D. S. Mirsky 1935


Author: D. S. Mirsky;
Written: 1935;
First published: 1935 in Literary Encyclopedia, volume 9, pp. 548-572;
Source: http://feb-web.ru/feb/litenc/encyclop/le9/le9-5481.htm?cmd=p&istext=1
Translated by: Anton P.

Realism in literature and art is a direction that tends to depict reality.


Realism is opposed, on the one hand, to the directions in which the content is subordinated to self-sufficient formal requirements (conventional formal tradition, canons of absolute beauty, striving for formal acuteness, “innovation”); on the other hand, directions that take their material not from reality, but from the world of fantasy (whatever the origin of the images of this fantasy), or look for a “higher” mystical or idealistic reality in the images of reality. Realism excludes the approach to art as a free “creative” game and presupposes the recognition of the reality and knowability of the world. Realism is the direction in art in which the nature of art as a special kind of cognitive activity is most clearly expressed. In general, realism is an artistic parallel to materialism. But literature deals with man and human society, that is, with a sphere that materialist understanding consistently masters only from the point of view of revolutionary communism. Therefore, the materialistic nature of pre-proletarian (non-proletarian) Realism remains largely unconscious. Bourgeois realism often finds its philosophical foundation not only in mechanical materialism, but in the most diverse systems, from different forms of “bashful materialism” to vitalism and to objective idealism. Only a philosophy that denies the knowability or reality of the external world excludes a realistic attitude.

Of all artistic trends, Realism is the only one fully acceptable to Marxism-Leninism. The art of a proletariat that has realized its own interests can only be realistic. But since before the rise of scientific communism, mankind was powerless to understand reality materialistically in its revolutionary development, Realism could not play such an exceptional role in the literary work of the past. Along with the depiction of existing reality, the literature of the past also contains more or less fantastic, utopian, voluntaristic images that reflect dreams of the best. These images form an integral part of the literary heritage accepted by the proletariat and socialist mankind. Yet the most valuable part of this legacy is the one that is imbued with a realistic attitude precisely because of its greatest cognitive significance.

To one degree or another, any literature has elements of realism, since reality, the world of social relations, is its only material. A literal image completely divorced from reality is unthinkable, and an image that distorts reality beyond certain limits is devoid of any effectiveness. The inevitable elements of the reflection of reality can, however, be subordinated to other kinds of tasks and so stylized in accordance with these tasks that the work loses any realistic character. Only those works in which the orientation towards the depiction of reality is predominant can be called realistic. This attitude can be spontaneous (naive) or conscious. In general, we can say that spontaneous realism is characteristic of the creativity of pre-class and pre-capitalist society to the extent that this creativity is not enslaved by an organized religious worldview or is not captured by a certain stylizing tradition. Realism, as a companion of the scientific world outlook, arises only at a certain stage in the development of bourgeois culture.

Since the bourgeois science of society either takes as its guiding thread an arbitrary idea imposed on reality, or remains in the swamp of creeping empiricism, or tries to extend to human history the scientific theories developed in natural science, bourgeois science cannot yet fully be considered a manifestation of scientific outlook. The gap between scientific and artistic thinking, sharpened for the first time in the era of romanticism, is by no means eliminated, but is only blurred in the era of the domination of Realism in bourgeois art. The limited nature of the bourgeois science of society leads to the fact that in the era of capitalism, artistic ways of understanding socio-historical reality by and large turn out to be much more effective than the “scientific” ways. Sharp eyesight and realistic honesty of the artist often help him to show real reality more faithfully and more fully than the tenets of bourgeois scientific theory that distort it. The assessment given in this sense by Marx to Balzac is generally known as giving a more accurate picture of the bourgeois society of his time than “all economists taken together.” It is the same in Russia, where, without even talking about Shchedrin, the bourgeois-noble realists (Turgenev, Goncharov, Ostrovsky, etc.) gave a more truthful and deeper picture of the disintegration of serf society. than any “scientific” writers of the bourgeoisie and nobility. Only proletarian and socialist culture really removes this contradiction not by subordinating art to any separate science, but by penetrating the entire human consciousness with the unique scientific worldview of Marxism-Leninism, the worldview of the revolutionary alteration of the world. Therefore, only socialist Realism is Realism in the full sense of the word, since only it leads to such knowledge of the world, when special methods of artistic cognition do not come into conflict with the logical methods of science, but, on the contrary, draw from them a new strength. Such a removal of the contradiction between scientific and artistic knowledge is possible only because Marxist-Leninist science is dialectical. Truth for it is always concrete. A realistic artistic image is a natural development, a natural concretization of a revolutionary scientific historical (political) generalization. The bourgeois science of society, powerless to help a realist artist in understanding socio-historical reality, opposes it with its metaphysical and mechanistic abstractions, declaring the concretizing method of artistic knowledge to be anti-scientific. The revolutionary Marxist-Leninist science, while opening the artist’s path to a truly scientific understanding of reality in its revolutionary development, at the same time recognizes his method not contradicting, but concretely complementing the revolutionary scientific generalizations of “practical materialism”. In socialist realism the artistic image becomes an effective instrument for changing the world, ultimately directed by the will of the revolutionary class and the party.

Realism includes two points: first, the image of the external features of a particular society and epoch with such a degree of concreteness, edges give the impression (“illusion”) of reality; secondly, a deeper disclosure of the actual historical content, essence and meaning of social forces through images-generalizations that penetrate beyond the surface. Engels in the famous letter to Margaret Harkness formulated these two points as follows: In my opinion, realism implies, in addition to the truthfulness of details, the fidelity of the transmission of typical characters in typical circumstances.

Realism in its full development includes both of these points. But despite their deep inner connection, they are by no means inseparable from one another. Realism of external plausibility arises as a complete direction earlier than realism with an orientation towards the historically typical ( see below the section Bourgeois Realism in the West). On the other hand, the mutual connection of these two elements depends not only on the historical. stage, but also from the genre. This connection is strongest in narrative prose. In drama, especially in poetry, it is much less stable. The introduction of stylization, conventional fiction, etc., in itself does not deprive the work of a realistic character, if its main setting is aimed at depicting historically typical characters and situations. As an elementary example, one can cite fabulous motives (self-assembled tablecloth, etc.) in Nekrasov’s Who Lives Well in Russia, from which this poem, of course, in no way ceases to be realistic. But deviations from realistic plausibility and a much more serious character are possible, with which the work will nevertheless remain realistic in the deepest sense. So, Faust by Goethe, despite fantasy and symbolism, it is one of the greatest creations of bourgeois Realism, for the image of Faust gives a deep and true embodiment of certain features of the rising bourgeoisie. In the literature preceding the emergence of Realism as a consistent style, one should look for elements of Realism not only in works that give outwardly concrete images of modernity (like Petronius’ Satyricon), but also in works that are not at all realistic in appearance. Thus, among the Greek tragedians we find a deep penetration into the true meaning of the historical change in legal and ethical norms, penetration of an essentially realistic character (see Engels on Aeschylus’ Eumenides), although such brilliant insights do not yet create Realism as a special direction. On the whole, the Attic tragedy, closely related to the mythological outlook, is not realistic.

But for all the separability of the outwardly concrete realistic manner from the deeper historical Realism, realistic narration strives for maximum sensual and everyday concreteness. Engels, in a letter to Lassalle, warned against his tendency to make his heroes simple mouthpieces of the spirit of the times and demanded that the artist not forget about the realistic during the ideological moment, in other words, that this or that understanding of the historical content of the image (the spirit of the times) was not poured into purely verbal forms, but clothed with the flesh and blood of visible life. It is characteristic, however, that Lassalle, who neglected the realistic moment, at the same time discovered a false, unrealistic understanding of the “spirit” of the time, about which he wrote. Of course, that concreteness, without which an image is not an image, can be achieved in other ways than outwardly realistic, but neglect of the realistic moment often leads to the edge of the artistic method in general and turns a literary work into bare rhetoric.

An outwardly realistic manner is one of the ways of that individualization, that concretization, which in narrative and dramatic genres leads to the creation of a human image. This individualization can be achieved in other ways. So for example in French classical tragedy, it is achieved exclusively through dramatic characterization, characterization through actions and their motivation. And in the later bourgeois Realism, for example. in Stendhal, such a purely dramatic characterization occurs almost without any help from an outwardly realistic characterization. Nevertheless, the outwardly realistic manner can be recognized as the most specifically artistic manner, since in it the concretely sensual nature of art is especially sharpened. It makes especially clear the dialectic of the typical , since it makes possible to individualize as richly as possible the generalization, which is contained in the typicality of the image. The dialectic of the typical appears with full clarity in socialist realism, where the artistic image arises from the interaction of the revolutionary scientific generalization, created in the process of revolutionary changes in the world, and its individual embodiment, overgrown with all the wealth of “unique” details.

The problem of typicality is always a political problem. In the Marxist-Leninist understanding, typical does not mean at all some kind of statistical average. Typical is not only what is most often encountered, but what with the greatest force and sharpness expresses the essence of a given social force. This is clearly indicated by Engels in his famous letter to Margaret Harkness. Engels saw a deviation from portraying typical characters in typical circumstances in the fact that Harkness, in portraying the exploitation and need of the English workers, did not show their struggle for their liberation. There is no doubt that in England at that time, proletarian collectives, passively submitting to capitalist exploitation, were more frequent than collectives that fought against the capitalists. But the latter were typical from the point of view of the entire historical development. The typical is the main sphere of manifestation of partisanship in realistic art. Highest and conscious fidelity in choice and the understanding of the typical is possible only in proletarian (socialist) Realism. But this or that approach to such fidelity is also possible for a realist writer who holds other class positions, especially if his point of view is relatively progressive (this is primarily applicable to the Realism of the rising bourgeoisie and revolutionary democracy). But even an artist who takes a reactionary point of view can, to a certain extent, correctly reflect reality by virtue of that spontaneous realism, which plays the same role in artistic creativity as spontaneous materialism in scientific creativity. We find a striking example of such spontaneous truthfulness in the work of Gogol.

Having recognized that typicality corresponds to the essence of a given socio-historical phenomenon, and not just the most widespread, often repeated, everyday, we must also admit that exaggeration, sharpening of an image to the grotesque and caricature or to heroization does not at all exclude typicality. The hero, expressing the will of the whole class, the most essential qualities of the class, is in this understanding also its typical representative. In this sense, Lenin and Stalin should be recognized as typical representatives of the revolutionary proletariat. The hyperbolicity of images in the heroic literature of pre-class and early class society (Homer, Icelandic sagas) does not prevent this literature from being the best example of early spontaneous Realism, since in its images the real traits of characters were exaggerated, in which the given social environment really worked out. At the same time, the negative features (cruelty, treachery, greed, contempt for the working people) were by no means blurred. Such realistic heroization is opposed by a false, distorting idealization of the image of a knight in a chivalric novel of the late Middle Ages, or the image of a romantic hero from a “good family” in the bourgeois novel of the 19th century.

A different kind of hyperbolization with a positive sign, by no means excluding the realistic essence of the image, we find in Rabelais, whose giants are genuine spokesmen for the titanic people of the Renaissance, who rebelled against the dark forces of medieval clergy.

The “crooked faces” created by the great satirists remain realistic in the same way. The humanoid brutes of Yahoo, born of Swift’s hatred of bourgeois man, are immeasurably more realistic in the deep sense of the word than the much more outwardly similar creations of the “smiling” satire of bourgeois self-critics.

While recognizing the outwardly realistic manner as the “normal” form of realistic narration and drama, it is necessary to clearly emphasize that the sharpening and deepening of the outwardly realistic techniques does not in itself enhance the realistic quality of a work of art. Marxist-Leninist literary criticism distinguishes Realism from naturalism. Naturalism is a distortion of the realistic attitude, the substitution of the socio-historical essence of phenomena by their appearance and the social person by a zoological person. The critical attitude of Marxist-Leninist literary criticism to naturalism has nothing to do with the persecution of naturalism, which conservative bourgeois criticism has been and is doing. The latter rejected eg. Zola’s naturalism because it recognized certain objects as unaesthetic and forever excluded from the sphere of art. The ugliness and atrocity of life should not have been depicted, because their depiction is incompatible with the “ennobling” function of art. Detailed descriptions of technical and commercial processes were considered unaesthetic, since art deals only with the “soul” of a person. Marxist-Leninist literary criticism does not set any fundamental boundaries to what is permissible in art. Any naturalistic detail is permissible if it is justified by a realistic task, that is, it helps to depict a person as a concrete social being. Gorky has many pages that anti-naturalistic bourgeois criticism finds as disgusting as Zola’s “ugliness”, but Marxist-Leninist criticism does not class Gorky as a naturalist, since his naturalistic detail is always subordinated to a realistic idea, the construction of a socio-typical human image. Marxist-Leninist criticism also approaches Zola in a completely different way than bourgeois criticism. It sees his shortcomings not in the fact that he systematically overstepped the boundaries of the aesthetically permissible, it sees them, on the one hand, in naked empiricism, which led him to an unprincipled description as a kind of end in itself, and on the other, in the fact that, trying to identify the animal in man, he did not reveal the social roots of this bestiality in capitalist exploitation, in proprietary swinishness, considering it as a natural zoological belonging of mankind. Despite these distortions, despite the vulgarity of his “scientific” premises, Zola remains a great realist artist, a major figure against the background of the general degeneration of realism in the bourgeois West. And precisely because Zola, with an unprecedented sequence insisted on the unaesthetic side of capitalist reality, he is one of the brightest figures of that critical Realsm (see below) which subjectively was no more than bourgeois self-criticism, but objectively wrote an indictment against the bourgeois world.

For the Soviet writer, naturalism is an undoubted danger, since it leads away from the social or draws into naked panache by external plausibility. But it would be completely wrong to stick the label of naturalism on any naturalistic detail as such. So for example in Sholokhov’s Quiet Don, naturalistic descriptions of the Cossacks’ sexual relations or physiological details of the illness of the “old pan” Lestnitsky play a very definite role in the social characterization of stanitsa savagery and landlord rudeness and give no reason to accuse the author of anti-realist naturalism. But, of course, in such cases it is perfectly legitimate to raise the question of whether the author retains a sense of artistic proportion in these descriptions.

The problem of realism was developed by Marxist-Leninist science almost exclusively as applied to narrative and dramatic genres, the material for which is characters and positions. As applied to other genres and other arts, the problem of Realism remains completely insufficiently developed. In connection with a much smaller number of direct statements by the classics of Marxism that can provide a concrete guiding thread, vulgarization and simplification still reign here to a large extent. When spreading the concept of Realism to other arts, two simplifying tendencies should be especially avoided: 1. the tendency to identify Realism with external realism (for example, in painting to measure Realism by the degree of photographic similarity); and 2. tendencies to mechanistically extend to other genres and arts the criteria developed on the basis of literature, not taking into account the specifics of this genre or art. Such a gross oversimplification in relation to painting is the identification of Realism with a direct social plot, which we find, for example, among the Itinerants. The problem of Realism in such arts is, first of all, the problem of the image, built in accordance with the specifics of the given art and filled with realistic content.

All this also applies to the problem of realism in lyrics. Realistic lyrics are lyrics that truthfully express typical feelings and thoughts. In order to recognize a lyrical work as realistic, it is not enough for what it expresses to be generally significant, generally interesting. Realistic lyrics are an expression of feelings and moods, specifically typical of a class and an era. This excludes conventional, traditional lyrical themes, such as we find, for example. in the later Petrarchists or in the songs of such a poet as Sumarokov. On the other hand, the expression of ideological and emotional life should be truthful, reflect the correct understanding of its character and lyrical situations. Realism in lyrics is much less of a style than in the novel and drama. Determination of the realistic nature of lyric works in a number of cases requires a deeper historical analysis. Thus, the lyrics of the young Goethe, without presenting any external features of Realism, should be recognized as realistic, since they are a vivid expression of the essence of the awakening of the bourgeois personality that accompanied the growth of the bourgeois revolution. On the contrary, Blok’s lyrics, despite the presence in it of many elements of external rhetoric, are anti-realistic, since they proceed from a fantastic, unreal comprehension of real lyrical situations. An outwardly realistic manner is not only optional, but also not characteristic of realistic lyrics, although it can be widely used by individual realist lyricists (Nekrasov). But one can undoubtedly speak of a tendency (but nothing more than a tendency) of realistic lyrics towards simplicity, of a tendency to avoid great embellishment, in particular, to do without metaphors (Pushkin, Burns, Shevchenko, a lot in Goethe). The developed metaphorical style is most characteristic of poets, especially those far from Realism (Shelley, in our time Pasternak).



Early creativity, both pre-class and early class (slave-owning, early feudal), is characterized by spontaneous Realism, which reaches its highest expression in the era of the formation of class society on the ruins of the tribal system (Homer, Icelandic sagas). In the future, however, spontaneous art is constantly weakened, on the one hand, by the mythological systems of organized religion, and on the other, by artistic techniques that have developed into a rigid formal tradition. A good example of such a process is the feudal literature of the Western European Middle Ages, going from the basically realistic style of the Song of Roland to the conventionally fantastic and allegorical novel of the 13th-15th centuries. and from the lyrics of the early troubadours [early 12th century] through the conventional courtesy of the developed troubadour style to the theological abstractness of Dante’s predecessors. The urban (burgher) literature of the feudal era does not elude this law either, which also goes from the relative Realism of the early fables and tales of the Fox to the bare formalism of the Meistersingers and their French contemporaries. Literary theory at these stages, since it can be called a theory, is invariably formalistic, and Realism in general is directly proportional to the naivety of a work of art, its freedom from school and tradition.

The approach of the literary theory to Realism goes parallel to the development of the scientific world outlook. The developed slave-owning society of Greece, which laid the foundations of human science, was the first to put forward the idea of fiction as an activity reflecting reality.

Aristotle owns the famous theory of poetry as imitation of nature, revived by the literary criticism of the Renaissance and classicism. While affirming poetry as imitation of nature, Aristotle contrasted, however, poetry, which depicts a person as he should be, to history, depicting a person as he is. This formulation, on the one hand, reflects the rationalistic, anti-empirical nature of Greek science, but, on the other hand, it contains the correct understanding that the artistic image is not a cast of isolated phenomena, but a generalization that rises above the chances of the particular. Ancient literature, as well as later classicism, for which Aristotle’s theory was largely adequate, is alien to historicism. The existing society is accepted as eternal. A man as he should be is not the “man in general” of the later bourgeois theory, but a man strictly hierarchical. An estate-genre hierarchy arises, which assigns the highest genres to the high passions of kings and heroes, and the lower ones to the comic actions of ordinary people.

The great ideological revolution of the Renaissance brought with it an unprecedented flourishing of Realism. But Realism is only one of the elements that found expression in this great creative boil. Just like for example in the outlook of Paracelsus, strictly scientific elements coexisted with the remnants of the old and with unbridled imagination of the magical and astrological type, so in the art of the Renaissance, Realism is found in the most bizarre combinations with other tendencies. The pathos of the Renaissance is not so much in the knowledge of man in existing social conditions, as in the identification of the possibilities of human nature, in the establishment, so to speak, of its ceiling. But this is combined with a deep penetration into the nature of man, who for the artists of the Renaissance is, first of all, a modern man, a person freed from the medieval shackles. The heroic realism of the Renaissance expressed itself with particular force in the work of Rabelais. The realism of the Renaissance is raised to the highest level by Shakespeare and Cervantes. Don Quixote and Shakespeare’s Falstaff plays provide brilliant images of the decay of the feudal Middle Ages. In his tragedies, Shakespeare provides a whole gallery of human images in which the liberated personality unfolds with richness and concreteness, which have never been surpassed. But the realism of the Renaissance remains spontaneous. Creating images, expressing the era in its revolutionary essence with brilliant depth, the images in which (especially in Don Quixote) the emerging contradictions of bourgeois society, which were destined to deepen in the future, were developed with the utmost generalizing force, the artists of the Renaissance were unaware of the historical nature of these images. For them, these were images of eternal human, and not historical, destinies. Their realism is not divorced from heroism and poetry. This makes them especially close to our era, which creates the art of realistic heroism.

The Classicism of the 17th century is largely a formalization and ossification of the art of the Renaissance. It stands to the latter in the same relation of conventionally traditional art to spontaneously free art, in which, for example. the later chivalrous novel is for The Song of Roland. In Classicism, the estate-genre hierarchy prevails, already outlined in ancient art. The highest genres and noble passions are the domain of the greats of this world (les grands). These passions are portrayed with great truthfulness and subtlety (Racine); the lower classes are capable only of the lower comic passions: their place is in comedy, satire, novel, which stands almost outside the literature. In these lower genres, classicism widely allowed the introduction of specific everyday details, but the function of these details was by no means cognitive, but served to enhance the comic effect; the noble spectator laughed the louder the more comic characters looked like, from his point of view, the real rabble. This obligatory comic approach precluded a truly realistic attitude. The latter penetrated only as a kind of contraband. And although historically the comic genres of Classicism played a major role in the formation of the realistic style of the bourgeoisie, the latter appears only from the moment when the connection between the hierarchy of genres and the hierarchy of estates is severed and everyday literature is freed from subordination to the comic.

It is impossible to recognize in the true sense realistic and so-called roguish romance. The latter does not in any way fall out of the estate-genre system of classicism. And in it the plebeian remains an inferior person; if in comedy he must be only funny, then in a roguish novel he is only a swindler. Realism arises together with a new sense of self-worth in the bourgeoisie, overthrowing the estate-genre hierarchy. The first big step in this direction is made by Moliere in The Misanthrope.


The realistic style takes shape in the 18th century. primarily in the field of the novel, which was destined to remain the leading genre of bourgeois Realism. Between 1720 and 1760, the first flourishing of the bourgeois realistic novel took place (Defoe, Richardson, Fielding and Smollett in England, Abbot Prevost and Marivaux in France). The novel becomes a story about a concretely outlined modern life, familiar to the reader, saturated with everyday details, with heroes who are types of modern society. The fundamental difference between this early bourgeois realism and the “lower genres” of classicism (including the roguish novel) is that the bourgeois realist is freed from the obligatory conventional comic (or roguish) approach to the average person, who becomes in his hands an equal person capable of higher passions, for which Classicism (and to a large extent the Renaissance) considered only kings and nobles as capable. The bourgeois man in general is a descendant of the classic man as he should be, but democratized. True, this democratization is very relative, completely bourgeois: the worker (and even the petty bourgeois) remains outside the limits of the author’s sympathy and appears only as a comic person, as a rogue or as a virtuous and devoted servant. The hero is often a nobleman, but a non-estate man in general, that is, a concrete nobleman-bourgeois against nobles and heroes, as well as against the “rabble”. The basic tenet of early bourgeois Realism is sympathy for the average, everyday concrete person of bourgeois society in general, his idealization, and his assertion as a replacement for aristocratic heroes. In this respect, the most striking and epoch-making work of this period is Richardson’s Clarissa [1746-1747]. The novel is played out among the average, specifically outlined people in everyday life, but all are imbued with the heroism of the tragic struggle for bourgeois honor and bourgeois duty. Clarissa was the true banner of the rising bourgeoisie of the second half of the 18th century. down to the Jacobins. It was also the favorite book of the young Balzac.

Early 18th century realism is distinguished from later realism by the absence of historicism, the absence of an approach to this society as historically conditioned, the absence of a view of its heroes as types of a certain time. It is closely connected with bourgeois enlightenment, to which the struggle against feudalism and feudal-priestly ideology is presented not as a new historical stage in the development of mankind, but as the introduction of a natural state, correct and reasonable, regardless of time.

The central place in the ideology of the Enlightenment is occupied by the idea of man in general, that is, of man above all, above class. The rich historical cognitive material contained in the novels of the 18th century is not the result of an attitude towards describing a given society, but a striving for maximum concrete plausibility, the purpose of which is to bring the hero closer to the reader and make the latter feel in him a real person of his own breed. Only Diderot, in his brilliant satire The Nephew of Rameau, created an unsurpassed social generalization, a historically and class-based image of a talented and unprincipled parasite of that decaying feudal society, with which Diderot fought. But Rameau’s Nephew, written at a time when early bourgeois Realism was already on the decline, and published only in the 19th century, falls out of this first period of bourgeois Realism.

The last third of the 18th and early 19th centuries were a time of weakening of the realistic style. The rapid rise of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois subjectivism and voluntarism, the first vivid expression of which was Rousseau, creates a new style, which, although it can serve as a form for realistic creativity, is not in itself realistic. The contradictions of the French Revolution give rise to Romanticism, which leads even further away from Realism. If bourgeois literature, primarily in the person of Goethe, remains realistic, then it clothe its realistic understanding of reality in a form that is very far from the realistic style. Bourgeois historical fiction rises to a new level together with the growth of bourgeois historicism: the birth of this new, historical Romanticism coincides chronologically with the activities of Hegel and the French historians of the era of the Restoration. Its foundations were laid by Walter Scott, whose historical novels played a huge role both in the formation of a realistic style in bourgeois literature and in the formation of a historical outlook in bourgeois science. Historians of the era of the Restoration, who were the first to create the concept of history as a class struggle, experienced the strongest influence of Walter Scott. Scott had his predecessors; of which of particular importance is Maria Edgeworth, whose story Castle Rackrent [1800] can be considered the true source of the 19th century realism. To characterize bourgeois Realism and historicism, the material to which bourgeois Realism was for the first time able to approach historically is very indicative. Castle Rackrent, a broad generalizing picture of feudal Ireland, edges at that time already receded into the past and which the novelist knew from memories of early childhood and stories of old people. The historical Realism of Walter Scott is also limited to the past. In a novel such as Scottish Puritans (or Old Mortality, this novel, according to Lafargue, was especially admired by Marx), Scott was able in the past to see the seed from which the present would develop (according to his liberal-conservative direction, he is looking for the beginnings of that bourgeois aristocratic compromise, which characterized England of his time), but he is not able to see the seeds of the future in the present. The bourgeois order is a natural state for Scott and Edgeworth, they may emotionally disapprove of it, but they are not able to see it historically, that is, as a state from which something else should arise. Therefore, Walter Scott is more realistic and truthful in his novels from the past than in novels on contemporary themes (for example, Antiquary), where his Realism is essentially limited to a colorful display of archaic, dying types. An important stage in the development of Scott’s realistic novel is also because it destroys the class hierarchy of images: he was the first to create a huge gallery of types from the people, who are aesthetically equal with heroes from the upper classes, are not limited to comic, roguish, and lackey functions.

Bourgeois Realism in the West was raised to a higher level in the second quarter of the 19th century. Balzac, who in his first mature work (Chouans) is still a direct student of Walter Scott. as a realist draws attention to modernity, interpreting it as a historical era in its historical originality. The exceptionally high appraisal that Marx and Engels gave to Balzac as an artistic historian of their time is well known. Everything they wrote about Realism. has in mind, first of all, Balzac. Images like Rastignac, Baron Nysengen, Cesar Biroto and countless others are the most complete examples of what we call the depiction of typical characters in typical circumstances. In his Peasants, artistic Realism is already coming close to scientific knowledge, and this novel, in terms of the depth of the cognitive approach to social phenomena and social psychology, leaves far behind everything that has been done by bourgeois science in this area. Balzac clearly reveals that spontaneous truthfulness of genuine Realism, which breaks through all the subjective tendencies of the author: a political supporter of the aristocracy, Balzac truthfully showed its profound mediocrity, powerlessness and decay. However, Balzac’s realism remained bourgeois-limited. His creative personality took shape on the eve of the July Revolution, when the working class had not yet emerged as an independent revolutionary force. Within the bourgeois system, Balzac was able to see the embryos of the future in the still undeveloped phenomena of the present: Marx points out that some of his types belong more to the era of the Second Empire than to the time of Louis Philippe. But the working class remained forever outside Balzac’s field of vision.

In Balzac there are undoubtedly features of unsuppressed Romanticism (Shagreen Skin, Seraphita, Lily in the Valley, etc.), but these features are easily separable from the main core of his work. Bourgeois criticism is completely wrong in seeing Romanticism alien to Realism in the emotionality and hyperbolism of Balzac. On the contrary, Balzac’s brightly evaluative attitude to his material is a characteristic realistic line. Some hyperbolism of his images not only does not contradict, but deepens their realistic character (see above). These features, inherent in the best contemporaries of Balzac – Stendhal and Dickens – and absent from the later realists (starting with Thackeray and Flaubert), indicate that Balzac still belongs to the time when the bourgeois literature was able to give birth to heroes full of vitality. in contrast to the decadents and commoners of the later period.

Balzac is the highest point of bourgeois literature in Western European literature, but realism becomes the dominant style of bourgeois literature only in the second half of the 19th century. At one time, Balzac was the only completely consistent realist. Neither Dickens, nor Stendhal, nor the Bronte sisters can be recognized as such. Ordinary literature of the 1830s-1840s, as well as of later decades, was eclectic, combining the everyday, individualizing style of the 18th century. with a whole series of purely conditional moments that reflected the philistine idealism of the bourgeoisie. The main element of this convention was happy endings, ideal types of the main characters, punished vice and rewarded virtue. This literature (represented in France by O. Felier, J. Onet, etc., and in England by countless novelists) was grossly apologetic and grossly lacquered in relation to the ruling class and the reality it created. Especially in England, the greatest, mostly realistically oriented writers (for example, George Eliot) were powerless to completely free themselves from these conventions.

Realism as a broad trend emerged in the second half of the 19th century in the struggle against them. Refusing apologetics and varnishing, Realism. becomes critical, rejecting and condemning the reality depicted by it. However, this criticism of bourgeois reality remains within the bourgeois worldview, remains self-criticism. The common features of the new Realism are pessimism (rejection of a happy ending), weakening of the plot core as artificial and imposed on reality, rejection of an evaluative attitude towards heroes, rejection of the hero (in the proper sense of the word) and of the villain, and finally passivism, which sees people not as responsible builders of life, but as the result of circumstances. The new Realism. opposes the vulgar literature of bourgeois self-satisfaction as a liter of bourgeois self-disillusionment. But at the same time, it opposes the healthy and strong literature of the rising bourgeoisie as a decadent literature, a class that has ceased to be progressive.

The new Realism is divided into two main trends – reformist and aesthetic. At the source of the first is Zola, of the second Flaubert. Reformist Realism is one of the consequences of the influence exerted on literature by the struggle of the working class for its emancipation. Reformist Realism is trying to convince the ruling class of the need to make concessions to the working people in the interests of preservation of the bourgeois order. Stubbornly pursuing the idea of the possibility of resolving the contradictions of bourgeois society on its own soil, reformist Realism gave the bourgeois agents in the working class an ideological weapon. With a sometimes very vivid description of the monstrosities of capitalism, this Realism is characterized by “sympathy” for the working people, to which, as reformist realism develops, fear and contempt are mingled – contempt for creatures who have failed to win a place for themselves at a bourgeois feast, and fear of the masses who are gaining a place for themselves. in very different ways. The path of development of reformist Realism from Zola to Wells and Galsworthy is the path of ever greater powerlessness to understand reality as a whole, and especially ever greater deceit. In the era of the general crisis of capitalism (the war of 1914-1918), reformist realism was destined to finally degenerate and die.

Aesthetic Realism is a kind of decadent degeneration of Romanticism. Like Romanticism it reflects a typical bourgeois discord between reality and ideal, but unlike Romanticism, it does not believe in the existence of any ideal. The only way left for it is to force art to transform the ugliness of reality into beauty, to overcome the ugly content in a beautiful form. Aesthetic Realism can be very vigilant, since it is based on the need to transform this particular reality and thus, so to speak, take revenge on it. The prototype of the entire trend, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, is undoubtedly a genuine and deeply realistic generalization of the very essential aspects of bourgeois reality. But the logic of the development of aesthetic realism leads it to a rapprochement with decadence and to a formalistic degeneration. Huysmans’ path from aesthetically conditioned realistic novels to the “created legends” of such novels as Skill and Down There is extremely characteristic. In the future, aesthetic realism rests on pornography, on purely psychological idealism, which retains only the external forms of realistic manners (Proust), and into formalistic cubism, where realistic material is entirely subordinated to purely formal constructions (Joyce).


Bourgeois Realism received a peculiar development in Russia. The characteristic features of the Russian bourgeois-noble Realism in comparison with Balzac are much less objectivism and less ability to embrace society as a whole. The still weakly developed capitalism could not put pressure on Russian realism with such force as on its Western counterpart. It was not perceived as a natural state. In the minds of the bourgeois-noble writer, the future of Russia was not predetermined by the laws of economics, but entirely depended on the mental and moral development of the bourgeois-noble intelligentsia. Hence the peculiar educational, didactic character of this realism, whose favorite technique was to reduce socio-historical problems to the problem of individual fitness and individual behavior.

Before the emergence of the conscious vanguard of the peasant revolution, bourgeois-noble realism directed its spearhead against serfdom, especially in the brilliant works of Pushkin and Gogol, which makes it progressive and allows it to maintain a high degree of truthfulness. From the moment the revolutionary-democratic avant-garde emerged [the eve of 1861], bourgeois-noble Realism, degenerating, acquired slanderous features. But in the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, realism gives rise to new phenomena of world significance.

The creativity of both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky is closely connected with the era of the revolutionary democratic movement of the 1860s and 70s, which raised the question of the peasant revolution. Dostoevsky is a genius renegade who put all his strength and all his organic instinct for revolution at the service of reaction. Dostoevsky’s work is a gigantic distortion of Realism: reaching an almost unprecedented realistic efficacy, he puts a deeply deceitful content into his images by subtly mystifying real problems and replacing real social forces with abstract mystical ones. Thus, in Crime and Punishment, he replaces the real problem of revolutionary action with the abstract religious problem of the right to kill. One basic lie reigns over the entire work of Dostoevsky: the identification of the ideas of the revolutionary intelligentsia in their origins with the mentality of the degrading nobility, fed by serf labor, which has lost all connection with the people, with the national “soil”, reigned in the most subtle and consistent way. Dostoevsky’s creativity appeared due to this as a powerful weapon in the demagogic struggle of reaction against the vanguard of the revolution. Dostoevsky could become a great distortion of Realism only because he was basically a great realist. A number of his images belong to the iron fund of Realism, for example, the genius in depth, generalizing the image of petty-bourgeois individualism in Notes from the Underground. Tolstoy’s peasant revolution was reflected in a completely different way. From the very beginning, his work is imbued with a kind of “peasantotropism”, an appeal to the peasantry, the consciousness that the peasant and only the peasant has the right to judge the possessing classes. In the 1860s, in the era of the greatest aggravation of the class struggle in literature, Tolstoy sided with the nobility with the apologetically conceived novel War and Peace. Here he seeks justification for the nobility as a class as organic, soil-based, natural as the peasantry. But even in apologetics, Tolstoy remains a realist: he does not tell the truth, but he does not lie. Defending his beloved Nikolai Rostov, he nevertheless presents him as insignificant, a rude officer, a scuffle fighter who is in no way fit for heroes, and in the poetic Natasha he reveals a female landowner, alien to everything except the egoism of the family. In the development of methods for realistic depiction of human individuality and the motivation of human actions, Tolstoy in War and Peace raised Realism to a new level. and if Balzac is the greatest realist in the scope of modernity, Tolstoy has no rivals in the direct concrete processing of the material of reality. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy is already freed from apologetic tasks, his truthfulness becomes freer and more conscious, and he creates a huge picture of how after 1861 everything turned upside down for the Russian nobility and the peasantry. In the future, Tolstoy goes over to the position of the peasantry, but not its revolutionary vanguard, but the patriarchal peasantry. The latter weakens him as an ideologist, but does not prevent him from creating unsurpassed examples of critical realism, which already merge with revolutionary democratic realism.


In Russia, however, the most vivid development was also achieved by revolutionary-democratic Realism. Revolutionary-democratic Realism, being an expression of the interests of the petty-bourgeois peasant democracy, expressed the ideology of the broad democratic masses in the conditions of the unconquered bourgeois revolution and was simultaneously directed both against feudalism and its vestiges and against all available forms of capitalism. And since the revolutionary democracy of that time merged with utopian socialism, it was sharply anti-bourgeois. Such a revolutionary democratic ideology could develop only in a country in which the bourgeois revolution developed without the participation of the bourgeoisie, and it could remain full-fledged and progressive only until the working class emerged as the hegemon of the revolution. Such conditions existed in the most pronounced form in Russia in the 1860s and 1870s. In the West, where the bourgeoisie remained the hegemon of the bourgeois revolution and where, consequently, the ideology of the bourgeois revolution was to a much greater extent specifically bourgeois, the revolutionary democratic literature is a kind of bourgeois literature, and we do not find any developed revolutionary democratic Realism. The place of such realism is occuped by Romantic semi-realism, that, although being able to create major works (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo), did not feed on the growing forces of the revolutionary class, which was the peasantry in Russia, but on the illusions of social groups doomed to harm and wanting to believe in the best future. This literature is not only essentially petty-bourgeois in its ideals, but to a large extent was (albeit an involuntary) instrument of that envelopment of the masses with democratic intoxication, which the bourgeoisie needed. On the contrary, In Russia, a revolutionary-democratic realism emerges, standing at the highest level of historical understanding accessible to pre-Marxist consciousness. Its representatives are a remarkable galaxy of raznochin fictionalists, the genius-realistic poetry of Nekrasov and especially the work of Shchedrin. The latter occupies an exceptional place in the general history of realism. Marx’s comments on the cognitive and historical significance of his works are comparable to those on Balzac. But unlike Balzac, who created an ultimately objectivist epic about capitalist society, Shchedrin’s work is thoroughly imbued with a consistent militant partisanship, in which there is no place for a contradiction between moral-political and aesthetic assessment. The satirical images of Shchedrin, in their combination of sensual persuasiveness, depth of social understanding, and clarity of political assessment, occupy an exclusive place in world literature and make his work the pinnacle of critical writing in general. In his interpretation of the typical Shchedrin comes close to the proletarian (socialist) understanding. Shchedrin’s critical realism, sharpened on two fronts, is capable of creating not only ingeniously capacious images of hereditary abomination (Yudushka), but also images that reveal phenomena, still only emerging in reality. In his images of growing Russian capitalism there is a fearless foresight of the future, which differs from the Marxist-Leninist one in that, seeing the growth of the hated forces of “Tashkent” capitalism, Shchedrin did not see the force that, generated by capitalism, would kill capitalism. Hence the peculiar tragic shade of Shchedrin’s satire. But the limited and utopian character of the revolutionary world outlook of peasant democracy, the contradiction between its subjective ideals and objective historical tasks, also lead to the limited nature of its critical Realism. Subjectively striving for socialism, objectively the Narodnik revolutionaries fought for the “American” path of capitalist development. The peasant democracy of the revolutionary-democratic realists was utopian from the other end, because, revealing the nature of private ownership in such a democracy, they ignored the capitalist essence of private ownership in society. Therefore, such a thing as the picture of the farmer paradise in Nekrasov’s Grandfather is completely unrealistic, despite the fact that it corresponds more to the objective content of revolutionary populism than dreams of socialism. Nor was revolutionary-democratic literature able to give a realistic image of a revolutionary, a new man. Chernyshevsky’s new people, the most effective and vivid of the positive images of this literature, despite their undoubtedly realistic core, are developed in a utopian direction, which was due to the peculiarities of reality itself.

Petty-bourgeois and peasant realism was destined to experience a new heyday in the era of imperialism. It flourished most characteristically in America, where the contradictions between the illusions of bourgeois democracy and the realities of the era of monopoly capitalism were especially acute. Petty-bourgeois realism in America has gone through two main stages. In the pre-war years, it took on the forms of reformist realism (Crane, Norris, the early works of Upton Sinclair and Dreiser), which differed from the bourgeois reformist Realism (like Wells) in its sincerity, organic aversion to capitalism, and genuine (albeit half-thought out) connection with the interests of the masses. In the future, petty-bourgeois Realism lost its conscientious faith in reforms and faced a dilemma: to merge with the bourgeois self-critical (and aesthetically decadent) literature or to take revolutionary positions. The first path is represented by a biting, but essentially harmless satire on philistinism by Sinclair Lewis, the second one by a number of major artists who are close to the proletariat, primarily by the same Dreiser and Dos Passos. This revolutionary Realism remains limited: it is unable to artistically see reality in its revolutionary development, that is, to see the working class as the bearer of the revolution.

Despite the ideological acceptance (to one degree or another) of communism, these writers in their work remain only critical realists and are unable to creatively overcome the pessimism-skepticism of a social group, which, left to itself, is doomed to further death. This inability to creatively see the proletariat in its struggle for victory draws a fundamental line between the realism of such writers as Dreiser and Dos Passos, and proletarian realism.


In proletarian realism, as in the realism of revolutionary democracy, at first the critical direction is especially strong. In the works of the founder of proletarian realism Maxim Gorky, purely critical works from Okurov’s Town to Klim Samgin play a very significant role. But proletarian Realism is free from the contradiction between the subjective ideal and the objective historical task and is closely linked with a class that is historically capable of revolutionizing the world, and therefore, unlike the revolutionary democratic Realism, this Realism is capable of a realistic portrayal of the positive and heroic. Gorky’s Mother played the same role for the Russian working class as Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done? had for the revolutionary intelligentsia of the 1860s. But there is a deep line between the two novels, which does not boil down to the fact that Gorky is a greater artist than Chernyshevsky. Mother lays the foundation for proletarian realism, first of all, by creating images of revolutionary heroes, typical and historically real, alien to utopian schematism. The ability to create positive heroes as typical representatives of the proletariat fighting for its victory is also distinguished by the works of proletarian realists of the Soviet era (before the beginning of the era of socialist reconstruction: vivid examples are Chapaev by Furmanov and The Rout (or The Nineteen) by Fadeev with the image of Levinson and other heroes of the partisans). This ability to see reality in its true revolutionary development, to see not only the hated and destroyed world of the old, but also those real forces that destroy it, is characteristic of proletarian realism and before it grows into socialist realism. The latter emerges as a direct product of a new era, when socialism becomes reality and when the pathos of creating a new world becomes the dominant note of the created literature. Retaining in full measure the properties of critical Realim in relation to the hostile forces of the old world and in a new way developing a self-critical attitude towards the forces building socialism, socialist Realism for the first time becomes asserting realism, since for the first time realism becomes an instrument of a class that knows how to transform the world and has already begun with its own eyes. this victorious transformation.