Artists Represent Real Life

By the mid-1800s, a new artistic movement, realism, took hold in the West. Realism was an attempt to represent the world as it was, without the heightened sentiment and idealized emotions of the romantics. Realists often stressed the harsh side of life in urban slums or peasant villages. Many writers and artists were committed to improving the lot of the unfortunates whose lives they depicted.

Novelists Expose Social Wrongs

The English novelist Charles Dickens vividly portrayed the lives of slum dwellers and factory workers, including children. In Oliver Twist, Dickens tells the story of a nine-year-old orphan raised in a grim poorhouse. When a desperately hungry Oliver asks for more food, he is smacked in the head by his well-fed master and sent off to work. Later, he runs away to London. There he is taken in by Fagin, a villain who trains homeless children to become pickpockets.

Painting of two musicians in bright clothing playing the sitar and tambourine indoors, with a woman lounging nearby to listen.

Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix turned to foreign lands and ancient times to portray the exotic or simpler ways of life. Although the painting focuses on peasant musicians rather than nature, it still seems idealized rather than harshly realistic.

The book shocked many middle-class readers with its picture of poverty, mistreatment of children, and urban crime. Yet Dickens's humor and colorful characters made him one of the most popular novelists in the world.

French novelists also portrayed the ills of their time. With Les Misérables (lay miz ehr AHB), Victor Hugo moved from romanticism to realism. The novel showed how hunger drove a good man to crime and how the law hounded him ever after. The novels of Émile Zola painted an even grimmer picture. In Germinal, Zola exposed class warfare in the French mining industry. To Zola's characters, neither the Enlightenment faith in reason nor the romantic emphasis on feelings mattered at all.

Realism on Stage

Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen brought realism to the stage. His plays attacked the hypocrisy he observed around him. A Doll's House shows a woman caught in a straitjacket of social rules. In An Enemy of the People, a doctor discovers that the water in a local spa is polluted. Because the town's economy depends on its spa, the citizens denounce the doctor and suppress the truth. Ibsen's realistic dramas had a wide influence in Europe and the United States.

Poster of a play with three panels showing: a man and woman in love, a man in chains, a crying woman being led by a man in uniform. The title is Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

This poster shows characters from a play based on Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables. In the center is Jean Valjean, who was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to keep his sister's child from starving.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments