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Realist Vision

Realist Vision

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Realist Vision
    Book Description:

    Realist Visionexplores the claim to represent the world "as it is." Peter Brooks takes a new look at the realist tradition and its intense interest in the visual. Discussing major English and French novels and paintings from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Brooks provides a lively and perceptive view of the realist project.Centering each chapter on a single novel or group of paintings, Brooks examines the "invention" of realism beginning with Balzac and Dickens, its apogee in the work of such as Flaubert, Eliot, and Zola, and its continuing force in James and modernists such as Woolf. He considers also the painting of Courbet, Manet, Caillebotte, Tissot, and Lucian Freud, and such recent phenomena as "photorealism" and "reality TV."

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12785-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Realism and Representation
    (pp. 1-20)

    I think we have a thirst for reality. Which is curious, since we have too much reality, more than we can bear. But that is the lived, experienced reality of the everyday. We thirst for a reality that we can see, hold up to inspection, understand. “Reality TV” is a strange realization of this paradox: the totally banal become fascinating because offered as spectacle rather than experience—offered as what we sometimes call vicarious experience, living in and through the lives of others. That is perhaps the reality that we want.

    More simply, we might ask ourselves: Why do we...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Balzac Invents the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 21-39)

    I begin with Balzac because, as Oscar Wilde declared, “The nineteenth century, aswe knowit, is largely an invention of Balzac’s.” This is profoundly true, in that our conceptualization of the nineteenth century owes more to this reactionary who claimed to hate his time than to anyone else. Balzac was well-placed to invent a new century: born in 1799, he arrived like so many of his young protagonists—from the provinces in Paris after the collapse of the Napoleonic epic, during the Bourbon Restoration that tried to turn back the clocks to Old Regime standard time but in the process only...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Dickens and Nonrepresentation
    (pp. 40-53)

    Balzac’s ambivalent adventures in the new industrial literature may stand as some sort of odd preface to the Dickens of Hard Times (1854). I say the Dickens of Hard Times because this novel seems to me—as to many critics before me—oddly different from any other of his novels, and in that sense a bad choice to talk about, yet by its subject or, more accurately, its project, the inevitable choice if you want to talk about Dickens in the context of realism. I am of course not sure that it is right to talk about Dickens in the...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Flaubert and the Scandal of Realism
    (pp. 54-70)

    I sometimes think thatMadame Bovaryis the one novel, of all novels, that deserves the label “realist.” Even Flaubert’s own later fiction, which I find in some ways more weird and interesting thanMadame Bovary, may be less clearly realist:L’Education sentimentale, and thenBouvard et Pécuchet, are so intent to dismantle the structures, forces, and meaning-systems of the traditional novel that their project seems to lie more in this cosmic housewrecking than in the painstaking attention to the detail of the real. Flaubert didn’t like the label “realist,” and hated being constrained to the kind of attention it...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Courbet’s House of Realism
    (pp. 71-95)

    My understanding of realism turns crucially on its visuality: its primary attention to the visible world, the observation and representation of persons and things. It becomes important, then, to turn to the visual arts, all the more important in that the termrealism—as critical and polemical label—seems to have been applied, in a consistent way, first of all to painting, most tellingly that of Gustave Courbet. Courbet became the focal figure in the controversies over realism, and he assumed that place largely with relish, accepting with a certain bravado the label he claimed was imposed on him and...

  9. CHAPTER 6 George Eliot’s Delicate Vessels
    (pp. 96-112)

    Since self-conscious “realism” in the nineteenth-century novel is so much a French invention, it is never clear that any English novelist quite fits the rubric. But if any Victorian novelist does, it would seem to be George Eliot. At least: the George Eliot ofAdam Bede, Felix Holt, and, especially, Middlemarch. My choice instead of Eliot’s remarkable last novel, Daniel Deronda, may be a bit perverse. Yet it seems tome a novel that first sums up a certain Victorian tradition of the novel, then leaps beyond it, or explodes it. In this sense, its relation to its precursor texts is...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Zola’s Combustion Chamber
    (pp. 113-129)

    I have noticed over my years as a teacher a real revival in Zola’s fortunes. I can remember my own teacher, Harry Levin, asking his seminar to read some Zola novels with a certain embarrassment and condescension, a suggestion that they were no longer quite readable. Whereas now Zola seems indispensable. This revival may derive partly from our fascination with Second Empire Paris as the capital of the nineteenth century and the center of European culture in the age of high capitalism, to use Walter Benjamin’s terms. Zola’s novel cycle, LesRougon-Macquart, calls itself a “natural and social history of...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Unreal City Paris and London in Balzac, Zola, and Gissing
    (pp. 130-147)

    Then he slides to Dante in Inferno 3, overwhelmed by the long line of the dead, “ch’io non avrei mai creduto /che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta” [I would never have believed /That death had undone so many] (3.55–57). Eliot manages to combine in this manner the dense, crowded, anthill-like character of the city—“fourmillante” derives from fourmi, meaning ant—and its dreamlike, spectral quality—the night-by-day of a thick London fog—as well as the city’s mortuary quality, the sense of its inhabitants as ghostly, as the walking dead. What Eliot doesn’t say in his footnotes is that behind...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Manet, Caillebotte, and Modern Life
    (pp. 148-179)

    Paris in the nineteenth century has become almost too much of a cliché to be talked about—something for Flaubert’sDictionnaire des idées reçues. I’m not entirely sure why we are so much enamored of nineteenth-century Paris; it’s as if we had permanently succumbed to a Jacques Offenbach version ofla vie parisienne: Paris as the site of pleasures, corruptions and venalities, of wealth and display. But Paris was in fact the cultural capital of Europe in the age of high capitalist expansion and optimism, and that culture included the city itself as artifact. The Second Empire was repressive, corrupt,...

  13. CHAPTER 10 Henry James’s Turn of the Novel
    (pp. 180-197)

    Henry James’s relation to the realist tradition is complex, nuanced, evolving over time—yet ultimately, for all his modernist experimentalism, very solid in that James cannot conceive of the novel except as representation. His critical strictures on novelists he finds unsatisfactory turn again and again on their failure to represent, their failure to give us the sense of life. Though of course what kind of life, and how it is perceived—at what angle, through what peephole—he quite radically redefines. James, born in 1843, grew up in a tradition stamped by Dickens and George Eliot, and Eliot in particular...

  14. CHAPTER 11 Modernism and Realism Joyce, Proust, Woolf
    (pp. 198-211)

    My main text in this chapter is Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. But I want to approach Woolf by way of two great near-contemporaries who, like her, reshaped the novel and in the process created what we now think of as modernism: James Joyce and Marcel Proust. What I want to try to come to terms with, in brief span, is the relation of these three great innovators to the realist tradition in which they grew up, and learned their trade. I can’t of course do justice to such complex authors in this way. Instead, I want to make forays into...

  15. CHAPTER 12 The Future of Reality?
    (pp. 212-230)

    I began this book by talking about the human interest in modeling reality: the apparent pleasure we take in making and playing with scale models, at once reproductions and reductions of the world around us. Friedrich Schiller long ago spoke of theSpieltrieb, the instinct or drive to play, as inherent to human beings, and crucially important in defining the space of individual autonomy within the constraints of society and the world. The play instinct manifests itself nearly from birth, in animals as well as in people. In humans, it early on often takes the form of imitation of the...

  16. References and Bibliographical Notes
    (pp. 231-242)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 243-244)
  18. Index
    (pp. 245-255)