27 May 2013

Romanticism vs. Realism

"The nineteenth-century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban, seeing his own face in a glass.
The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass."

~Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 That being said, Romanticism and Realism are two interesting, opposing sides of a philosophical movement that the poets/artists/writers in the 1800s were obsessed with.

For the first half of the century, art was mostly leaning toward the Romantic movement, that is, a "romantic" idea of heroes and the human race being something infallible and amazing, dramatic and powerful. Don Juan with the Byronic hero, Frankenstein with the mistrust of synthetic humans, etc. clearly show this.

In contrast, Realism was the exact opposite. In the second half of the century, the American Civil War and other wars, coupled with the Industrial Revolution, began to show people the horrors and normalcy of life, so books were more "real" and focused on real situations. Huck Finn is a great example of this. But there are others.

Of course, Oscar Wilde above was saying that the opposing forces could never be accepted. In The Tempest, Caliban was a character who looked into a mirror and wanted to see himself powerful and handsome (think Mirror, Mirror, on the wall....). He didn't so he got into a rage.

If you stare at yourself in the mirror, and expect to see someone powerful, handsome and intelligent, and you don't, will you get angry? But if you see yourself as who you are, ordinary and ephemeral, will you get angry? Same principle. The Romantics expect to see someone powerful and dramatic, and fail to. The Realists wish to see themselves for who they are, and fail. None are satisfied.

That makes for interesting thoughts and an epic quote. Something to think about.

Of course, there are some that say that the only people who really cared about this were the elite rich class, so it shouldn't matter. But it's still interesting.

What are you -- a Romantic or Realist?



  1. I am personally a realist, I like seeing the world as it truly is... cruel and cold, but there is always those great things like science and literature, I also like to think positive, I want a better world!

  2. I should have added above that I am more of a Romantic. Byron is one of my favorite authors, and he influenced a lot of my thinking. Influences aside, I like life to be dramatic and powerful, and full of adventure. I'm an incurable Romantic. :D

  3. Pretty sure I'm both. Yup.

  4. I really liked what you said about both being disappointed about what they see... I suppose I see realistically, but with a romantic point of view. I think I see things how they are (and want to see them how they are) but believe that isn't a reason for being cynical, etc. I tend to take an optimistic viewpoint of the world.