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9. Naturalism: Turn-of-the-Century Modernism

Donna Campbell

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics modernism, novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00012.x


Writing in The Wave , a weekly travel and culture magazine, in June 1896, the young San Francisco writer Frank Norris sought to explain a new form of literature – naturalism – to a well-to-do audience accustomed to lighter fare. “The naturalist takes no note of common people, common in so far as their interests, their lives, and the things that occur in them are common, are ordinary,” he writes in “Zola as a Romantic Writer.” “Terrible things must happen to the characters of the naturalistic tale. They must be twisted from the ordinary, wrenched out from the quiet, uneventful round of every-day life, and flung into the throes of a vast and terrible drama that works itself out in unleashed passions, in blood, and in sudden death” ( Norris 1986e : 1107). “Zola as a Romantic Writer” was not the first of Norris's forays into the subject; he had earlier that month reviewed Zola's novel Rome , and the second in his series of generally light courtship sketches called “Man Proposes” portrayed the Zolaesque romance of a coal-heaver and a washerwoman. Accustomed to Norris's usual writing for the magazine, which often ran to accounts of polo matches, interviews with actresses, and light, facetious short stories, readers of The Wave may have been less receptive to his earnest exposition of the principles of naturalism and the “vast and terrible drama” it portrayed. Yet the fact that Norris ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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