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Fighting Words

Polemics and Social Change in Literary Naturalism

Ira Wells

Publication Year: 2013

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Editorial Board, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Many of the arguments that follow will attempt, in one way or another, to extricate the American naturalists from the dense web of “historical determinism” that they themselves spun. Any merit granted to these arguments, however, could never be extricated from their own historical context. ...

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Naturalism: A Polemical Introduction

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pp. 1-12

“There are many strong arguments for keeping creative writers out of politics,” exclaimed V. S. Pritchett in 1938, “and Mr. George Orwell is one of them” (qtd. in Atkins 51). Today, when literary critics are increasingly committed to demonstrating the political salience of their scholarship—to bolstering the ties between literary-critical praxis ...

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Chapter 1: An Education

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pp. 13-33

One day in the spring of 1927, a scrawny, nineteen-year-old employee of the American Optical Company slipped away during his lunch break to visit the Memphis Public Library. Richard Wright had never before attempted to check out a library book for himself—he had, in his capacity as “messenger boy,” occasionally fetched reading material for others ...

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Chapter 2: The Polemical Nature of Naturalism in America

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pp. 34-65

From the moment they were first uttered by English speakers in the seventeenth century, the words “naturalism” and “naturalist” have emerged from snarling lips. In 1642, the English cleric Richard Montagu warns his readers of the “atheists or men . . . who will admit of nothing but Morality, but Naturalismes, and humane reason.” ...

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Chapter 3: Against the Grain: Ecology, Environmentalism, and Frank Norris’s The Octopus

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pp. 66-98

Every generation, it is sometimes observed, gets the artists it deserves. Something similar might be said about nature. Today, we seem to exist in a profoundly neurotic natural environment.1 Twenty-first-century climatologists and environmental activists have successfully created an image of the climate system as fragile, perishable, twitchy. ...

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Chapter 4: Crimes of Art and Nature: An American Tragedy and the Problem of Abortion

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pp. 99-126

In April of 1927, Donald Friede, a senior vice president at Horace Liveright’s publishing firm in New York, was dispatched to Boston on a polemical errand. Friede was going to have himself arrested for selling a costly, two-volume, thousand-page naturalistic novel to an officer of the law. ...

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Chapter 5: “What I Killed for, I Am” : Domestic Terror in Richard Wright’s America

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pp. 127-152

In 1937, as Richard Wright was undertaking what would become his first published novel, a highly polemical fiction about a black boy driven to murder by the profoundly oppressive social conditions in the slums of Chicago, the international community was coming to terms with a new menace. ...

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pp. 153-158

Midway through a 2001 French television documentary on Norman Mailer, an unseen interviewer pushes the author to elaborate on the 1960 incident in which he stabbed his second wife, Adele Morales.1 The seventy-eight-year-old Mailer, squirming perceptibly in his seat, says something about how the incident revealed to him that he lacked a “clear path through to philosophy.” ...


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pp. 159-170

Works Consulted

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pp. 171-186


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pp. 187-193

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386771
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317997

Publication Year: 2013