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  • Naturalism in American Fiction:A Status Report
  • Don Graham (bio)
Don Graham

Don Graham, Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas, is the author of The Fiction of Frank Norris: The Aesthetic Context (1978); co-editor, with William T. Pilkington, of Western Movies (1979); and editor of Critical Essays on Frank Norris (1980).


1. George Perkins, "Introduction: The Form and Content of American Realism" in Realistic American Short Fiction, ed. George Perkins (Glenview: Scott, Foresman, 1972), p. 12; Chester Eisinger, Fiction of the Forties (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1963), p. 62; Lilian Furst and Peter N. Skrine, Naturalism (London: Methuen & Co., 1971), p. 24.

2. "Dreiser and the Naturalistic Heresy," VQR, 34 (1958), 116.

3. What Was Naturalism? Materials for an Answer, ed. Edward Stone (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1959).

4. Allan J. Wagenheim, "The Uses and Abuses of Naturalism," DQ, 5 (1970), 73.

5. American Literature, 52 (1980), 134.

6. Graff, p. 134.

7. A third notable novel published in 1979 was William Styron's Sophie's Choice, worth mentioning in this context because of the highly successful way it mediates between an enclosed system of references (to Styron's own career) and a completely external subject, the holocaust material.

8. (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota, 1956).

9. Yoshinobu Hakutani and Lewis Fried, eds., American Literary Naturalism: A Reassessment (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1975). In addition, two very recent studies add almost nothing to the debate about naturalism. Especially reductive is Perry D. Westbrook's Free Will and Determinism in American Literature (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1979), which simply repeats tired classroom cliches about the depressing qualities of naturalism's scientific biases. Leo Braudy's "Realists, Naturalists, and Novelists of Manners" (in Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing, ed. Daniel Hoffman [Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1979]), while not offering clear definitions or discriminations among the types of fiction being surveyed, still has useful points to make about the naturalist presumption of "interpretive authority" and how this attitude affects the narrative stance (p. 113).

10. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1966). In a later essay, "American Literary Naturalism: The Example of Dreiser," SAF, 5 (1977), 51-63, Pizer argues that appreciation of Dreiser depends upon a recognition of the contribution made by naturalism to his imagination. Pizer also explores reasons for the negative view of naturalism held by many critics, reasons that are similar to views offered in the present essay: dislike of pessimism; hostility to left-wing politics of the Thirties naturalists; and a preference for complex organic-romantic fiction (pp. 52-53).

11. For Pizer's other essays on contemporary features of naturalism, see "Nineteenth-Century American Naturalism: An Approach Through Form," Forum, 13 (1976), 43-46; and "American Literary Naturalism and the Humanistic Tradition," Andrew W. Mellon Lectures, Spring, 1978 (Tulane Univ.), 1-18. For helpful essays on two recent naturalists, see Don Graham, "Naturalism and the Revolutionary Imperative: Sol Yurick's The Warriors," Critique, 18 (1976), 119-28; and Steven Barza, "Joyce Carol Oates: Naturalism and the Aberrant Response," SAF, 7 (1979), 141-51.

12. The Beginnings of Critical Realism in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1930), pp. 323-24.

13. George J. Becker, "Modern Realism as a Literary Movement" in Documents of Modern Literary Realism, ed. George J. Becker (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1963), p. 35. For similar definitions, see Oscar Cargill, Intellectual America: Ideas on the March (New York: Macmillan, 1941), p. 13; and Lars Ahnebrink, The Beginnings of Naturalism in American Fiction (New York: Russell & Russell, 1961 [1950]), p. vi. The best survey of meanings of naturalism is found in Furst and Skrine, Naturalism, pp. 1-5.

14. "Some Observations on Naturalism, So Called, in Fiction," Antioch Review, 10 (1950), 247.

15. Intellectual America, p. 175. For an even more extraordinary criticism of naturalism, see Harry Hartwick, The Foreground of American Fiction (New York: American Book Co., 1934). Hartwick calls naturalism the "philosophy of laissez faire," and laissez faire is what is wrong with the modern world. Briefly, laissez faire (and naturalism) means: acceptance of science, following Nature as model, and denial of ethics.

16. American Literary Naturalism, A Divided Stream, p. 298.

17. The American Novel and Its Tradition...


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