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R I C H A R D A L L A N DAV ISO N Seattle University An Undiscovered Early Review of Norris’ Octopus On April 6, 1901 Wallace Rice1 published in the Chicago American what may be the earliest review of The Octopus.2 The review has never been reprinted nor, to my knowledge, has it ever been referred to before in print by Norris scholars. Mr. Rice’s comments occur in the same literary supplement in which Norris was to publish thirteen Weekly Letters beginning 25 May, 1901.3 Rice’s remarks are of particular interest because they raise criticisms that have been echoed from the earliest of Norris’ critics to many of the most recent ones. Rice’s review is also, along with B. O. Flower’s in The Arena (May, 1902), among the most extensive early critical treatments of what is generally regarded as Norris’ greatest novel. The review embodies typical, late nineteenth-century moral objections as Rice applauds any attempt at poetic justice in fiction, however alien such justice may be to actual life, and condemns Shelgrim’s rationalizations for the railroad because they seem to convert Presley to a belief in a “conscienceless world.” Rice is the first of many critics who mis­ takenly view the poet as Norris’ mouthpiece and fail to see Norris’ 1Mr. Wallace Rice (1859-1939) was a lawyer, author and lecturer who wrote for various American newspapers and magazines in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 2Most of the significant reviews of The Octopus are listed in Frank Norris: A Bibli­ ography, compiled by Kenneth A. Lohf and Eugene P. Sheehy and published by the Talisman Press, Los Gatos, California, in 1959. The Octopus was published 30 March, 1901. aMr. Donald Pizer published six of Norris' Weekly Letters in his The Literary Criticism of Frank Norris, Austin, Texas, 1964. I published the remaining seven in American Literary Realism 1870-1910, Vol. 3, Summer, 1968. 148 Western American Literature irony in Shelgrim’s speech. He is the first to chastise Norris for his supposedly “vain repetitions” in The Octopus and for the novel’s seemingly “misshapen” structure. Many critics have also virtually subscribed to Rice’s belief that the Vanamee and Angele episode “has no possible relevance in the novel.” The review does acknowledge Norris’ verbal power and his high moral purpose, however “self-defeated” the reviewer feels such a purpose to be within the novel’s context. Rice’s suggestion of an analogue to The Octopus in Merwin and Webster’s The Short Line War4 may also provide still another source that in­ fluenced Norris during the many months spent in researching and writing the intricacies of the epic struggle between the farmers and railroad owners. In editing Rice’s review I have remained faithful to the text in the Chicago American. Chicago American Literary and Art Review NORRIS’ “THE OCTOPUS.” By Wallace Rice.5 Frank Norris has written a novel, as fascinating, as repellent, as multifarious, as misshapen as the marine monster from which it gains its name of “The Octopus” (Doubleday, Page & : Co.) . Suf­ ficiently absorbing to hold the reader with something of the Wed­ ding Guest’s insistence, once it is taken up, it leaves him with pre­ cisely the opposite impression with which Coleridge’s masterpiece is laid down. It is wonderfully clever, and only where the author permits himself vain repetitions does its interest flag; but its phi­ losophy is hideous, and the book is as certainly at war with itself as its characters are with one another. To its composition every crime lends its bad interest—rape, murder, train robbing, bribery, corruption in politics, prostitution, inordinate greed, lust for gold and lust for blood. In his characters, for the most part, vice is re­ buked and morality upheld. To those who depart from the accepted standard, romantic justice, as unusual in life as it becomes cus­ tomary here, is meted out with fine particularity. The bad man 4This historical novel by Samuel Merwin (1874-1936) and Henry Kitchell Webster (1875-1932), dealing with an attempt by the C. & S. C. Railway to absorb the M. & T. short line, was published by the MacMillan Company in 1899...


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