Naturalism – Concept, information and representatives

We explain what naturalism is in literature and philosophy, its historical context and representatives. Also, differences with realism.

Naturalism approached the sectors of society that had been left out.

What is naturalism?

Naturalism is an artistic doctrine, mainly literary, that aspired to reproduce the reality of human society with the highest degree of objectivity and detail, both in its most sublime and praiseworthy aspects, as well as in its most vulgar and despicable. In some way, naturalism proposed a documentary literature, which can be understood as the highest degree of the school of realism.

Naturalism arose in France in the late nineteenth century and from there it spread throughout Europe, becoming the evolution of the prevailing realism, and opposing with it the romantic idealism that came from Germany. It soon became a popular trend among realistic authors as well as the psychological novel.

The artists of naturalism suspended all kinds of moral judgment regarding the reality represented, like a scientist when studying animals, and tried to approach the sectors of society that had been left out by realism. That is why orality, everyday language and the use of the omniscient narrator predominate in his works.

Philosophically, naturalism was heir to determinism, which assumed that human behavior was predefined, subjected to different internal or external factors, such as their passions, their social and economic environment, and their genetics. That is, it denied free will. This perspective implied, in most novels of this style, a pessimistic vision of society, expressed however in a totally impartial and amoral way.

Historical context of naturalism

The deterministic view of the human being was very popular at the end of the 19th century, as a consequence of the appearance of the evolutionary theory and Darwinism, as well as the positivism of Auguste Comte (1798-1857). These doctrines provided secular and scientific explanations both to the origin of the human being, as well as to the functioning of their societies and history.

Thus, realism made use of philosophy and theories in vogue to strengthen its vision of the world, inherited from the French Enlightenment and rationalism, against the German idealism of Romanticism, whose proposal focused more on the emotions and subjectivities of the individual, and had a strong Christian influence. The result of this was the emergence of naturalism, understood as an extreme evolution of realism.

Representatives of naturalism

naturalism dostoevsky literature
Dostoevsky is a representative of both naturalism and psychological realism.

The main author of naturalism was the Frenchman Émile Zola (1840-1902), who presented his theoretical foundations in the preface to his novel Thérèse Rasquin (1867), and then more openly in his essay The experimental roman (“The experimental novel”) of 1880. But there were many other recognized authors who partially or frontally cultivated this literary style, among which are:

  • Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), short story writer and to a lesser extent French novelist.
  • Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), prominent French novelist, author of Madame Bovary (1857).
  • Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), the greatest Russian storyteller and father of the modern story, also author of plays.
  • Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), revolutionary Russian novelist and politician, founder of the literary movement of socialist realism.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), one of the greatest Russian novelists and world literature, his work is vast and complex and is embedded in both naturalism and psychological realism.
  • Thomas hardy (1840-1928), poet and novelist from Great Britain, considered a cultivator and surpasser of naturalism in his country.
  • Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (1867-1928), Spanish writer, journalist and politician, internationally renowned and militant on the left.
  • Benito Pérez Galdós (1843-1920), Spanish novelist, playwright, chronicler and politician, considered one of the greatest representatives of 19th century Spanish realism.

Naturalism and realism

Realism as naturalism they had in common that proposed for art an objective vision of society, opposed to the values ​​of romanticism. However, there were significant differences between one and the other.

Usually, realism expressed the moral values ​​of the bourgeoisie of the time, and his vision tended to extol the “good” aspects of society and to a certain pedagogical intention. The ugly, the vulgar, the violent of the human being were denounced by the realistic novel as evils of society.

Instead, naturalism was an amoral proposition, which did not distinguish between the ugly and the beautiful, since it understood humanity as something subject to biological and social laws beyond its control. Thus, where the realistic view could be sobering or moralistic, the naturalistic view was pessimistic and indifferent.

Naturalism in philosophy

In the realm of philosophy, the term naturalism refers to a perspective of the world that assumes it, in its totality, as something natural. That is, all the events that occur in the universe and the living beings that populate it are the result of natural laws themselves and, therefore all the nature of the universe is knowable (understandable, describable) through natural sciences.

It is a school of thought related to materialism, but far more far-reaching in perspective. It had its peak between the 1930s and 1940s, mostly among American philosophers such as John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, and Sidney Hook.