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His realism focuses not on questions of form or content, but on social function” (Goring, 2001).Does that mean we should not be bound by what the author said, or thought he was saying, but cede authority to the reader? For Hungarian philosopher and theorist, Georg Lukacs, realism placed a high premium on two things: Firstly, “portraying the totality of reality in some form or other and secondly, penetrating beneath the surface appearance of reality so as to be able to grasp the underlying laws of historical change” (Goring, 2001).Life lacked symmetry and plot, realist authors argued; fiction that truthfully reflected life should, therefore, avoid symmetry and plot.
Auerbach’s unique and scholarly approach in his magnum opus, Mimesis (written over three years at the height of World War II in Istanbul after fleeing Nazi Germany), was to forensically examine excerpts from longer texts to a close reading of their stylistic features (grammar, syntax, and diction) in an attempt to ascertain the broader questions of culture and society and ‘reality’ in their historical context. Auerbach committed himself totally to historical perspectivism, which “holds that each epoch and civilization [sic] has its own possibilities of aesthetic perfection.
The universally human [or ‘real’] is to be perceived in the finest works of each epoch, manifest in a form or style unique to it” (Calin, 1999).
The pan-European socialist uprisings known as the 1848 Revolutions, although quickly put down, had far-reaching ramifications: “Society was cut in two: those who had nothing united in common envy, and those who had anything united in common terror” (Welch, 2006).
Into this milieu Charles Darwin published the Origin of the Species in 1859, thus encouraging people who, in the scientific and perhaps skeptical spirit of the day, were ready to accept only what could be observed and verified with the senses.
The pastoral, ‘cottage’ realm made way for the first wave of human urbanisation and worker alienation.
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With its factory system, the growth of cities, quick wealth to be had, keen competition, increased migration, and shifting of social classes, the industrial revolution and its aftermath gave a whole new body of material for writers to report and interpret.
However, for German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht, realism was not as reflective of, or intrinsic to, a literary work, realism was not coded into it for all time like the genetic code in a living being.
Rather, realism was a matter of a work’s effects, “a function of the role the work plays or can play in a given society at a particular historical moment” (Goring, 2001).
Lukacs’s sense of realism, then, is cognitive and evaluative together.
As Eagleton (2003) states: “The more a work of art succeeds in laying bare the hidden forces of history, the finer it will be.