Realism and rebellion in Edwardian and Georgian fiction

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The objective and impartial account of the world that realist fiction purports to give its readers is not calculated to foment rebellion, or rally public will to rectify economic injustice, or press for legislative remedies for social wrongs. The Edwardians and the Georgians (people living during Edward VII and George V's successive reigns) wrote about socially inflammatory issues such as marriage and labor laws, property rights, women's suffrage, Home Rule for Ireland, and colonialist rule over an unsettled empire. Yet even when most inflamed, Edwardian and Georgian fiction appealed less to emotional outrage than to the educated heart. Rebel authors, those “dangerous clever fellows with all their atheism, sex and socialism,” as J. B. Priestley drolly characterized them, wrote in “an atmosphere of hopeful debate,” persuaded “that men might be converted to a cause, that society might be rationally transformed, if they could win the debate.” They carried that debate into novels, through richly detailed representations of the sorry but changeable state of things. Inheriting and refining conventions developed by Victorian and French realism and naturalism, Edwardian realism's documentary machinery was so efficient at presenting social data that Arnold Bennett could envision for fiction the possibility of an “absolute realism.” The possibility had occurred to Bennett in reviewing Chekhov's stories, in which “no part of the truth is left out, no part is exaggerated.” A Chekhovian ideal, translated into the empirical language of British realism, is reflected in meticulous representations of where and how people lived (including building materials, layout, the décor of their houses, apartments or, as the case may be, hovels); inventories of the things they bought and sold, and at what price; detailed accounts of routines that regulated their lives and the wages they earned, or had garnished; candid reports of how they courted, and under what constraints; what class they belonged to; how they made their money and how they held onto - or lost - it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to the Twentieth-Century English Novel
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781139002516
ISBN (Print)9780521884167
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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