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A Theory of Genre: Romance, Realism, and Moral Reality

By Robert C Post


In her own unassuming but penetrating way, Virginia Woolf strongly advised authors \u22to live in the presence of reality.\u22 Since \u22philosophic words, if one has not been educated at a university, are apt to play one false,\u22 Woolf could not define precisely what she meant by \u22reality.\u22 It was, she said, \u22something very erratic, very undependable- now to be found in a dusty road, now in a scrap of newspaper in the street, now in a daffodili n the sun.\u22 She could describe reality only by noting that whatever it \u22touches, it fixes and makes permanent\u22; reality is what appears when the world is \u22bared of its covering and given an intenser life.\u22 Reality is \u22invigorating.\u22 The writer\u27s business, Woolf concluded, was to find this reality, to \u22collect it and communicate it to the rest of us.\u22 Woolf\u27s concept of \u22reality\u22 is complex, and its implications are worth examination. It differs considerably from the idea of reality which is prevalent among literary historians, and which is exemplified by Rene Wellek\u27s definition of realism as \u22the objective representation of contemporary social reality.\u22 For Wellek reality is not, as for Woolf, a normative concept. It is instead a collection of facts which exist independently in the world and await reproduction by the writer. This same concept of reality underlies Jose Ortega y Gasset\u27s distinction between realist and modernist art: comparing the work of art to a window pane, he said that works of realism look through the glass and make it invisible, whereas modernist works focus instead on the glass itself and see only a confused blur of color and form

Publisher: Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository
Year: 1981
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