The Truth of Realism
A Reassessment of the German Novel 1830-1900

John Walker

Legenda (General Series)


6 July 2011  •  224pp

ISBN: 978-1-906540-90-6 (hardback)  •  RRP £80, $110, €95

ISBN: 978-1-351193-31-3 (Taylor & Francis ebook)


In his new book, Walker offers a radical reassessment of the German realist novel in the nineteenth century. Especially in the English-speaking world, German narrative realism has persistently been interpreted as the literary expression of an ‘ideology of the aesthetic’. The German realist novel is alleged to reflect philosophical idealism: to reject the ‘prose’ of modern society in favour of the ‘poetry’ of the inner aesthetic life. This book challenges that received view. Walker argues that German narrative realism should be read not only in relation to, but in crucial respects against, the dominant philosophical idiom of nineteenth century Germany. German narrative realism often functions as a critique of the idea and ideology of inwardness in nineteenth century German culture. To understand this, the author argues, we must reread German realist novels above all as narratives, not as the supposed reflection of philosophical categories. The core of the book is therefore the close reading of eight of the best known realist novels in German by Keller, Raabe and Fontane. This reading shows how the German realist novel, far from transposing the assumptions of aesthetic idealism into narrative form, exposes the real consequences of those assumptions in the culture and society of its time.

John Walker is Senior Lecturer in German at Birkbeck College, London, where he served as Head of the School of Languages, Linguistics and Culture from 2006-2009. He was visiting professor at the University of Indiana at Bloomington in 2010, and is the author of The Truth of Realism: A Reassessment of the German Novel 1830-1900 (Legenda, 2011).


  • ‘An ambitious contribution to a revaluation of German realism that will have to be weighed and taken into account in any further treatment of the topic.’ — Jeffrey L. Sammons, Monatshefte 104.1, 2012, 130-33
  • ‘This volume offers a new approach to German Realism and contributes to research that establishes a reading of German Realist literature as in no ways inferior to other European Realist traditions, which has been the dominant viewpoint for decades.’ — unsigned notice, Forum for Modern Language Studies 49.2, 2013, 227
  • ‘Cultural studies, systems theory, postcolonial studies, gender studies, media history, and a number of other more recent approaches have given new impetus to research into nineteenth-century Realism and initiated a reassessment of German Realism within the overarching European development from Romanticism to Modernism. Walker’s study of a small number of selected novels by Keller, Raabe, and Fontane makes an interesting contribution to this reassessment by arguing that ‘the distinguishing capacity of German narrative realism, and the source of that realism’s unique contribution to the European tradition’ is the critique of internalized ideology.’ — Dirk Göttsche, Modern Language Review 109.3, July 2014, 847-48 (full text online)

Bibliography entry:

Walker, John, The Truth of Realism: A Reassessment of the German Novel 1830-1900 (Cambridge: Legenda, 2011)

First footnote reference: 35 John Walker, The Truth of Realism: A Reassessment of the German Novel 1830-1900 (Cambridge: Legenda, 2011), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Walker, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Walker, John. 2011. The Truth of Realism: A Reassessment of the German Novel 1830-1900 (Cambridge: Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Walker 2011: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Walker 2011: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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