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What Is Domestic Realism?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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The literary genre called domestic realism is a category of fiction that centers on the outlook of a certain kind of female; this type of work, common in the Victorian era, responded to specific ideas about that era’s notion of feminine virtues. Some have called this type of literature “women’s fiction.” In calling this “domestic realism,” the word “domestic” implies a female’s role in a domestic situation, which is very much tied to the Victorian era.

Writers of domestic fiction have historically been women. Some examples of writers in this genre include Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Jane Austen is one of the most well-known writers of domestic realism. While the works of other Victorian-era writers have largely become obsolete to today’s readership, Austen’s novels, such as Pride and Prejudice are still taught in schools, and her work has received new attention through a set of modern parodies widely sold in today’s bookstores that include horror elements.

Experts have identified a general set of criteria that pertain to most domestic realism. These works focus on attributes of the female, often splitting female characters into those with heroine status and others who are foils for the more virtuous or desirable characters. Some have referred to an archetypal heroine role called the “practical woman,” where character traits such as modesty and clear-eyed reasoning are related to the heroine character. Other traits, such as willful ignorance and a “prima donna” mentality, are used to illustrate a lack of this female heroism.

Domestic realism can consist of either the novel or the short story. Many experts would say that the novels of this classic genre have had more staying power through the years. In the above example, many elements of the original genre shine through in the modern parodies, where the juxtaposition of the virtuous female with contemporary plot elements (like zombie attacks) provide a kind of “fusion” of the Victorian domestic realism with modern literary conventions.

Researching domestic realism can be helpful for today’s students of literature. Schools and universities still teach some of these works, and teachers may make assignments related to this genre, often pointing out their influence on later works. Alternately, studying domestic realism can help readers understand the subsequent responses to this Victorian idea in more modern works.

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