Avant-garde, Abstract, Experimental

Expressionism, Existentialism, Realism, Theatre of the Absurd, Dada and More

In the world of the arts, there are "isms" too numerous to mention, and even more, probably in modern times. For this index, I will focus on works that still give one a jolt of "off-the-wall," even if they were written one hundred years ago. Let me give some examples in the field of music, since that was my profession for a great portion of my adult life: Beethoven's music seemed very innovative in his time, yet to our ears, it sounds very conventional. However, even today, the music of Carlo Gesualdo (1560-1613) sounds bizarre. I will attempt to transfer that same idea to literature. For instance, playwright Eugene O'Neill, in his time, was known for incorporating his innovations of "realism" into his plays—script written in the vernacular, and characters whose lives were on the fringe of society, along with other well-known playwrights such as Anton Chekov, Henrik Ibsen, and August Strindberg. Today, these innovations seem less out of the ordinary, yet if it were not for these writers, new styles may not have been introduced. So, as usual, deciding what to include here will be a challenge and subject to change.

And, unlike most of the other indices, I will also include the author's name. I also may include only certain works by an author that truly have retained their fresh quality. I will attempt to categorize these works into their proper "ism." Some of them were suggested by research, particularly through Wikipedia, and others are my own perceptions. Of course, they are all "Experimental," but for the purposes of this index, I will specifically include that heading with Avant-garde and Abstract.

Prager Street


"An international movement in art during the early twentieth-century rejecting conventions and intending to shock." (Oxford American Dictionary)


The Dream Life of Balso Snell (Nathaniel West)


"Expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas. Expressionist artists sought to express meaning or emotional experience rather than physical reality." (Wikipedia)
"In literature, expressionism is often considered a revolt against realism and naturalism, seeking to achieve a psychological or spiritual reality rather than record external events in logical sequence." (Infoplease.com)

While today the works of Swedish playwright and author August Strindberg don't seem that unconventional, in his time, he was considered very innovative, so therefore I have included his works.

Books with CD-ROM

120 Great Expressionist Masterworks


The Father (August Strindberg)
Miss Julie (August Strindberg)
Three Great Plays: The Emperor Jones, Anna Christie and The Hairy Ape (Eugene O'Neill)

Realism, Naturalism

"Literary realism is the trend, beginning with mid nineteenth-century French literature and extending to late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century authors, toward depictions of contemporary life and society as it was, or is. In the spirit of general "realism," realist authors opted for depictions of everyday and banal activities and experiences, instead of a romanticized or similarly stylized presentation. . . Naturalism is often regarded as an offshoot of realism." (Wikipedia)

Many authors fall into this category, so I will name just a few, and as I continue to review more books, the list will expand. For starters, there is Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Theodore Dreiser, Leo Tolstoy, Gustave Flaubert, and Émile Zola, and the playwrights Eugene O'Neill, Henrik Ibsen, and Anton Chekov. The inclusion of some of these titles may be controversial.


Dead Souls (Nikolai Gogol)
Poor Folk (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson)


Beyond the Horizon (Eugene O'Neill)
The Lower Depths (Maxim Gorky)
The Playboy of the Western World and Riders to the Sea (John Millington Synge) (controversial)
Three Great Plays: The Emperor Jones, Anna Christie and The Hairy Ape (Eugene O'Neill)

Collections With at Least One Realist/Naturalist Story

The Egg and Other Stories (Sherwood Anderson)
The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Short Stories (Leo Tolstoy)
The Open Boat and Other Stories (Stephen Crane)
Short Stories (Theodore Dreiser)
The Unknown Masterpiece and Other Stories (Honoré de Balzac)
A White Heron and Other Stories (Sarah Orne Jewett) (controversial)
White Nights and Other Stories (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

The Village of Alt-Sallenthin

Theatre of the Absurd

"The Theatre of the Absurd (French: Théâtre de l'Absurde) is a designation for particular plays of absurdist fiction written by a number of primarily European playwrights in the late 1950s, as well as one for the style of theatre which has evolved from their work. Their work expressed the belief that human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence." (Wikipedia)


Ubu Roi (Alfred Jarry)


"A central proposition of Existentialism is that existence precedes essence, which means that the most important consideration for individuals is the fact that they are an individual—an independently acting and responsible, conscious being ("existence")—rather than what labels, roles, stereotypes, definitions, or other preconceived categories the individual fits ("essence"). The actual life of the individual is what constitutes what could be called their "true essence" instead of there being an arbitrarily attributed essence others use to define them. Thus, human beings, through their own consciousness, create their own values and determine a meaning to their life." (Wikipedia)

The foremost authors of this style are Søren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jean-Paul Sartre.


The Idiot (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
Notes From the Underground (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)


No Exit and Three Other Plays: Dirty Hands, The Flies, The Respectful Prostitute (Jean-Paul Sartre)

Avant-garde, Abstract, Experimental

This is a rather ambiguous category that includes your basic totally off-the-wall variety of style. They were strange in their time, and still are.


The Double (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
The Idiot (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
Jacob's Room (Virginia Woolf)
Three Lives (Gertrude Stein)


6 Characters in Search of an Author (Luigi Pirandello)
Right You Are, If You Think You (Luigi Pirandello)


Tender Buttons (Gertrude Stein) (Cubism)

Collections With at Least One Avant-garde Story

Monday or Tuesday: Eight Stories (Virginia Woolf)
The Oil Jar and Other Stories (Luigi Pirandello)
Selected Short Stories (D.H. Lawrence)

The Red Christ


I don't know that there was truly a literary movement called Impressionism, but Wikipedia suggests that it was a style that relied on associations. I am going to be a bit more broad in my definition. For instance, Jacob's Room reminds me of bold colors splashed on a canvas with the suggestion of a scene. Wikipedia actually does describe The Good Soldier as Impressionistic.

Please note: I am not including examples of artworks in the Impressionistic style in this index.


The Good Soldier (Ford Madox Ford)
Jacob's Room (Virginia Woolf)


A twentieth-century movement in art and literature that seeks to express what is in the subconscious mind by depicting objects and events as seen in dreams, etc..
(Oxford Ameican Dictionary)


The Double (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

Collections With at Least One Surreal Story

Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque (Joyce Carol Oates)

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