Realism is a European literary epoch in the middle of the nineteenth century, which is roughly dated to 1848 – 1890 and thus stands between Romanticism and Naturalism. At the same time, literary realism – which is due in time to the failed March revolution of 1848 – naturally also removed the Vormarz and the Biedermeier. The indicated dating refers mainly to bourgeois, also poetic, realism, as the expression of the epoch in Germany is called. In France, for example, realistic tendencies can be seen already around 1830. The essential feature of realism is a turning to reality, which is objectively observed, whereby bourgeois man became the central theme of literature. The main epic genres are novel, novella, and village history. Poetry and poetry dominate poetry and ballads, while the drama falls into the background. Important representatives are Theodor Fontane, Gottfried Keller, Gustav Freytag, Adalbert Stifter, Theodor Storm and Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach.

The term realism derives from the Latin noun res, which can be translated with thing or thing, whereby realis means essentially factual. In language usage, it is realistic to say that a thing is shown, or is judged to be true, realistic, and true to life. Accordingly, the concept itself refers to the fundamental point: namely the factual representation of a thing which ultimately is the essential feature of the epoch.

Thus, it is quite complicated to attribute a work to realism and no other literary epoch since it is the aim of numerous movements and currents to realistically realistically and reality. In addition, however, realism – understood as an epoch-concept – is concerned primarily with an objective representation of the bourgeois man, and his disputes with his environment, which makes the confinement easier.

The term was shaped by an essay collection by Jules Champfleury, a French writer who bore the title Le réalisme and appeared in 1857. The literature in Germany was first described by Otto Ludwig in 1871 as poetic realism. It is important, therefore, that the realist can be found in other literatures, such as in Euripides ‘tragedies, Aristophanes’ comedies or in novellas and swings of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as well as in the rogue romance of the Baroque or Shakespeare dramas the term mainly the European literary landscape in the 19th century.Overview: Characteristics of Realism
The second half of the nineteenth century is characterized by social changes, where science, technology, medicine and the economy are revolutionized in many areas and developed to an unprecedented extent. These advances have been accompanied by numerous simplifications in their work and everyday life, but they also meant an economic problem for many people, as the industrialization of the working world made simply a lot of businesses, smallholders and day laborers, especially in the rural regions, superfluous or unemployed in the shortest possible time. Because of this advancing industrialization, people moved into the cities, which is why many rural businesses entered. As a result, the cities were overrun by the people and could hardly catch the enormous onslaught of job-seekers.
The bourgeoisie, which is established in the cities at this time, is facing a new shift: a very fast growing mass of work-seeking factory workers, which increasingly shaped the image of the German cities, whereby social tensions, confrontations, frictions and clashes seem to be preprogrammed. The urban population now consisted of a minority of nobility and clergy who had secured privileges, a bourgeoisie that seemed to be financially secure, and the growing class of workers who had no collateral in the case of unemployment, illness, or age, and more than 14 hours the day worked together.
In addition to this new situation, the company is confronted with a widespread decline in values. Scientific and philosophical findings call into question the existence of established norms, such as the Christian worldview, but also the society of the family or the life in large families. When the March revolution in Germany failed, which was essential to the bourgeoisie in so far as a hoped-for politician was hoped for, the bourgeoisie was shaken to its foundations, and the role and task of the individual had to be redefined.
And this role and function of the individual individual soon became an object of art and literature. The focus of the study was on the human problems of individual figures and on the problems that brought about the new social coexistence. A key feature of the literature of this time were the questions: “Is this work likely? Is it conceivable, then, that what is shown actually behaves like this? ”
Nevertheless, the representatives of realism did not show reality yet radically and naked, but certainly through the linguistic flower. They thus formed the sober reality, but nevertheless they used an artistic, poetic language, which is why one speaks of poetic realism above all in Germany. Consequently, the reality as presented in realistic works is designed poetically. A very radical and naked view of the world then calls for naturalism.
The literary proximity to reality does not, however, serve the accusation of social circumstances, but rather resembles a distanced observation. The realists rather show the fate of their protagonists and usually escape a judgment and rarely take sides. The judgment is often left to the reader, who becomes the observer of the realistic individual destiny shown.
However, this effect can only be realized if the presented is presented as objectively and without judgment as possible. According to this, the reality of the narrator is also the greatest possible. With respect to the narrative perspective in epic texts, this was mostly realized by an impartial and auctorial narrator. In addition, the use of irony as stylistic means and a melancholic mood as the attitude of the narrative often led to a distance to the narrative.
This objective judging – free display was best realized by means of literary genres, which on the one hand offered the space to show the living circumstances of the characters in detail, but on the other made a narrative distance possible also offered the village history, since these manageable figurative constellations and thus the focus on the problems of the individual individual made possible.
Basically, however, all epic forms were reduced to a narrow circle of figures and offered a manageable scenario. In order to secure the probability claim, the narratives were also placed in a room which was precisely fixed in time and place. In order to further increase the credibility, the action was not infrequent

Historical background
The second half of the 19th century is characterized by social, economic and technical changes and upheavals. Thus, the March Revolution of 1848 was only a few years back and left disappointment, as it was hoped for more political co-right to speak, which, however, did not happen, and the progressive industrialization has shaped everyday life and brought with it entirely new and unknown problems.

These technical, medical, scientific and economic advances have been accompanied by numerous simplifications in work and everyday life, but also meant the economic end for many people, since the industrialization of the working world is simply superfluous for numerous trades, small farmers and day laborers, especially in the rural regions or unemployed in the shortest possible time. Because of this advancing industrialization, people moved into the cities, which is why many rural businesses entered. As a result, the cities were overrun by the people and could hardly catch the enormous onslaught of job-seekers.

The bourgeoisie, which is established in the cities at this time, is facing a new shift: a very fast growing mass of work-seeking factory workers, which increasingly shaped the image of the German cities, whereby social tensions, confrontations, frictions and clashes seem to be preprogrammed. The urban population now consisted of a minority of nobility and clergy who had secured privileges, a bourgeoisie which seemed to be financially secure, and the growing proletariat, who had no security at all in unemployment, sickness, or age, and who labored in the factories, working in front of a locomotive factory in industrialization

Picture: Lokomotivfabrik Borsig’s Mechanical Engineering Institute in Berlin (1847)

The bourgeois revolution of 1848 was regarded as a failure, since the revolutionaries could not ultimately implement their high goals. This was especially confirmed by the fact that, in April 1849, Frederick William IV abolished the crown which was to be given to him. Frederick William IV did not want to have a crown of “people’s grace”, which meant that he did not therefore recognize popular sovereignty as a constitutional basis. As a result, many members of parliament resigned from the National Assembly. In the same way, people’s hopes of maintaining a right to co-mingled with one another diminished.

In addition, there was no metropolis in Germany, for example in France or England. Cities such as Paris or London developed simultaneously into large cities, which strengthened the national identity and self-confidence of the people. In Germany, however, numerous individual states still existed. Both circumstances: the lack of sense of belonging as well as the failed revolution were decisive for the vitality of these days.

The fact that this fragmentation of Germany was perceived as a serious defect is manifested, for example, in a few verses by the author Wilhelm Raabe, which says: “The tribes are crowded around a leader, the dams are broken; // The heart of the heart of the Swabia, Bavaria, Saxony, // To the heart of the fatherland grow in him! “These lines express the citizens’ sense of life as well as the firmly rooted desire for national unity.

Otto von Bismarck, who had already been appointed German Prime Minister in 1862, had defeated the German League, which was under the leadership of Austria, with allies in the German War (1866), in the role of the leader who was to promise national unity subsequently dissolved. This was the result of the North German Confederation, which was the prelude to the later German Reich in 1871, and after a long time established a national self-consciousness in literature and population. Prior to that, France was defeated in the French-French War, resulting in reparation payments that promoted the economic upswing in the German Reich.

Literature in Realism
As already described under the characteristics of the epoch, the authors of realistic literature strive above all to show reality objectively, in a sense of life, and sometimes at a distance. The main question here is the question whether the narrative can actually have been transmitted in an ebuedary form, whereby the individual (bourgeois) man and his disputes stand with his everyday life, society and himself.

Nevertheless, the literary figures of realism were not concerned with the exact depiction of reality – this tendency was later pursued by the naturalists – but they were to be worked literally. Otto Ludwig described this form of literature as a “poetry of reality, overpowering the naked parts of life […] by painting the mood and lighting the most common in life with the light of the idea.” Consequently, the realistic author should show the everyday, but in this the special find, increase, overstate, and make the beautiful, artistic.

In this context one can speak of the aestheticization of the everyday. This means that an object, a situation or a state of affairs is placed in an aesthetic context in which it can be judged for its beauty or ugliness. Everyday things are placed in a context that makes them special or even beautiful. An example:

The front of the house, the side wing, and the churchyard, formed a horseshoe enclosing a small ornamental garden, on the open side of which a pond with a water-stream and a chained boat was seen, and a swing with a horizontally placed board at the head and feet of two strings The bar is a bit crooked. Between the pond and Rondell, however, and the swing half hidden, stood a few powerful old plane trees.

The above example is taken from Theodor Fontane’s novel Effi Briest and is found in the first paragraphs of the work. In the actual case, it is only clarified where the action is to be located. In this description, however, there is a small detail, which is not quite arranged – otherwise very tidy – picture: the oblique swing. This swing thus becomes what emanates from the ordinary, and is thus so aesthetically aestheticized, that is, embellished, and lifted from the description. This special position is indicated only by the introductory note.

This almost inconspicuous insertion is to be treated so extensively at this point, since it shows a fundamental principle of realism: namely, the seizing of a detail from the everyday. Whoever thinks of the action of the work can guess that this oblique swing is for the immoderate, childlike Effi within the orderly paths or at least their childlike nature and thus forms a sharp contrast to the mansion on the estate. It is also by no means a coincidence that there is a cemetery next to the swing …

Fontane, in a letter to Gustav Karpeles himself, reveals that this interpretation is obvious. On August 18, 1880, he writes: “The first chapter is always the main thing, and in the first chapter the first page, almost the first line. […] In the first place, the nucleus of the whole must be stuck in the first page. “It is essential, however, that this aesthetic application in realism often occurs through the description of a place which is symbolic for the interior or very accurate reading much about the actors and the course of the following narrative. It is also typical that realistic literature is usually fairly simple in terms of content and form, and the presentation has mostly been broadly developed, resulting in a closeness to what is shown.


The realistic epic used above all the novel, the novella and, moreover, the village history. Epic forms were thus predestined for the epoch, since they could best manage the balancing act between an objective, judgment-free distance and showing the inner life of the actors. Consequently, it is not surprising that most of the works connected with realism can be attributed to the genre.

Gustav Freytag’s novel Soll und Haben (1855) can be regarded as the model for numerous works. In this work, Freytag describes the career of his protagonist Anton Wohlfart, who belongs to a bourgeois merchant family, which is attributable to a seemingly ideal bourgeois class. This is honest, orderly and virtuous, and it is confronted with other strata – the Jews and the nobility. The Jews embody the unadjusted, dishonest group, striving for material wealth, where the nobility is largely excluded from the events, lives on its own conditions, and nevertheless enjoys special privileges.

Although Freytag was accused later that his novel was full of stereotypes and stereotypes, in the nineteenth century Fredytag was one of the most widely read books in the world, and showed important features of realistic literature: Freytag does not primarily show social grievances shows his protagonist in a world that is not ideal – so the reader becomes the judge of the action and must judge by the “objective” representation.

A further representative of realistic literature is the poet and writer Theodor Fontane. Theodor Fontane’s oeuvre includes not only numerous epic works in prose, but also many poems. Essential for the epoch, but above all his novels Effi Briest, Errors, Troubles and Mrs. Jenny Treibel. In his works, Fontane usually showed individual individuals as well as their confrontation with themselves and society around them.

For the epic of realism, it is crucial that one tried to show the happening objectively and in a realistic manner. In most cases the focus was on a relatively manageable ensemble of figures, which is why the village history was one of the most important genres of this period (eg Romeo and Juliet in the village of Gottfried Keller). Oftentimes, an auctorial, partly also neutral, narrator was used for this, and he demonstrated the apparent reality of the works by a quite concrete embedding in time and space. Very often, the story of the author in the immediate vicinity of the respective author and, moreover, in the present, was settled.

Regarding the novel, it was above all the developmental romance, which shows the development process of a figure within society (for example, the intention and possession of Gustav Freytag); the historical novel, which was based on historical and, above all, authentic events (eg Before the Storm of Theodor Fontane), as well as the social romance, which reveals maladministration and draws a picture of the society (eg Effi Briest of Theodor Fontane) , Another essential feature is the rice elite, which as objectively showed the localities and events on journeys.

The lyricism of realism differed from previous epochs, such as Romanticism or the Biedermeier, in that it was designed quite simply and simply. Previously, the lyric was mostly alienated and thus differed very clearly from the language of everyday life. In realism, the emphasis was largely on overloaded metaphors as well as symbols and an attempt to depict not reality but a poetized reality. This trait also resembles the efforts in the epic, the everyday being poetized and aestheticized.

An important place is the ballad, which, because of the combination of epic, dramatic and lyrical elements, works similar to the epic: mostly individual heroes are shown, which act with the reality, whereby the ballad is limited to the essentials (for example, John Maynard of Theodor Fontane). In addition, the poetry of poetry took a separate place within lyric poetry, since here an attempt was made to solve an everyday thing from the environment, to look at it objectively and distantly, and to neglect the immaterial, whereby the thing was equally poetized and aestheticized. An example of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer:

The Roman fountain
Ascending the beam and falling pours
He full of marble bowl round,
The, disguised, overflowing
In a second shell ground;
The second gives, it becomes too rich,
The third flowing its flood,
And each one takes and gives at the same time
And it flows and rests.

Representatives and works of realism (selection)
Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872)
A brother-in-law in Habsburg (1872)
Jeremias Gotthelf (1797-1854)
The Black Spider (1842)
Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868)
Colored stones (1853)
The Aftermath (1857)
Friedrich Hebbel (1813-1863)
Maria Magdalene (1844)
The Nibelungen (1861)
Otto Ludwig (1813-1865)
Between Heaven and Earth (1856)
Gustav Freytag (1816-1895)
Want and Have (1855)
The Ancestors (1872)
Theodor Storm (1817-1888)
Immensee (1850)
Poems (1852)
The Schimmelreiter (1888)
Theodor Fontane (1819-1898)
Before the Storm (1878)
Errors, confusion (1887)
Mrs. Jenny Treibel (1892)
Effi Briest (1895)
The Stechlin (1898)
Gottfried Keller (1819-1890)
The Green Heinrich (1854/55, 1879/80)
The people of Seldwyla (first volume, 1856)
Pankraz, the pouter
Romeo and Juliet in the village
Women’s rule Amrain and her youngest
The three righteous Kammachers
Mirror, the kitten
The people of Seldwyla (second volume, 1874)
Clothes make people
The blacksmith of his happiness
The Abused Love Letters
The lost laugh
Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825-1898)
The Roman fountain
Two sails
The beautiful day
On the Grand Canal
Marie of Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916)
The church child (1887)
Paul Heyse (1830-1914)
Wilhelm Raabe (1831-1910)
The Hungerpastor (1864)
To the Wild Man (1874)
Ferdinand of Saar (1833-1906)
Innocens (1865)

Short overview: The most important part of the epoch at a glance
Historically, society was in a state of upheaval. Important key words here are the progressive industrialization and the resulting changes in everyday life and social coexistence in the cities. Above all, the bourgeoisie was disappointed by the failed March revolution (1848) and tried to find itself in the new “order”. At the same time, a sense of belonging was lacking at the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century and a desire for national unity was expressed.
In the literature attempts were made to shed light on the role of the individual and his confrontation with society. The world and the everyday events should be shown realistically. Realistically, this means that the question of whether an event could have contributed to this form has always been at the forefront.
This was not presented as an accusation, but rather as objective, impartial, and free of judgment. The judgment is often left to the reader, who becomes the observer of the realistic individual destiny shown. In the epic, the novel, the novella, and village history dominate the literary field; in poetry, ballad and thing-poem gain importance, while the drama finds little attention in realism.
The task of the poet was to make everyday life special and thus to poeticize and aestheticize it. In this context, one speaks in Germany of poetic realism. Since the actors were mostly from a bourgeois environment, the term “bourgeois realism” also applies.

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