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Naturalism A Movement In The European Drama English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2170 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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On the other hand, parallel to Naturalism, another movement was born; Realism. It was a general movement in the 19th century theatre that developed a set of dramatical and theatrical agreements, in order to bring a greater loyalty to real life, to texts and performances. Realism began first in Russia and then it spread in the rest of Europe. Also, the beginning of both Realism and Naturalism happens at the same time as the scientific revolution. Realism of 19th century is connected to the development of modern drama which it began to exist in 1870, with the work of the Norwegian dramatist, Henrik Ibsen. So, the main representatives of Naturalism and Realism are the following: Balzac, Flaubert, Emile Zola, Henrik Ibsen, etc.

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During Naturalism there were two different literatures: the stage and the novel. In France, for half a century, there were two different styles: the theatrical style and the novelist’s style. These two styles had nothing in common and a subject which could be put in a book, could not be placed on the stage. In the beginning, we could could in French stage dialogues only for two people, unformed pieces of work, which performed in the public square. But as time passed, halls were built and tragedy and comedy born .

M. Victorien Sardou is the actual representative of the comedy with plot. He is the inheritor of M. Scribe. Victorien Sardou removed all the all tricks and put new ones. He is one of the workmen of his period, who work toward their strength for a formula which other people don’t have the genius to carry out in its completeness. His work was important and he gave to the public a taste for life and reality. M. Alexandre Dumas fils had done a better work. He is one of the most skilful workmen in the Naturalistic period. We can say that to him, we owe the physiological studies on the stage. Even if he was a bit ”unmeasured” in some points, because of him the play became a problem that had to be solved. Finally, Dumas never used truth in his plays.

During the 19th century, the dramatic author is ‘enclosed’ in a strict frame: he must pay attention in all sorts of necessities. He has to provides truth ‘evidences’ and try to persuade the audience that what he watches can really happen to anyone. But unfortunately, the theatre wasn’t always acceptable from the audience. There have been many rejections of great plays, such as ‘Ghosts’ from Ibsen- because critics thought that he talks about themes that are ‘abandoned’ in their society (like syphilis, open relationships between men and women, etc). Actually, I believe that this reaction from the critics -but also from the audience- is accepted, because the themes that playwrights used, were pretty pioneer for that period and for their way of living. Of course the facts that they used happened in reality, but it was pretty unusual to ‘touch’ themes like these on theatre, and that really socked them in the beginning. But as he can see afterwards, they overcame this way of thinking.

At the same period in France Andre Antoine (1858- 1943) continued the great work of Emile Zola and Henrik Ibsen, to France and he opened there the first theatre of Europe, which called Theatre-Libre. His production of ‘Ghosts’ was the first recorded production of Ibsen in France, but unfortunately they pronounced it a failure. After this, Antoine became a director and he tried to make some modifications in the field of direction. He also became well-known for his stage settings. Finally, Antoine tried to apply a new stage philosophy- that he produced- but not only to the new realistic plays, but also to the classics ( Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, etc). Eventually, his productions became very famous.

In Germany Otto Brahm (1856-1912) inspired by Antoine’s Theatre-Libre, open his Freie Buhne in Berlin in 1889 and his first play production was predictably ‘Ghosts’ by Ibsen. He was for ten years a scholarly critic in Berlin and he was also Germany’s leading advocate of Zola, Ibsen and the Naturalistic movement. Brahm, unlike Antoine, was assisted by well-educated actors and directors. Also, he tried to apply his new methods to the classics plays (as Antoine did) without looking back to the results of the previous. He believed that the classics had to live and change with their audiences, because a play may be old but the art of drama is always new and immediate.

As we can see, Naturalism and Realism had a big influence in the history and the progress of drama in all the European cities. There were rejections and juxtapositions as it was obvious for that period, but these facts, didn’t make Realism and Naturalism to ”loose” their power and their importance in the history of Theatre. Even today these two terms are famous to everyone; only from this you can see the great influence of them, not only in the Theatre, but in many fields of our lives.

1. A Sourcebook on Naturalist Theatre: Ibsen’s Naturalistic Drama

Henrik Ibsen’s (1823-1906) development as a playwright can only be understood in terms of the cultural battle of Norwegian independence. There was a continuity in the most general thematic terms, between his earlier heroic drama and his naturalistic work. Ibsen would like to represent reality in all of his plays and give to the audience/reader the impression that everything that appears in the play can really happen. In order to succeed this, he used three (3) main things: a) the stress of modernity, b) the individualization of even minor characters, and c) the use of everyday speaking language.

Ibsen also believes that the influence of the play has to do with the spectator and the sense of feeling as if he/she was listening, looking at events that do happen in real life. In some plays (e.g.: Ghosts) the critics called him responsible for the opinions expressed by a character in the play and also that the book ”represents” nihilism. But as he replied, nothing really happens.

Furthermore, Ibsen had a practical experience as a theatre-director and this helped him with the writing of his plays and the way that he should represent Naturalism in the stage. Finally, as E.F.S. Piggott wrote, all of the characters that Ibsen used were morally deranged, the heroines were dissatisfied and had problems with their marriage, and men/heroes were all villains or foolish.

2. Ibsen’s Realistic Aesthetic

Some of the major realists of 19th century are: Ibsen, Flaubert, Henry James, Balzac, Dickens, George Eliot, etc. all of them have differences between them. Here Ibsen talks about the Realistic Aesthetic. First of all, in literature, the realistic aesthetic focus on reality and downgrade ”the main subject”. Realism maintain that any any subject is suitable to be used, if it ‘represents’ reality. In other words, the new attitude in realism and naturalism, elevates arts above the subject and the artist is the one who made the subject important.

In Flaubert’s work, the aesthetic dimension is being used very much,especially with irony (like Ibsen). For Ibsen Realistic aesthetic, the old form of drama had been stopped to be valid. Therefore, the struggle of the human spirit, in order to achieve greater authenticity as it moves forward, had to take up and abandon one spiritual drama after another.

Finally, the Realistic aesthetic (for Ibsen) can be derived into two more things: a) a highly critical or sceptical attitude towards conventional ideas of reality, and b) from a number of causes (philosophical, moral, historical, social, etc), which undertake a posture of animosity, quickly reciprocated, towards conventional society.

Naturalism on the stage- Emile Zola (1840-1902)

Emile Zola talks about Naturalism and the meaning of it, about its representatives, novels and theatre of that period, and their characters. He also talks about the novelists of Naturalism and the great evolutions of the stage in France.

Zola believes that naturalism exists from the first time that a person began to write. He also insists that naturalism as we know today, began from the savants who had worked like the poets. So, one day they decided to experiment, before they conclude. They abandoned supposed truths and they used analysis, rather than synthesis. This was an evolution for that time. So, the same happened in literature: there were only real characters, a true history of each one and the story of daily life.

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During Naturalism, novel and stage had nothing in common (especially in France) and a subject that could be put in a book, couldn’t be placed in the stage. Balzac and Stendhal were first in the Naturalistic novel, and then Flaubert and, MM Edmond and Jules de Goncourt continued their work. Finally, in the French stage, we ‘meet’ Victorien Sardou, Alexandre Dumas and Emile Augier who had a great impact in the Naturalist stage of France (each one for a different reason).

Naturalism, Realism and The New Wave — Naturalism and Realism

Some people believe that Naturalism is virtually synonymous with realism. Even Emile Zola (one of the earliest ”champions” of Naturalism) often used the terms ‘interchangeably’ for Naturalism and Realism. But the New Wave mentioned that Naturalism and Realism different and each one represented two different formal projects. Also, the movement which ‘moved beyond’ naturalism rejected Naturalism as a particular tradition of theatrical practice and this moved also to the directors, critics and also the writers. In the post-war context, Naturalism was quite a ”shorthand” for the practices of the theatre before 1956, the chosen form of the directors, dramatists and critics that associated with it.

Arnold Wesker, one of the most associated with naturalism writer, argued that: ‘Naturalism (and also Realism) doesn’t really exist, it’s an impossibility, because reality is quite obviously every minute detail’. Furthermore, one of the main objections to Naturalism was that placed in a second importance questions of form and method.

Finally, as Stanislavsky criticised his own work in terms of the defence of Realism and Naturalism, he said that ‘Realism in art is the method that helps to select only the typical from life. If someone is Naturalistic in the stage, it only shows that he/she is not still able to talk about and perform historical and social essence of events and characters’.

5. Realism and Naturalism

The beginning of Naturalism and Realism happens at the same time as the scientific revolution. The new play was against the romantic form of drama, which was very popular during 19th century. Some of the main representatives of naturalistic and realistic novelists are: Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Ibsen. When Realism ‘arrived’ many people seemed to be socked by this, because they were used to the romantic movement, which was different. Realism tried to put on the stage only the things and facts that we can observe in our real life.

Emile Zola (1840-1902) was the first who ‘described’ a naturalistic theory in literature. His novel, ‘Therese Raquin’ (1873), is the first milestone of the movement. Zola believed that everything had to be real in theatre, in order to persuade the audience. This would happen with characterizations, ordinary people as protagonists, correct use of language and dialogues. Henrik Ibsen (1823-1906) was a playwright who wrote ‘A Doll’s House’ (1879) and ‘Ghosts’ (1881) both well known for different reasons.

In the same period in France, Andre Antoine (1858-1943) opened the Theatre-Libre (1887), where Antoine’s production of ‘Ghosts’ was the first production of any play of Ibsen in France and it pronounced a failure. In Germany, at the same time, Otto Brahm (1856-1912) inspired by Antoine’s theatre, he opened in Berlin the Freie Buhnel Theatre(1889), where his first production was also ‘Ghosts’.


Class Handout. ‘Realism and Naturalism’

Innes, Christopher. ‘A Sourcebook on Naturalistic Theatre’. Routledge: London, 2000

Johnston, Brian. ‘Text and Supertext in Ibsen’s Drama’, University Park,PA; London:Pensylvania State, University Press, 1989

Lacey, Stephen. ‘British Realistic Theatre: The New Wave in its Context 1956-1965’. London; New York Routledge, 2002

Zola, Emile. ‘The Experimental Novel and Other Essays’, translated by Belle M. Sherman. New York: The Cassell Publishing Co., 1893


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