03 October, 2008


By now my French class has moved beyond the Romanic period and is starting to get into the literature of the second half of the 19th century. The first important school after romanticism was realism - a movement which sought to reflect with accurate detail the materialistic bourgeouis society that had arisen in France after the decline of Napolean. The writing has, for the most part, a slightly cynical flavour. The enthusiasms of society during the French Revolution and the reign of Napolean had been disappointed when it became clear that neither would actually lead to a utopian age of liberty, equality and fraternity. The people had settled for the ideal of prosperity instead, and artists like Balzac and Flaubert, seeing the ever-present woes of poverty, injustice, and greed as breed by bourgeouis society began to use their writing as a medium for criticizing 19th century civilization.

This disillusionment produced a rather violent move away from any tendencies to romanticize life, to see the world "through a colored lens" as Zola put it, or to use exaggerated, poetic, or decorative language. Many realists, particularly Flaubert, would write and rewrite each sentence obsessively, searching for "le mot juste" - "the right word". (On second thought, the search for the right word can be frustrating enough to be a large factor in creating the authors' depression. Forget all this stuff about social ills.) The artistic code of Realism demanded rigorous, exact observation of human behavior from an authorial standpoint that was as objective as possible. Of course, this doesn't guarantee real objectivity. You tend to find quite often in realism (think Dickens, even) rather one-sided focuses on certain problems that manipulate the reader into seeing the author's view of the problem as perfectly accurate.

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