Realism has been an issue in philosophy and in aesthetic representation since Aristotle, but, in discussions of modernism, it is usually used to denote a style of fiction which came to prominence in the eighteenth century and shared much in common with historical, journalistic, or biographical writing. Classic realism, which flowered in the nineteenth century, has been delineated by Roland Barthes, Colin MacCabe, and Catherine Belsey. It is a term used to describe the work of such writers as Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot: novels with reliable narrators who deal with contemporary social and political problems. The principal features of realism (opposed to the earlier Romance) are: narrative authority and reliability, a contemporary setting, recognizable characters, representative locations, ordinary speech, linear plots, and extensive use of free indirect discourse. Modernism challenged many of these conventions, particularly in terms of narrative technique, character portrayal, self-referentiality, and linearity. However, realism appealed as a term for many writers we would now consider modernist: for example, both Henry James’s “psychological realism” and Dostoyevsky’s “Higher Realism” were attempts to go beyond realism but to retain its belief in the faithful representation of life.
Belsey, Catherine. Critical Practice, London: Methuen, 1980.
Rhys, Jean (Ellen Gwendolen Rees Williams) (1890–1979)
Novelist and short-story writer, born at Roseau on the Caribbean island of Dominica, the daughter of a Welsh father and a Creole mother.
Rhys’s father was a Welsh-speaking doctor originally from Caernarfonshire in North-West Wales, while the maternal Lockhart family had Scottish ancestry but had been plantation owners on Dominica for several generations. Rhys experienced a lonely childhood, feeling estranged from her strict mother, and was early aware of the racial and cultural tensions of the island of her birth. As a writer, Rhys was to excel in the depiction of her heroines’ alienation and estrangement; it is perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that such feelings were intimately known to the author from an early age. Growing up on an island whose population was predominantly black and poor, Rhys felt acutely her own unwanted position as a member of a privi-