Getting to the heart of the matter: Realism and modernism in the novel

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This article elaborates on a model to assess the evolution of formal realism in the novel since its inception up to the modernistic turn starting in the last decade of the nineteenth-century. I argue that realism in the novel is connected to a central philosophical issue: representation. Yet the very concept of "representation" became a point of difficulty in literature and in modern philosophy, seeing one cannot compare linguistic representations with reality itself as a test for accuracy because what we mean by "reality" already involves issues of representation. To better understand this puzzle, I examine two explanatory-models - one focusing on the critical development of literary conventions, the other on psycho-sociological developments - concluding that none of them can, alone, explain the impulse toward realistic representation and the evolution of key formal literary techniques that led to the modernistic turn.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-23
Number of pages15
JournalRevista De Letras
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Narrative techniques
  • Philosophy and literary criticism
  • Representation in the novel
  • Self-overcoming realism


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