The reception of Frank Norris’s The Octopus demonstrates that American literary naturalism played a relatively minor role in the book’s reception. Instead, the reviews were generally split between magazine reviewers who emphasized a proto-modernist aesthetic that prefigured twentieth-century academic readings of the novel, and newspaper reviewers who saw the book as a purpose novel, a nineteenth-century genre that attempted to use the form of the novel to provoke social change. The divide between these two reading formations, as well as the fact that a shift in generic perspective produces such a drastically different reading of a text as canonically naturalist as The Octopus, indicates the ways an overemphasis on naturalism as a critical lens can distort our understanding of the turn-of-the-century literary landscape.


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pp. 197-234
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