the preceding decades by permitting such characters as Howells' Silas Lapham to have a distinct place in the pantheon of American literary characters. Fervently, Howells invoked the "truth" of the realist genre, writing, "ŒLet it portray men and women as they are, actuated by the motives and the passions in the measure we all know...let it speak the dialect, the language, that most Americans know - the language of unaffected people everywhere'" (Fictions of the Real, 188)....   [tags: Washington Square]

Powerful Essays
2404 words (6.9 pages)

Realism and Naturalism in Henry James’ Daisy Miller and Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie

- To best analyze the works of James and Dreiser, the terms realism and naturalism are critical to comprehend. Realism, as noted in the Norton Anthology, emphasizes, “the interior moral and psychological lives of upper-class people” (9). Accordingly, realism reflects a natural depiction of self, relationships and social interactions (and the class-system). Realist writers explore true interpersonal dilemmas, interactions and experiences within society, highlighting the character rather than a story’s plot....   [tags: interpersonal, conflict, environment]

Powerful Essays
819 words (2.3 pages)

Essay on Role of the Narrator in Henry James' Daisy Miller

- The narrator of Henry James’ Daisy Miller contributes to the novella’s realism, as defined by James himself in his essay “The Art of Fiction,” by creating a narrator who acts as an observer to the events described in the story rather than an omniscient narrator who informs the reader of the thoughts of the characters. Rather than focusing on the internal workings of the character’s minds, James focuses on the external details which offers the reader a realistic perspective of the characters and leaves moral judgment to the readers....   [tags: Henry James, Daisy Miller]

Powerful Essays
915 words (2.6 pages)

Michael Kearns on Henry James' Washington Square Essay

- Michael Kearns on Henry James' Washington Square: Much Ado About Nothing It never fails to amaze me how someone can take a theory and expand on the idea so much that it takes twenty pages to defend his or her thesis. Such as the case with Michael Kearns, an English professor at the University of Texas. In Kearns' journal article that appeared in College English, he cites a student's question regarding Chapter 10 of Washington Square: "Why does the narrator tell us that 'this is all that need be recorded of their conversation'....   [tags: Henry James Washington Square]

Free Essays
488 words (1.4 pages)

A Critique of Henry James' Washington Square Essay

- A Critique of Henry James' Washington Square I will admit it; I did not like Washington Square. That said, when I read the first line to Donald Hall's afterword, I felt like throwing the book away. "Everyone likes Washington Square" (220), HA. Well not me, Mr. Hall. I am not exactly sure why I kept on reading; maybe I was feeling a little masochistic that day. So, behold my surprise when I began to come across some of the author's words that expressed many of the thoughts that I had about the novel and its characters....   [tags: Henry James Washington Square]

Free Essays
474 words (1.4 pages)

Influence of Realism on Literature Essay

- Influence of Realism on Literature After World War I, American people and the authors among them were left disillusioned by the effects that war had on their society. America needed a literature that would explain what had happened and what was happening to their society. American writers turned to what is now known as modernism. The influence of 19th Century realism and naturalism and their truthful representation of American life and people was evident in post World War I modernism....   [tags: Literature Realism]

Free Essays
2162 words (6.2 pages)

How Henry James Influenced Edith Wharton Essay

- Both the 19th and 20th century authors of Henry James and Edith Wharton are commonly compared to one another and their works are criticized as being close to, if not, the same. For ten years, the two authors had been close friends and even traveled throughout France and Europe together looking for inspiration and new ideas. Wharton had never taken any type of criticism well. Eventually Edith Wharton sent her first written story, “The Line of Least Resistance,” to Henry James and she learned to accept criticism respectfully as one author to another....   [tags: Literacy Analysis ]

Powerful Essays
2195 words (6.3 pages)

The Charm of Henry James Essay

- Henry James, one of America¡¯s major novelists and critics, has produced many great works, such as Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove, The Golden Bowel and The Ambassadors. His method of characterization is ¡°a complete objectification of characters.¡±¢Ùand he focuses on the inner life of characters rather than external action and environment to explore the mind and inner activities of the characters through their dialogues, mental conflicts, thoughts on man and events instead of the complex plot....   [tags: American Literature]

Powerful Essays
1112 words (3.2 pages)

Henry James Essay

- Post-Civil War American Literature saw a transition from the prominence of romance to the development of realism. In the late 1800's, the United States was experiencing swift growth and change as a result of a changing economy, society, and culture because of an influx in the number of immigrants into America. (Spiller 35) Whereas authors previously sought to "idealize human beings, fall in love with a dream, and then, reject the real man or woman who had inspired the dream", they now worked to accurately portray life and people as they really were....   [tags: essays research papers]

Free Essays
1078 words (3.1 pages)