Both journalists and novelists showed a newly explicit interest in “realism” in the 1850s, especially in the wake of the devastating Crimean War (1853-56). This war was the first to be documented by an independent press, as new technologies of travel and printing allowed the British public to see the war as an immediate reality—especially in journalistic exposés of the war's mismanagement. Official narratives of glorious warfare were undercut by reports of mass suffering by common British soldiers. Widely read frontline reports by William Howard Russell of the Times provoked a shift in the focus of public sympathy from incompetent aristocratic officers to heroic working-class soldiers—thus moving Russell's reports into the realm of the realist novel, as its terms were being debated and defined in the 1850s. The essay compares Russell's journalism with George Eliot's AdamBede (1859), known for its famous statement of realist principles and its depiction of heroic common people set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. Though the novel takes place in the English countryside, the narrator invokes a presumed audience who differ profoundly from the novel's peasant characters—a cosmopolitan readership who are comparative in mindset and globally aware. Both realist novel and Crimean War journalism make traumatized working-class figures into symbols of a heroic nationhood, even while ultimately remaining distanced from these figures by addressing middle-class readers united by a state of technological modernity.
Rachel Teukolsky; Novels, Newspapers, and Global War: New Realisms in the 1850s. Novel 1 May 2012; 45 (1): 31–55. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-1541342
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