Realism and the Novel

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1EN2544

Semester and Year Offered: Launched in Winter Semester 2014

Course Coordinator and Team: TBD

Email of course coordinator: TBD

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: Fiction, by definition, is a removal from reality. The aim of many major writers of fiction, though, was to mimic the real. In their endeavors to replicate the real, writers rejected the heroic and the aristocratic to embrace the gritty social reality of their times. The focus was on the ordinary person and the ordinary situation. At its best, the realist novel was to be like life itself. However, Realism’s claim that it can mime the complexity of life has been contested. Roland Barthes, for instance, states that Realism only offers a “reality effect”.

While Realism as a form emerged in Europe, and owes much to developments in painting, this course restricts itself to the tracing the Realist novel in nineteenth century England and recording the changes the form went through while attempting to capture the real through fiction. This course aims to conduct a detailed study of four realist novels to explore notions of time, chronology, consensus, points of view and the narrator, along with other important devices used by the realist writer, to learn the ways in which these contribute in simulating reality in fiction.

The course proposes to undertake a detailed analysis of the novels. The purpose of the course is to help students develop a comprehensive understanding of novel as a distinct form in literature which emerged at a defining time in history when the hierarchy of everything from social order to religion was challenged. With this came new ideas in philosophy, art and literature. The course through the novels thus also attempts to understand the social, political and literary contexts of the 19th century.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

The course will be divided into five modules. The first module will introduce the students to the various aspects of the novel, and the historical and social contexts that led to a convergence between the novel and the technique of realism. In the next four modules, the four texts will be taken up for detailed discussion.

Module 1: The 19th century and the Novel

This module provides an overarching framework within which the course will be transacted. It will delve into the form of novel by placing it against forms like the epic and romance. The various characteristics of the novel will be taken up for detailed discussion before looking at the social and political contexts that made the form necessary. The idea of realism will be taken up for discussion to understand how both of these were complementary to each other.

Module 2: Emma

The module will read closely Jane Austen’s eponymous novel Emma to analyse literary realism at play in the early 19th century. The novel boasts of life like characters and paints a real enough picture of the England of the times. It also has an interesting protagonist who is very unlike a regular heroine, and a narrator who many times is ambivalent about her own identity. Altogether it makes an appealing novel to start the course with.

Module 3: Hard Times

This module looks at a later novel of Charles Dickens to appreciate how the novelist has used realism to critique the distorted society of his times. The novel gives a deeper meaning to the concept of literary realism and puts it forward as a very powerful tool to depict the ills of society. The module will take up characters, contexts and technique for a deeper analysis.

Module 4: Tess of the DÚrbervilles

This module deals with one of the more popular and tragic novels of Hardy written at the turn of the century. The novel is significant since it is temporally and intellectually placed at the crossroads of a new era. Aspects of psychological realism, point of view and characters will be taken up for detailed discussion.

Module 5: Daisy Miller

This module will read an American novella by Henry James which is widely considered to be a proto-feminist text. Attempt will be made to contrast European realism with that of American realism. The novel is especially interesting for its point of view, and its protagonist.


  • Forster, E.M. Aspects of the Novel, HBMC, 1927.
  • Watt, Ian. Rise of the Novel. 1957. University of California Press, 2001.
  • Austen, Jane. Emma. 1816. Penguin Classics. 2003.
  • Booth. Wayne. “Point of View and the Control of Distance in Emma”. Nineteenth Century
  • Fiction.Vol.16. No. 2. 95-116
  • Goodheart, Eugene. “Emma: Jane Austen’s Errant Heroine.” The Sewanee Review. 116:4.
  • Litwak, Joseph. “Self, Society and Text in Emma”. PMLA. Vol.100. No. 5. 763-773.
  • Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. 1854. Penguin Classics. 2003.
  • Gallagher, Catherine. “Family and Society in Hard Times.” David Copperfield and Hard Times. Ed. John Peck. St. Martin’s, 1995: 171-96
  • Kearns, Katherine. “A Tropolgy of Realism in Hard Times”. ELH. Vol. 59. No. 4. 857-881
  • Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the DÚrbervilles. 1891. Penguin Classics. 2003.
  • Freeman, Janet. “Ways of Looking at Tess”. Studies in Philology, Vol. 79, No. 3 (Summer, 1982), pp. 311-323
  • Paris, Bernard J.. "A Confusion of Many Standards": Conflicting Value Systems in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Jun., 1969), pp. 57-79
  • James, Henry. Daisy Miller. 1879. Penguin Classics. 2003.
  • Randall, John H. “The Genteel Reader and Daisy Miller”. American Quarterly Vol. 17, No. 3 pp. 568-581
  • Ohmann, Carol. “Daisy Miller: A Study of Changing Intentions”. American Literature, Vol. 36, No. pp. 1-1.

Tentative Assessment schedule with details of weightage:



Date/period in which Assessment will take place



Group Presentations

Early Feb



Mid Semester Exam




End Semester Exam

As per AUD Academic Calendar



Class Participation and discussion

Throughout the semester