To be specified published in:Landscapes of Realism: Rethinking literary realism in comparative perspectives. Volume II: Pathways through realism
Edited by Svend Erik Larsen, Steen Bille Jørgensen and Margaret R. Higonnet
[Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages XXXIII] 2022
► pp. 313–360
The surfaces of realist fiction
The representation of objects is one of the guarantors of a particular kind of literary text being characterized as realist. The mimesis of objects, possessions, and interiors, marveled at by Henry James when writing on Honoré de Balzac, and deplored by Virginia Woolf when decrying Arnold Bennett, grounds the nineteenth-century narrative in the material and the real, making an implicit claim that the world of these novels operates according to physical, social and economic laws comparable to those which govern the world in which their readers live. Objects are inanimate but they bear meaning, signifying both the place in the world of the characters that own them (the collection of the aesthete, the scanty possessions of the laborer), and, at a wider scope, material environments are shown to shape the being and living space of these characters. At the interstice of being and the object is clothing which is employed to read and write identity across the nineteenth century. The scrutiny of codes of physical appearance also generates meaning in such further developed discourses as physiognomy and caricature. Increasingly across the nineteenth century, the meanings of objects and bodies are translatable in terms of money, both the supreme and the most insubstantial object within modernity.
- 1.Surfaces: The outsides of realism
- 2.Objects: The material in the fictional
- 3.Clothing: Presenting the self
- 4.The body as object: The material of the self
- 5.Physical beauty: Valuing bodies
- 6.Producing the self: Environments
- 7.Framing the self: Beautiful environments
- 8.Abstracting the object: Money
- 9.Material does matter
Published online: 16 March 2022
Balzac, Honoré de
Bennett, Tony and Patrick Joyce
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James, Simon J.
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2018 “Clothes Make People,” anonymous translator. Accessed January 30, 2021. https://www.prosperosisle.org/spip.php?article907
Michie, Elsa B.
Michie, Ranald C.
Shah, Zeynep Harputlu
Shaw, Brian J.
Wells, H. G.
Womack, Elizabeth Coggin