Book Summary: “Realism and the Novel Form” by Ian Watt Essay

November 16, 2020 by Essay Writer

Updated: May 12th, 2019

The novel is a literary work whose roots can be traced to the eighteenth century. It came as a break from the traditional prose fiction of the Greeks and the French. Earlier novelists such as Defoe, Richardson and Fielding whose contribution to writing is seen as one that came accidental and also one that was influenced by their surrounding.

Although these novelists considered themselves pioneers of this new art form, they did not provide a working definition of the novel, one that would sufficiently describe this new genre and separate it from the old genres.

Realism which was associated with the French school of realist seemed to be the only distinguishing feature of the novel from the previous literature writings. This however seemed to suggest that all the old writing before the novel were unreal and fictitious which might not be the case. This definition of the novel was therefore rather shallow and needed justification if it was to be used as the defining characteristic.

Realism as the definition of the novel hid what the novel originally stood for which is the variety of human experiences. Therefore this definition was meant to refer to the novel’s presentation of life which would then agree with the French realist definition of the novel as a product of dispassionate and scientific view of life.

Philosophers and other professionals who analyze concepts are the only people who could clarify the definition of the novel’s realism.

Modern realism defines realism as felt or through individual senses or what they experience. This view is however limited, and does not define realism clearly. A novel’s realism in modern times is the realism which it evokes and the problems it raises, or addresses breaking from the traditional beliefs, and assumptions. This creates the correspondence needed between literature and life.

Modern novel realism presents the novel as an individual reflection of life, experience and nonconformity to the tradition. This gives the best definition of the novel as a genre, one that is based purely on personal judgment and not on laid out convention.

While the novel seems to be suffering from the lack of convection, it is also benefiting to the novelists who in their writing the plots, can break from traditional plots of using history and mythology which earlier writers like Shakespeare and Milton used. They can create a changing human experience which changes with nature.

This enables them to develop a great degree of originality and separate the novel from the previous literary works and set a foundation of the rise of the novel. Use of non-traditional plots in novels can not be fully be claimed as the contribution of the three first novelist but their contribution can not be ignored either.

This change of plot was necessary if the novel was to embody independence which was later developed by other novelist such as Locke who used actors and were inclined towards particularity and individualism. Characterization and use of the background environment are of great importance to the novel and distinguish the novel from the other literary works previously done.

Particularization of the characters by naming them as they would be named in everyday life played an important role in defining the novel. It became the first literary work to use names to establish the novelists’ intentions. Names are important to characters as they play the same role in social setup which is to identify each person.

The naming presented the characters as normal human beings who would be regarded as ordinary individuals in everyday life. Although their naming styles varied, the earlier novelist had one goal of presenting their characters with an identity. Other novelist followed this tradition, and build the readers belief in the literary and realism in the novel.

The next step in the rise of the novel was setting the characters in time. The characters were given memories of their past, present and drew inspiration from their immediate environment.

The characters were set in a particular place and time frame thus developing their individualism further. Time in novels is not only a dimension of the physical world but is the shaping force to ones character and life which the novel seeks to reflect.

The novel’s narrative description is seen as a reflection of human life. Novels must therefore satisfy the readers by giving a detailed report of time, place and characters interaction with his environment and presented in utmost honesty as it would appear in formal reality. The study of the rise of the novel from its origin to its current form is useful to the growth of the literature form.

For the aspiring novelists and established writers it presents the basics necessary for any work to qualify as novel. The article presents the shell of a novel upon which novelists can then build on when writing their works. In the teaching of literature, this article offers insight on the evolution of the novel. It helps us appreciate it more and gives room for further growth of the art form.


This essay on Book Summary: “Realism and the Novel Form” by Ian Watt was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Read more