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The realistic novel


The realistic novel

Sensitive to new tastes and tendences of the day, novelists began to reject conventional plots and the ancient classical models and look to reality for ispiration. The novel became a "picture of life" and classifiable as realistic not only because of what it presented but above all for how it presented it.

The term realistic may sound a little ambiguous as it had been applied to other writers and it is therefore useful to consider some of the elements which characterized the 18 th century realistic novel.

clock time and physical setting began to be used. Time and place ceased to be vague concepts but were made tangible through the use of precise details.

Certain communicating qualities such as colour size extension became of primary importance

Attention was focused not only on outdoor settings but more and more frequently on 646d35g "interiors".

Characters were endowed with actual names and surnames

Greater importance was given to money as a status symbol

A triangular conflict was emphasized between bourgeios values chilvaric values and the values of the traditional gentleman

A new type of protagonist developed, practical, self-made and self-reliant endowed with common sense and prudence, very far from the adventurous hero of romances


Daniel defoe was born in london. His father, a protestant merchant, refused to record his son's birth in the parish register, so that we have some doubts about his true birth date. Educated at a college for dissenters defoe chose to go into business and, in 1680, he became a merchant. But his long neglected business took a turn for the worse and in 1792 he went bankrupt. He managed to pay back his debts venturing in many other activities including journalism and literature, also winning popularity.

In 1702 with the accession to the throne of queen anne, a strict supporter of the state church, his situation changed. When he published a satirical pamphlets in defence of dissenters he was sentenced to the pillory and to six months of prison.

In 1705 he became a secret agent and  government spy. The last day of his life were wretched then he died alone and friendless in 1731.


He was one of the most prolific authors of his time.

Journalism: the review.

Pamphlets: the shortest way with the dissenters. A clear attack on ecclesiastical intolerance which ironically advocated the total suppression of all dissenters.

Poems: the true-born englishmen. A verse satire against william III's enemies.

Hymn to the pillory: a mock-pindaric ode

Novels: robinson crusoe. An account of the hero's life on a desert island.

Captain singleton: relating the adventures of a captain who became a pirate

Moll flanders: the autobiography of a woman who survived several husbands

And the london underworld, turned thief and prostitute, was transported to

Virginia and became rich and respectable.

Colonel jack: the story of a pickpocket who repented and in the end obtained

Wealth and prosperity

Roxana: the autobiography of a courtesan who finally imprisoned for debts.

Other works: a journal of the plague year. An account of the plague of 1665

Jonathan wild: an example of criminal biography.


Despite the many works he wrote, defoe's fame rest almost entirely on his novels. To justify his works, however, he decided to write true stories, all containing moral lessons. This conception of fiction led him to a write novels which all more or less shared the same features which are:

realism: they are usually presented in the form of a diary or autobiography, related in the first-Person in order to increase verisimilitude.

Lack of structure: there is not a real plot.

Individualism: there is only one main character, a hero or a heroine, resolute in spirit and self-reliant for survival. This feature was in keeping with the puritan idea that it is in himself that man find salvation.

Lack of characterization: the characters do not develop during the story: it is in fact only their external situation which changes, while inside they remain the same.

Isolation: the characters usually stand alone, not only physically, like crusoe on his island but also socially as in the case of the women, moll and roxana.

No sentimentalism: there is a very little despair even in the most tragic situations. Every day the characters struggle but not for ideals or passion but for their daily bread i.e. the practical pursuit of money.

Moral attitude: all the contain prayers and expressions of gratitude to god and they all end with the protagonists repenting their mischiefs.

picaresque elements: all the most important novels contain elements which may be defined "picaresque".

a)  some characters are rogues

b)  there is sometimes direct or indirect satire of 18th century english society

c)  they have the effect of prose autobiographies describing genuine experiences.

d)  The narratives are generally linear and episodic in structure.

Robinson crusoe:

The best known of defoe's novels is undoubtedly robinson crusoe. The book is based on a real event: the experiences of alexander selkirk a seaman who was put ashore on a desert island of the juan fernandez group in the pacific ocean from which he was rescued after 4 years.

3 separate sections:

the first: the first of these relates how, in spite of his father's warning, robinson leaves the family at the age of nineteen and goes away to sea to make a fortune. After many dangerous experiences he lands in brazil where he becomes a successful planter. One day during an expedition he was shipwrecked on a remote island.

The second section describes robinson's life on the island during which time he keeps a journal with an almost daily record of certain periods.

The third section describes robinson's return to europe where he learns that his brazil plantation still intanct has made him rich and where he also has many new adventures.

The buk of the work is the second section, which is related in the form of a diary-like account of robinson's experiences: how he is able to partly re-created the world he has left behind him how he eventually saves a young savage from the cannibals and makes him his servant and how he is finally rescued,

The work is one of the best examples of pure fiction able to engross the reader with its matter-of-fact as may be seen from the passages below.

Comforts and miseries:

Though short, this is the passage which, perhaps, best sums up the concrete, practical philosophy of robinson. "but i am alive" this is also the message that defoe seems to convey, not only to his contemporaries but to all of us in general, since it contains a still topical teaching: it is o no use to complain and lose heart in the plights of life because this leads only to useless discomfort and despair. It is in the most critical moments that we can prove our moral strength. There is also a second possible consideration to make on the above list. The use of writing becomes  an unconscious self-therapy one of the ways to release the burden of one's heart later theorized by psychoanalysis.


The novel was at once very successful for various reasons:

its style, simple and matter-of-fact met the need for precision and concretness of a bourgeosie founded on trade

it made robinson, self-confident and resourceful, the representative of the "new man" of the englishment, i.e. the bourgeois industrious and hardworking, as opposed to the aristocrat.

Its emphasis on work and the bible as the two main therapies against solitude and everyday problems.

Its setting on a remote island satisfied the wish for exotic stories.

After centuries of a literature more or less influenced by european models it was the first book which reflected the true "english soul".

The bourgeois novel

Features. The plot the characterization and psychological analysis, these features characterize above all richardson novel . richardson was the originator of the so-called bourgeois novel or novels of manners.

plot. The novel are no longer based on a sequence of episodes but on a single story based on a complex emotional background to analyse the flow of feelings and passions.

Setting. The novel are no longer set in far off countries but in a domestic enviroment.

Characterization. Richardson is the first author to concentrate on the new middle classes

Realism. there is plenty of realism in each novel.

Psychological analysis. unlike those of defoe his own characters are capable of emotional development

Sentimentalism. His novels are all love stories with happy or tragic endings.

Technique and style. They are all written in epistolary form

Moralizing purpose. They all share a moralizing purpose


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