Parsons: "A New Realism"

Parsons, Deborah. “A New Realism.” Theorists of the Modern Novel: James Joyce, Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, Routledge, 2007.

In “A New Realism,” Deborah Parsons explores Virginia Woolf’s questions, “‘[W]hat is reality? And who are the judges of reality?’” in the context of “aesthetic form” (21). Parsons explains that realism in “the English novel” had focused on “the representation of every life” (21). Parsons states that defining the novel’s “stages” as “realist, modernist, and postmodernist” is too simplistic (22). The ways in which reality is represented changed among these “stages” (22). Parsons explains that realist and postmodern novels “collapse life and artifice” in different ways; realist novels tend to purport objectivity in some arena, while postmodern novels demonstrate self-awareness of the constructedness (22). According to Parsons, modern novels can balance these approaches by showing the relativity of experience and multiple truths (22).

Parsons next discusses Henry James idea that realism was to be a “‘direct impression of life’” (22-23). Parsons notes that other writers, such as H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, and John Galsworthy shifted away from writing about individuals and instead focused on the social level of reality, which allowed for a more political tone in the novel (24).  Parsons says that James did not appreciate Bennett’s and Wells’ work, because he did not share the goal of transforming society through literature (25).  James’ criticism was aimed at numerous writers, and his strong opinion on the novel was influential in driving conversations about what it should be, and how realism should work (25).

LiteratureKatie Ancheta