What Does Verisimilitude Mean

What Does Verisimilitude Mean

Verisimilitude is the quality of seeming true or of having the appearance of being real. This term comes from Latin. ‘Verum’ means truth and ‘similis’ means similar. In literature, verisimilitude refers to the likeness of truth or the resemblance of fictitious work to the reality. The concept of verisimilitude implies that the events in the fiction must be convincing and acceptable to the readers. This happens when the readers’ own experience or knowledge is reflected by the events of the novel.

The concept of verisimilitude originates from Platonic and Aristotelian theory of mimesis. According to this theory, literature should always reflect nature; even the most idealized characters should possess recognizable human qualities. The language philosopher Steve Neale categorizes verisimilitude into two types: cultural verisimilitude and generic verisimilitude. Cultural verisimilitude is the plausibility of the fictional work within the cultural and historical context of the real world whereas the generic verisimilitude is the plausibility of a fictional work within the boundaries of its own genres.

Verisimilitude in Fantasy

Since verisimilitude is the resemblance to reality, you might have assumed that verisimilitude is not present in science fiction or tales of the supernatural. But this is not strictly true. Even a fantasy must be based on reality. The events of a fantasy fiction must be plausible to the extent that that readers think them to be believable or convincing. They should be able to relate these events to their real life experiences to a certain extent. 

This leads to the idea of suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief, a phrase coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. According to this idea, authors could infuse a human interest and a semblance of truth into a fantastic tale so that the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative. Verisimilitude entices the readers to willingly suspend disbelief and accept improbable actions as true within the framework of the narrative.

Examples of Verisimilitude in Literature

Authors use several methods to infuse verisimilitude into their work. Some of these methods include using colloquial language, referring to the actual historical and political events, using real settings and backgrounds, and using characters with recognizable, and ‘ordinary’ human traits. Given below are some examples of these methods.

Mark Twain achieves verisimilitude by portraying characters who use the dialect and vernacular speech of the American South. This is especially noticeable in the characters of Huckleberry Finn.

What Does Verisimilitude Mean

“Doan’ hurt me—don’t! I hain’t ever done no harm to a ghos’. I alwuz liked dead people, en done all I could for ’em. You go en git in de river agin, whah you b’longs, en doan’ do nuffn to Ole Jim, ‘at ‘uz awluz yo’ fren’.”

“Sometimes you gwyne to git hurt, en sometimes you gwyne to git sick; but every time you’s gwyne to git well agin.”

“Stars and shadows ain’t good to see by.” 

If we look at fantasy novels such as Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and Rowling’s Harry Potter, you’ll notice that characters are infused with human qualities such as jealousy, pride, greed, kindness, anger, etc. and the relationships between character are also very human like. Therefore, we can dub these work as a mixture of fantasy and reality.

Verisimilitude – Summary

  • Verisimilitude is the resemblance of fictitious work to the reality.
  • Verisimilitude originates from Platonic and Aristotelian theory of mimesis.
  • Verisimilitude leads to willing suspension of disbelief.
  • Even fantasy is rooted in reality.

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