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In 1899 Frederic Taber Cooper contributed an article on the works of the novelistFrankNorristoTheBookman .1 Printedonthefirstpageofthearticlewasa pictureofNorris,areproductionofapaintingbyNorris’sfriendErnestPeixotto. A simple portrait, the painting portrays a young, solemn—though not overly serious—Norris in dress coat and collar,sitting in a dark chair and resting one hand against his chin.The angle of his head accents Norris’s prematurely gray hair. The title of the article appears underneath the picture in capital letters: “FRANK NORRIS, REALIST.” The article makes the striking assertion of thetitlealittlelessbold.CooperfindsNorris’sworkpuzzling.Ontheonehand, Norrisis“frankly,brutallyrealistic,”andyet,“paradoxicalasitmayseem,hehas anobstinateandoftenexasperatingveinofromanticismrunningthroughallhis work.”TheconclusionCoopercomestoisthatNorrisisarealistwho,attimes, perversely succumbs to romanticism. According to Cooper, romanticism is Norris’s “pet failing,”his “besetting sin.” Cooper’s difficulty assessing the literary creed governing Norris’s fiction isn’t simply a matter of one critic’s confusion or one novelist’s literary failure . On the contrary, the literary incongruities discussed by Cooper strike right to the heart of late-nineteenth-century American literature. Norris’s work is not only the product of a young author’s powerful imagination,it is also the product of his age,and the puzzling character of Norris’s fiction (as well as the fiction of contemporaries such as Jack London,Stephen Crane, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, and Harold Frederic) reflects the shaping influence of a whole century of competing literary creeds, theories, manifestos , and critical opinions. These authors grew up in an America ripe with incongruities.2 New discoveriesinscienceandnaturalhistoryconflictedwithlong -standingreligious 1 Defining American Literary Naturalism 2 Defining American Literary Naturalism tradition.Industryandagricultureunderwentunparalleledeconomicexpansion and growth,but sometimes through the exploitation of the democratic and capitalistic values that such growth seemed to justify. It was not only a time of labor unrest,but also a time in which real wages grew and the cost of living went down. In 1886, when Chopin was thirty-five; Frederic, thirty; Wharton, twenty-four; Norris, sixteen; Crane, fifteen; and London, ten, agriculture in the Midwest was devastated by drought, there were more strikes than in any other single year in the nineteenth century,anti-Chinese riots broke out in Seattle, anarchists and police collided in Chicago’s Haymarket Square riot,and Geronimo’s capture in Arizona marked the end of the last major Indian war. In that same year, however, technology rolled on: important discoveries in metallurgy made it possible to extract aluminum from ore,and the alternating current system of electricity for commercial applications was introduced by George Westinghouse; meanwhile, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28 in New York Harbor. Although the “Gilded Age” was a time of political malaise, materialism, and commercialism, it was also a time of technological advancement and economic growth,through which the United States began to move toward center stage in the world theatre. A symbol of the complexities in American societymightbefoundintheAmericancity,balancingnewlyraisedskyscrapers against burgeoning slums. In many respects Norris, London, and Crane grew up in a scientific age. The intellectual imagination in the latter half of the nineteenth century was captivated by new scientific theories and philosophies from Charles Darwin , Herbert Spencer, John Fiske, William Graham Sumner, Thomas Huxley, Karl Marx, Charles Lyell, and Arthur Schopenhauer. One rarely opened an issue of the North American Review or the Forum without encountering long discussions of “Social Progress and Race Degeneration,” “The Progress from Brute to Man,”“Morality and Environment,”“Heredity and Environment,” “How Evolution Evolves,” “Natural Selection, Social Selection, and Heredity,” and virtually any imaginable combination of the above.3 Collectively, these scientific theories marked the coming-of-age of the “naturalistic” shift in scientific thought that had begun with the Enlightenment .Thesescientificandphilosophicaltheoriesincreasinglysought to explain humankind and the natural world through reference to natural phenomena and physical laws.In this respect,at least at the academic level, Defining American Literary Naturalism 3 the age of Norris, London, and Crane was a naturalistic age. Naturalistic fiction was certainly a product of this age. Still, the question for students of late-nineteenth-century American literature is what do we mean when we refer to Norris, London, Crane, and company as literary naturalists? Literary naturalism is difficult to define.Variously defined over the years, literary naturalism is usually identified as generally dire in outlook, deterministic in philosophy,and aesthetically aligned with literary realism.Typically , such definitions are based on the theoretical writings of Émile Zola. As influential as Zola was, however, he was not the only critic in the nineteenth century who tried to define literary naturalism.Adding to the confusion experienced by the contemporary student of naturalism...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780817390891
Related ISBN
9780817313852
MARC Record
OCLC
1016777872
Pages
238
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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