D. H. Lawrence takes issue with ‘realism,’ because it gets in the way of the sense of tragedy. The great sense of tragedy cannot be fairly portrayed if the characters are low, vulgar, and of no high value. In other words, little characters cannot be heroic; a novelist can only make heroic characters out of princes, kings—people of elevated rank in society.
The great tragic soul of Shakespeare borrows the bodies of kings and princes—not out of snobbism, but out of natural affinity.
... Most books that live, live in spite of the author's laying it on thick. Think of Wuthering Heights. It is quite as impossible to an Italian as even I Malavoglia is to us. But it is a great book.
The trouble with realism—and Verga was a realist—is that the writer, when he is a truly exceptional man like Flaubert or like Verga, tries to read his own sense of tragedy into people much smaller than himself.
I think it is a final criticism against Madame Bovary that people such as Emma Bovary and her husband Charles simply are too insignificant to carry the full weight of Gustave Flaubert's sense of tragedy. Emma and Charles Bovary are a couple of little people. Gustave Flaubert is not a little person. But, because he is a realist and does not believe in 'heroes,’, Flaubert insists on pouring his own deep and bitter tragic consciousness into the little skins of the country doctor and his uneasy wife. The result is a discrepancy. Madame Bovary is a great book and a very wonderful picture of life. But we cannot help resenting the fact that the great tragic soul of Gustave Flaubert is, so to speak, given only the rather commonplace bodies of Emma and Charles Bovary. There's a misfit. And to get over the misfit you have to let in all sorts of seams of pity. Seams of pity which won't be hidden.
The great tragic soul of Shakespeare borrows the bodies of kings and princes—not out of snobbism, but out of natural affinity. You can't put a great soul into a commonplace person. Commonplace persons have commonplace souls. Not all the noble sympathy of Flaubert or Verga for Bovarys and Malavoglias can prevent the said Bovarys and Malavoglias from being commonplace persons. They were chosen because they were commonplace and not heroic. The authors insisted on the treasure of the humble. But they had to lend the humble by far the best part of their own treasure, before the said humble could show any treasure at all.
D. H. Lawrence. 'Giovanni Verga'