Tag Archives: Naturalism

Norris’s Naturalism (303)

This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote a long time ago. You may find it useful in thinking about VATB, but it’s not required reading.

Frank Norris and the Naturalist Romance

Norris advertised his work as a hybrid of two overlapping and loosely construed modes of American fiction. The American novel would become true to its national-cultural context when realism’s concern with mimetic accuracy fused with romance’s search for the deeper human truths residing beneath social surfaces. As he indicated in several oft-cited short essays, Emile Zola modeled this synthesis– though significantly Norris drew inspiration from Zola’s novels rather than criticism such as “The Experimental Novel.” In his seldom neglected aesthetic statement, “A Plea for Romantic Fiction,” Norris nominates Zola as “the very head of the Romanticists” (216), an office he elevates well above the station of writers of “borrowed, faked, pilfered romanticisms” (“An American School of Fiction?” 196).  The “mere sentimentalism” of the former, he asserts, their implicitly dishonest (and effeminate) literary domesticity, has been misidentified with romance proper (213). A genre with profound cultural– even racio-civilizational– significance, Norris argues, romance has been travestied, transformed into “a conjurer’s trick-box” stuffed with “flimsy quackeries, tins and claptraps” intended merely “to amuse, and relying on deception” (214). In a gesture of repudiation comprehending both popular-historical romances and fictions propagating “false views of life,” Norris clears the ground for American literature not in order to claim its autochthonous origins but on the contrary to execute an inheritance (“Responsibilities of the Novelist” 11). 

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Naturalism (220)

Through this objective study of human beings, naturalistic writers believed that the laws behind the forces that govern human lives might be studied and understood. Naturalistic writers thus used a version of the scientific method to write their novels; they studied human beings governed by their instincts and passions as well as the ways in which the characters’ lives were governed by forces of heredity and environment. Although they used the techniques of accumulating detail pioneered by the realists, the naturalists thus had a specific object in mind when they chose the segment of reality that they wished to convey.

https://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/natural.htm