Romanticism and Realism in Literature

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There have been various fields that characterize the various styles of art throughout history. The arts produced during these periods have distinct characteristics that set them apart from those created in previous eras or later. It means that even the artists who existed in these periods only possessed certain characteristics that made them distinctive and peculiar to these times; however, this is not to suggest that they did not share certain characteristics with the other age. It was easy to find artists in different eras still embracing elements of eras they did not live in, and the aim of this paper is to assess two different writers who existed in romanticism era and realism era and analyze their differences as well as their similarities. The paper will evaluate Johann Wolfgang Van Goethe and his style of romanticism along with Gustave Flaubert as a realist writer and what sets them apart as well as the elements they share in their various works of literature. Understanding the two different movements will give us insight into the elements that the two writers included in their works as well as the different ideas that influenced their styles of writing and how they communicated with their audience.

Literature Review


Romanticism also is known as the romantic period, or era was an artistic movement in the western countries that peaked between 1800 and 1850 that originated from Europe towards the end of the 18th century. Romanticism, unlike other movements, was mainly characterized by the emphasis of emotions by the artists in addition to individualism and glorification of nature. Romanticism as a movement focused on intense emotions as its underlying source of aesthetic familiarity, magnifying the new understanding of emotions such as awe, terror, horror and apprehension, especially if the experience glorified the beauty of nature (Washington, p 448). Romanticism elevated ancient customs and folk art so that they can be accepted as something noble, and because of this, it is often stated that romanticism resurrected medievalism and the elements of art associated with authentic medieval as a way of escaping industrialism and urban sprawl. The movement promoted imagination as a way of encouraging freedom from classic forms of art. One thing that set romantic writers apart from other movements is that they were unconventional as they believed in being true to their emotions and refused to be constrained by the social and political conventions.


Realism, on the other hand, is a movement defined by their faithfulness to the representation of reality and this is a literary technique practiced by many artists and writers seeking to offer a presentation of the society that they lived in (Washington, p 449). In other terms, realism is a movement of art that provided no more or no less of the relevant facts that we face around us, and this is a movement that began in the French literature in the nineteenth century. The primary objective of the artists at this time was to depict the society and contemporary life without any exaggeration and by writing honestly about the different themes and topics. It can hence be said that realism was born out of the French Revolution and as a way of rejecting the set traditions established by political conventions whereby people would not speak of facts as they were. Therefore, it is easy to understand that realism was born by writers who decided not to embrace the elements of romanticism because it reflected the surface of life with vivid details that did not need interpretations.

Johann Wolfgang van Goethe versus Gustave Flaubert

Goethe is often referred to as the father of the romanticism movement, but later when he noticed what fostered romanticism among other writers, he denounced himself from this movement. It, however, does not mean that he never had any piece of literature that used romanticism as a technique because his famous piece Faust still stands as a perfect example of Romanticism literature. The first technique of romanticism encountered in his work Faust is the involvement of individuality in the hero of the story, the journey used as a way of illuminating the being, emotionalism, myths and symbolism (Nicholls, p 118). In the creating of this hero, Goethe sets him apart from other good heroes often characterized with flaws and that are fond of making errors, but rather he uses romanticism on the hero through individuality and the revelations of the journey that help him understand himself. Another aspect of romanticism used on this hero by Goethe is the idea that the hero valued emotion over reason. As previously stated, romantic writers used emotions instead of reasoning to explore the various ideas that they were communicating and this is what the protagonist of the book Faust by Goethe displays. To Goethe, emotions are what governed the power of human beings, and it is what governed reason and understanding of the world around the protagonist. In Faust, it is his ego, or intuition that is the reason of his damnation and it is with an emphasis on the self that he realizes the value of life and everything that he owns. It is thus evident that as a romantic writer, Goethe appreciated the action and the plot than the character of his story.

A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert, on the other hand, was written to illustrate the life of an average person living in the late 19th century and it is a perfect example of the shift from fictionalized and individualized characters to more realistic experience. Unlike Goethe, Flaubert is not considered as the father of this but a significant individual in the era. In assessing A Simple Heart, it is easy for one to see that the protagonist is not battling against herself but the society that she lives in and he narrates the events in the life of the protagonist as if it was a longitudinal study of her life (Zulli & Thorlby, p 192). His work was unique in his time, and this is what stands out among various works of literature in this era. The main character of the book is Felicite who does not consider herself as someone philosophical or an idea that needs worshiping and instead she sees herself as someone average and leading the daily life that we all live every day. This is a clear example of the elements embossed in realism, and that lacked in romanticism. Flaubert was influenced by realism to reject realism and embrace illustration of daily life (Zulli & Thorlby, p 201). Unlike the element of romanticism that presented literature by shunning reality, realism, as used by Flaubert in this book, used symbolism and brutal honesty and this allowed this piece of work to transcend the satire of middle class and offer a new perspective in the way people saw and thought of things. In his work and unlike Goethe, Flaubert rendered reality carefully in an absolute reality and thus making the character more important than the plot.

Similar Elements in Both Writers and Movement

As already noted, their movements and the characterized elements in their writings define the two authors separately. Goethe valued emotions over intuitions hence valuing action and plot over the character while Gustave, on the other hand, was concerned with plot and action than the character. Irrespective of the differences, there are some elements shared in their works and across their different movements. The first similarity in the two works of art, that is, A Simple Heart and Faust is that the authors focused on the nature of the individual. A realist writer is supposed to be concerned only with the nature of circumstances that challenge intuition of a person but in A Simple Heart, the author is interested in the well-being of Felicite, and unlike normal realism stories where the ending might be unhappy, element of romanticism is borrowed and Felicite, in the end, is happy. The Same situation is encountered in Faust whereby in most cases of romanticism the story is supposed to conclude with the character happy, but we see in the end Faust is displeased with his choices. Additionally, Goethe borrowed the idea of flawed characters from realism by giving Faust the ideals of an ordinary individual who has the thirst t have more knowledge. Though it is fictionalized, one can easily relate to the choices that drive Faust to his quest of making a deal with the devil.


Realism originated from romanticism as a revolt to the set concepts of functionalizing reality, but despite this, it still carries some elements that were only encountered in romanticism, and some of them are nature and individualism as discussed in the paper. Romantic era was characterized by praise of emotional experience while realism encouraged the experience of reality and how we tackle underlying political and social issues in the society. Therefore, the two approached the community with a different perspective but shared the same mentality of presenting man to the enigmas of life and society.

Works Cited

Nicholls, Angus. “Goethe, Romanticism and the Anglo-American Critical Tradition.” Romanticism on the Net: vol. 1, no. 28, 2002, pp. 116–128., doi:10.7202/007207ar.

Washington, Chris. “Romanticism and Speculative Realism.” Literature Compass, vol. 12, no. 9, 2015, pp. 448–460., doi:10.1111/lic3.12254.

Zulli, Floyd, and Anthony Thorlby. “Gustave Flaubert and the Art of Realism.” Books Abroad, vol. 32, no. 2, 1958, pp. 192–209., doi:10.2307/40099124.

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