American Realism: A Webliography and E-Anthology



Like all the terms relating to literary movements, the term is loose and somewhat equivocal.  American Realism began as a reaction to and a rejection of Romanticism, with its emphasis on emotion, imagination, and the individual.  The movement began as early as the 1830's but reached prominence and held sway from the end of the Civil War to around the end of the nineteenth century.  The movement was centered in fiction, particularly the novel.  It attempted fidelity to real life, or "actuality," in its representation.  The realist concerns himself with the here and now, centering his work in his own time, dealing with common-place everyday events and people, and with the socio-political climate of his day .

Major Statements:

Samuel Clemens' (Mark Twain) "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses"

William Dean Howell's Criticism and Fiction (1891)

Henry James "The Art of Fiction"

Roots of Realism:

Southwest Humorists:

Harris, George Washington, 1814-1869, sketches        Sut Lovingood: Yarns Spun

Longstreet, Augustus Baldwin, 1790-1870                  Georgia Scenes

Thorpe, Thomas Bangs, 1815-1878                            The Hive of the Bee Hunter

Major Writers                                    Representative Works

Name & Genres

Samuel Clemens, fiction                                     The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi 

                                                                        "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses",

                                                                         A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Bret Harte, short fiction                                     Selected Stories of Bret Harte  "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" "The Luck 

                                                                         of Roaring Camp"

Ambrose Bierce, fiction                                       Tales of Soldiers and Civilian (1891)

William Dean Howells, fiction, essays                 A Modern Instance (1882),  The Rise of Silas Lapham, A Hazard of New 


Henry James, fiction                                          "Daisy Miller,"  Portrait of  A Lady, The American, The Turn of the Screw

Edith Wharton, fiction                                        The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, The Age of Innocence

Kate Chopin, fiction                                            The Awakening

George Washington Cable, fiction                        The Grandissimes , Old Creole Days

Joel Chandler Harris, fiction                                Uncle Remus stories

Charles Chestnutt, fiction                                    The Conjure Woman (1899), The House Behind the Cedars (1900)  

                                                                        "The Goophered Grapevine," "The Passing of Grandison"

Paul Lawrence Dunbar, poet

Hamlin Garland, fiction                                       "Under the Lion's Paw"

Sarah Orne Jewett, fiction                                    A White Heron (1886), "A White Heron," 

                                                                             The Country of the Pointed Firs 


Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, fiction                        A Humble Romance, A New England Nun and

                                                                         Other Stories A New England Nun

                                                                        The Revolt of Mother

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, fiction                          "The Yellow Wallpaper"

Jane Addams, autobiography                               Twenty Years At Hull House

Rebecca Harding Davis, fiction                            Life in the Iron-Mills

W.E.B. DuBois, essays                                       The Souls of Black Folks

Booker T. Washington, autobiography                 Up From Slavery: An Autobiography

Common Themes and Elements in Realism


literature of the common-place

attempts to represent real life

ordinary people--poor and middle class

ordinary speech in dialect--use of vernacular

recent or contemporary life

subject matter presented in an unidealized, unsentimentalized way

democratic function of literature

social criticism--effect on audience is key

presents indigenous American life

importance of place--regionalism, "local color"

sociology and psychology

Periodicals and Useful Resources:

Atlantic Monthly

The Atlantic Monthly archives

Cady, Edwin H. The Light of Common Day: Realism in American Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1971. 

Chase, Richard. The American Novel and Its Tradition. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday Anchor, 1957. 

Geismar, Maxwell. Rebels and Ancestors: The American Novel, 1890-1915. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953. 

Harper's Weekly

Harper's Weekly Archive

Harper's Weekly Online

Harper's Monthly

Library of Southern Literature

Literature of Slavery and Freedom

New York Spirit of the Times

Spirit of the Times Database

Spirit of the Times Webpage

North American Review

The North American Review Archives

The Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writings

Pizer, Donald, ed. The Cambridge Companion to American Realism and Naturalism: Howells to London. New York: Cambridge U P, 1995. 

Sundquist, Eric, ed. and introd. American Realism: New Essays. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1982. 

Trachtenberg, Alan. The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age. New York: Hill and Wang,

Ziff, Larzer. The American 1890s: Life and Times of a Lost Generation. New York: Viking, 1966.

Realism in Other Arts:

While realism in Western art was nothing new,  as accurate presentation, nearly photographic, had been practiced as early as the Renaissance, the "new" realism eschewed any alteration from reality insisting instead on precise imitation. Subject matter was limited to the modern world and modern life.  As in literature, works centered on the commonplace--lower class peasants and the urban working class, common people.  Winslow Homer once said of his method, "I paint it exactly as it appears."  French Realist Gustave Courbet may have said it better, "Everything that does not appear on the retina is outside the the domain of painting." Among the major practioners of American Realism in painting were: Homer, Thomas Eakins, William Michael Harnett, John Singer Sargent, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.


Click on the thumbnails below to view a larger image.

Thomas Eakins

agnewclinic.gif (73641 bytes) The Agnew Clinic

167bg.jpg (42527 bytes) The Gross Clinic

scull.jpg (116433 bytes) Max Schmitt in a Single Scull

Winslow Homer

a0000101.jpg (69422 bytes) Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)

a00008fe.jpg (67517 bytes) Casting #2

a00008ff.jpg (63139 bytes) The Coming Storm

a0000ac5.jpg (82651 bytes) The Army of the Potomac - A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty

John Singer Sargent

sargen19.jpg (62405 bytes) Madame X

jm-sears.jpg (117127 bytes) Mrs. Joshua Montgomery Sears

sargen22.jpg (79016 bytes) Mr. and Mrs. L.N. Phelps

James Abbott McNeill Whister

whistler8.jpg (83489 bytes) Arrangement in Gray and Black No.1

whistler9.jpg (106769 bytes) Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander

whistler11.jpg (116913 bytes) Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket

whistler12.jpg (110841 bytes) Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean

Test Your Knowledge:

Take a quiz on some of the major characters of American Literary Realism.

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