- Realism, Naturalism, and Symbolism: Modes of Thought and Expression in Europe, 1848-1914 by Roland N. Stromberg
First published in 1968, the volume, given its time-transcending value, is worth its reprinting. It consists of dozens of essays by prominent and not so prominent authors, each introduced by Stromberg, who then provides a text that represent the work of the author.
Under "Realism" we are introduced not only to the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, Ernest Renan, and Karl Marx, but also to Charles Baudelaire, Robert Browning, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. After a few words about Marx for context, Stromberg reproduces fifteen pages from Marx's The Civil War in France (1871), a text that is not often referenced. Ernest Renan is introduced as a French philologist, historian, and essayist, an all-round man in the best tradition of nineteenth-century literature. That is followed by an interesting selection from The Future of Science (1848– 49). Dostoevsky is presented as an artist, psychologist, metaphysician, and prophet, and praised for his "acute perception of human conduct." A fifteen-page passage, taken from The Devil follows.
In the "Realism" section of the volume, we find an amazingly relevant passage on social realism as distinguished from socialist realism, introduced by a quotation from Edmond Goncourt for his 1871 warning, "Government is passing from the hands of the haves to the hands of the have-nots." There follows twenty pages from the rarely consulted Goncourt Journals.
"Naturalism" opens with a text by David Masson and followed by others from Winwood Reade, Emile Zola, Friedrich Nietzsche, and George Bernard Shaw. Mixed within these, there is a brief section on the French school of painting, that is, "The Impressionists." Another text entitled "The Natural History of the Soul," discusses the work of Sigmund Freud, who, according to Stromberg, explained the deeper working of the human [End Page 383] psyche in the language of physical forces and laws. Freud's work began in 1880 at the peak of naturalism's success and popularity, and "shared with naturalists a basically pessimistic outlook."
"Symbolism" is represented by Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarme, Oscar Wilde, Paul Verlaine, and an additional text from Baudelaire (his reflection on Richard Wagner's Tannhauser and on Wagner's influence). A critique of symbolism is provided by a passage from Leo Tolstoy.
The book ends with a brief excerpt from Rupert Brooke and another from Charles Péguy "On the Death of God." The quotation is from Péguy's Clio: "What we mean is that the modern world has given up, has renounced the whole system, the whole mystique, which means from now on there is a new and different world. The modern world is not just a bad Christian world, which would be nothing, but an unchristian world, literally, absolutely, totally de-Christianized." Peguy wrote that in 1931.
I cannot say this book is uplifting, but it is certainly fascinating. It may lead the reader to revisit some of the authors and books cited. It has had that effect on me.