Art, Vision, and Nineteenth-Century Realist Drama: Acts of Seeing, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Art, Vision, and Nineteenth-Century Realist Drama

Acts of Seeing, 1st Edition

By Amy Holzapfel


228 pages | 39 B/W Illus.

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Realism in theatre is traditionally defined as a mere seed of modernism, a crude attempt to reproduce an exact copy of reality on stage. Art, Vision & Nineteenth-Century Realist Drama redefines realism as a complex and under-examined form of visual modernism, one that positioned theatre at the crux of the encounter between consciousness and the visible world. Tracing a historical continuum of "acts of seeing" on the realist stage, Holzapfel demonstrates how theatre participated in modernity’s aggressive interrogation of vision’s residence in the human body. New findings by scientists and philosophers—such as Diderot, Goethe, Müller, Helmholtz, and Galton—exposed how the visible world is experienced and framed by the unstable relativism of the physiological body rather than the fixed idealism of the mind. Realist artists across media paradoxically embraced this paradigm shift by focusing on the embodied observer. Drawing from extensive archival research, Holzapfel conducts close readings of iconic dramas and their productions—including Scribe’s The Glass of Water, Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, Ibsen’s A Doll House, Strindberg’s The Father, and Hauptmann’s Before Sunrise—alongside analyses of artwork by major painters and photographers—such as Chardin, Nadar, Millais, Rejlander, and Liebermann. In a radical challenge to existing criticism, Holzapfel argues that realism in theatre was never the attempt to reproduce an exact copy of the seen world but rather the struggle to make visible the act of seeing.


"Holzapfel's new ways of seeing realism are interesting and add a valuable new layer to understanding of the dramatic form. Summing Up: Recommended." -- S. J. Blackstone, University of Victoria, CHOICE

"Grounding her impressive study of major realist playwrights in discussions of eighteenth and nineteenth-century scientific works on vision, painting trends, and early photography, Holzapfel argues that these playwrights "struggled to reveal . . . that seeing—and, by extension, knowing—are relative processes governed by the forces of a body moving in space and time," presenting readers with a thought-provoking book that combines her compelling arguments with reproductions of paintings and photographs that reveal connections between the visual arts and theatre." --Nevena Stojanovic, West Virginia University, Theatre Journal

Table of Contents

Introduction: Acts of Seeing 1. Scribe’s Actions of Seeing 2. Zola’s Tunnel Vision 3. Ibsen’s Ocular Realism 4. Strindberg’s Composites 5. Hauptmann’s Lived Perspective Conclusion: Seeing Realism

About the Author

Amy Holzapfel is Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre at Williams College, US.

About the Series

Routledge Advances in Theatre & Performance Studies

This series is our home for cutting-edge, upper-level scholarly studies and edited collections. Considering theatre and performance alongside topics such as religion, politics, gender, race, ecology, and the avant-garde, titles are characterized by dynamic interventions into established subjects and innovative studies on emerging topics.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / Criticism & Theory
PERFORMING ARTS / Theater / General