“realism: In literature, the theory or practice of fidelity to nature or to real life and to accurate representation without idealization. The 18th-century works of Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Tobias Smollett are among the earliest examples of realism in English literature. It was consciously adopted as an aesthetic program in the mid-19th century in France, when interest arose in recording previously ignored aspects of contemporary life and society; Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857) established the movement in European literature. The realist emphasis on detachment and objectivity, along with lucid but restrained social criticism, became integral to the novel in the late 19th century. The word has also been used critically to denote excessive minuteness of detail or preoccupation with trivial, sordid, or squalid objects. See also naturalism.
Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.