Realist prestige… realism as genre

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In an article I mentioned some time ago, but which was really quite provocative, Brian Attebery states: “I want to explore some of the expectations that have led critics to view formulas with suspicion and to ignore the degree to which realistic fiction is governed by conventional storytelling patterns. There are many reasons, both ideological and aesthetic, for denying a conventional basis for realism. As Wallace Martin points out, “To admit that realism has any identifiable characteristics of a literary or verbal sort is to admit that it too is based on conventions, and thus to tamper with its claim to present reality without mediation” (64). So long as realistic storytelling conventions remain essentially invisible, aesthetic judgments can be justified primarily on fidelity to experience— on a common-sense notion of the real.” (116)

“One problem with the “realism is not a genre” assumption is that the critical questions it generates are not very interesting […]. Another is its conclusion that fidelity to the familiar is the sole significant virtue possessed by realist texts. A third is that it seemingly forces writers to choose between truthfulness and narrative interest….” (118)

Ref: Brian Attebery Elizabeth Enright and the Family Story as Genre  Children’s Literature, Volume 37, 2009, pp. 114-136

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