What’s the Difference between Realism and Naturalism?

Whether you love literature, are a keen reader, or need to deepen your knowledge on this subject for a school assignment, this article aims to enlighten you on the fundamental differences between the realism movement and the naturalism movement. They are two streams of literature that follow each other over time, close in form and substance, so it is not easy to tell the difference if you have little knowledge on the subject.

Realism and naturalism are two literary movements of 19ᵉ aim to describe stories that reflect reality. Realism will base the story on scientifically proven and verifiable facts, while naturalism will have less concern for detail.

This is the great difference that can be made between realism and naturalism, which over the years will end up marking an era rich in literary terms.

These are not the only divergent points, there are many others that we will list in this article to teach you to have a sharp eye on the subject as the author’s vision for example, but also the founding books of each movement.



Literary realism is a literary genre, part of the broader realism in arts, that attempts to represent subject-matter truthfully, avoiding speculative fiction and supernatural elements.


Authors who made it a success

This movement appears ten years rather than literary naturalism.

It is important to note it because it means that realism will directly influence the one it will itself give birth to: naturalism.

We can quote Flaubert or Guy de Maupassant who took part in the blossoming of this movement with books such as Bel-ami, Sentimental education or Madame Bovary (Amazon links if you want to know more about the history described in these books, and possibly read them to get an idea of this movement).

The author’s point of view

A total change from the romanticism movement, the author wants to relate facts that perfectly describe the reader’s reality.

The places are described in a realistic way, the characters have emotions and characters that can be found in real life.

We are no longer sure of fiction where the characters are images of a social ideal. They are stories that denounce societal problems in order to explain paradigm shifts. 

A writing method

The reader must be able to see the place through the words he is reading.
A home interior through decoration, for example, is likely to help the reader understand the main character’s psychology in depth and thus be able to unravel the entire plot in the book.

It is like finding one’s Proust madeleine in an object that could be found in the residence of one of the characters or a habit with which the reader could identify.

Some form of experience is needed to explain the facts. It should lead the reader to immerse himself in his story, to recall a specific period in his life. 



The term naturalism describes a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings.

Washington State University

The authors who made it a success

Naturalism appears in 1860 and Émile Zola is the leader of it.

Among other things, he wrote L’Assommoir, which makes it a work at the heart of the naturalist school.

It is devoted to the working-class world, Émile Zola will say of his book that it is the first novel on the people, which does not lie and which has the scent of the people.

We can also mention Edmond de Goncourt, who will give his name to the famous Goncourt award for the best novel of the year.

In the list of recognized naturalists, we also have Thomas Hardy, English author, famous for his book Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

The author’s point of view

Heredity is what gives character to his characters. Indeed, the past of his childhood has a great influence on the adult who will become the main character.

We are not always responsible for our present acts with regard to the tests which forged our personality and the wounds which this one involved.

Naturalism is to like to understand the human being to explain its history, it is the concern of the detail and the proof to leave the least place to an unforeseen event or an incoherence which could make the reading of the history come out. 

A writing method

It is the detailed description which prevails when authors follow the movement of naturalism.

His story must be based on psychological analyses and scientific details proven by renowned people.

In this way the reader can identify with what is being read and check if every detail of the story is true to reinforce the power of the words and the emotional dimension. 

Difference between Realism and Naturalism

The two schools share much in common due to the historical rapprochement of the two literary movements.
As we have seen there are still many differences to draw a full analysis.

Authors have tried over time to make literature an art, a serious thing that is not just telling stories, but depending on reality.

The big difference is that realism comes before naturalism, which will influence the development of both. Naturalism in literature will take what is best from the previous school and will replace the subjective details that might impede the reality of history with scientific and sociological facts of great authority.

Although the two movements include founding books of French literature, they each have authors from different periods and from divergent literary views.


There you go, I hope this article has taught you more about the difference between these two literary movements: realism and naturalism.

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