Domestic realism

Domestic realism

Domestic realism normally refers to the genre of nineteenth-century novels popular with women readers. This body of writing is also known as "sentimental fiction" or "woman's fiction". The genre is mainly reflected in the novel though short-stories and non-fiction works such as Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Our Country Neighbors" and The New Housekeeper's Manual written by Stowe and her sister-in-law Catherine Beecher are works of domestic realism. The style's particular characteristics are:

"1. Plot focuses on a heroine who embodies one of two types of exemplar: the angel and the practical woman (Reynolds) who sometimes exist in the same work. Baym says that this heroine is contrasted with the passive woman (incompetent, cowardly, ignorant; often the heroine's mother is this type) and the "belle," who is deprived of a proper education.

2. The heroine struggles for self-mastery, learning the pain of conquering her own passions (Tompkins, Sensational Designs, 172).

3. The heroine learns to balance society's demands for self-denial with her own desire for autonomy, a struggle often addressed in terms of religion.

4. She suffers at the hands of abusers of power before establishing a network of surrogate kin.

5. The plots "repeatedly identify immersion in feeling as one of the great temptations and dangers for a developing woman. They show that feeling must be controlled. . . " (Baym 25). Frances Cogan notes that the heroines thus undergo a full education within which to realize feminine obligations (The All-American Girl).

6. The tales generally end with marriage, usually one of two possible kinds:

A. Reforming the bad or "wild" male, as in Augusta Evans's St. Elmo (1867)

B. Marrying the solid male who already meets her qualifications. Examples: Maria Cummins, The Lamplighter (1854) and Susan Warner, The Wide, Wide World (1850)

7. The novels may use a "language of tears" that evokes sympathy from the readers.

8. Richard Brodhead (Cultures of Letters) sees class as an important issue, as the ideal family or heroine is poised between a lower-class family exemplifying poverty and domestic disorganization and upper-class characters exemplifying an idle, frivolous existence (94)."[1]

An example of this style of novel is Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres in which the main character's confinement is emphasized in such a way.

Some early exponents of the genre of domestic realism were Jane Austen and Elizabeth Barret Browning.


  1. ^ Campbell, Donna M. Domestic or Sentimental Fiction, 1820-1865 21 May 2007. [1]

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