The Truth of Realism
A Reassessment of the German Novel 1830-1900
Legenda: Oxford, 2011
In his new book, Walker offers a radical reassessment of the German realist novel in the nineteenth century. Especially in the English-speaking world, German narrative realism has persistently been interpreted as the literary expression of an ‘ideology of the aesthetic’. The German realist novel is alleged to reflect philosophical idealism: to reject the ‘prose’ of modern society in favour of the ‘poetry’ of the inner aesthetic life. This book challenges that received view. Walker argues that German narrative realism should be read not only in relation to, but in crucial respects against, the dominant philosophical idiom of nineteenth century Germany. German narrative realism often functions as a critique of the idea and ideology of inwardness in nineteenth century German culture. To understand this, the author argues, we must reread German realist novels above all as narratives, not as the supposed reflection of philosophical categories. The core of the book is therefore the close reading of eight of the best known realist novels in German by Keller, Raabe and Fontane. This reading shows how the German realist novel, far from transposing the assumptions of aesthetic idealism into narrative form, exposes the real consequences of those assumptions in the culture and society of its time.
John Walker is Senior Lecturer in German at Birkbeck College, London, where he served as Head of the School of Languages, Linguistics and Culture from 2006-2009.