How was romanticism a reaction to the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.