French Realism  

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"George Moore's publisher Henry Vizetelly began to issue unabridged mass-market translations of French realist novels that endangered the moral and commercial influence of the circulating libraries around this time. In 1888, the circulating libraries fought back by encouraging the House of Commons to implement laws to stop "the rapid spread of demoralising literature in this country". However, Vizetelly was brought to court by the National Vigilance Association (NVA) for "obscene libel". The charge arose from the publication of the English translation of Zola's La Terre. A second case was brought the following year to force implementation of the original judgement and to remove all of Zola's works. This led to the 70-year-old publisher becoming involved in the literary cause. Throughout Moore stayed loyal to Zola's publisher, and on 22 September 1888, about a month before the trial, wrote a letter that appeared in the St. James Gazette. In it Moore suggested that it was improper for Vizetelly's fate to be determined by a jury of "twelve tradesmen", explaining that it would be preferable to be judged by three novelists. Moore pointed out that the NVA could make the same claims against such books as Madame Bovary and Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin, as their morals are equivalent to Zola's, though their literary merits might differ."--Sholem Stein

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Realism was a trend in literature and the visual arts in 19th century France, following French Romanticism.


French literature of the 19th century, Realism in literature

The expression "Realism", when applied to literature of the 19th century, implies the attempt to depict contemporary life and society. The growth of realism is linked to the development of science (especially biology), history and the social sciences and to the growth of industrialism and commerce. The "realist" tendency is not necessarily anti-romantic; romanticism in France often affirmed the common man and the natural setting (such as the peasant stories of George Sand) and concerned itself with historical forces and periods (as in the work of historian Jules Michelet).

Honoré de Balzac is the most prominent representative of 19th century realism in fiction. His La Comédie humaine, a vast collection of nearly 100 novels, was the most ambitious scheme ever devised by a writer of fiction -- Balzac's intention was that it should be nothing less than a complete record of his contemporary society. Balzac's realism arguably provided the first literary representations of a number of social experiences and phenomena which were particular to modern (that is, post-revolutionary) society.

Many of the novels in this period (including Balzac's) were published in newspapers in serial form, and the immensely popular realist "roman feuilleton" tended to specialize in portraying the hidden side of urban life (crime, police spies, criminal slang), as in the novels of Eugène Sue. Similar tendencies appeared in the theatrical melodramas of the period and, in an even more lurid and gruesome light, in the Grand Guignol at the end of the century. In addition to melodramas, popular and bourgeois theater in the mid-century turned to realism in the "well-made" bourgeois farces of Eugène Marin Labiche and the moral dramas of Émile Augier. Also popular were the operettas, farces and comedies of Ludovic Halévy, Henri Meilhac and, at the turn of the century, Georges Feydeau.

The novels of Stendhal (including The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma) address issues of their contemporary society while also using themes and characters derived from the romantic movement. Honoré de Balzac is the most prominent representative of 19th century realism in fiction. His La Comédie humaine, a vast collection of nearly 100 novels, was the most ambitious scheme ever devised by a writer of fiction -- nothing less than a complete contemporary history of his countrymen. Realism also appears in the works of Alexandre Dumas, fils.

Gustave Flaubert's great novels Madame Bovary (1857) -- which reveals the tragic consequences of romanticism on the wife of a provincial doctor -- and Sentimental Education represent perhaps the highest stages in the development of French realism, while Flaubert's romanticism is apparent in his fantastic The Temptation of Saint Anthony and the baroque and exotic scenes of ancient Carthage in Salammbô.

Visual arts

Realism (visual arts)

Realism as a tendency in 19th century French art emphasized the depiction of everyday subjects. The movement began in the 1850s in France. One of Gustave Courbet's most important works is A Burial at Ornans, 1849-1850, a canvas recording an event which he witnessed in September 1848. Courbet's painting of the funeral of his grand uncle became the first grand statement of the Realist style.

See also

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