Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(40) American Realists and the First Generation Naturalists: Parallels and Differences.

(M. Twain, W. D. Howells, H. James, J. London, S. Crane, F. Norris, and T. Dreiser).


R e a l i s m  a n d  N a t u r a l i s m

[See "Background for Topics 40 and 48..."]


M a r k  T w a i n

[see M. Twain under “39 M. Twain...”]


W i l l i a m  D e a n  H o w e l l s  ( 1 8 3 7 – 1 9 2 0 )

L i f e :

- b. in OH x but: lived in Boston (MA)

- his life resembles a Bildungsroman: a climber from a province makes his way upward to a social and professional acclaim <=> M. Twain

- apprenticed in a printing shop, worked for regional newsps

- became a campaign biographer for A. Lincoln >> an Am. consul in Venice during the Civil War

- acquainted with the Boston-Concord lit. circle incl. O. W. Holmes, J. R. Lowell, R. W. Emerson, H. D. Thoreau, and N. Hawthorne

- befriended with M. Twain and H. James

- later in life converted to a socialist (H.: socialism = the solution to the widening margin btw the rich x poor), anti-imperialist, and supporter of the suffragist movement

W o r k :

- a novelist, playwright, poet, author of travel books, and the ‘arbiter’ of Am. letters

- the foremost Am. critic and ed. from 1886 into early the 20th c.

- the chief ed. of The Atlantic Monthly

- supported the naturalists F. Norris and S. Crane

- recognised and declared the central importance of M. Twain and H. James

- the ‘Dean’ of Am. realism:

(a) claims the novel the most important instrument of realism

(b) consid. realism democratic, that is why potentially Am.

(c) demands the Am. realism optimistic and portraying the changing world

(d) rejects romanticised plots in favour of the details of everyday life of ordinary people

F i c t i o n :

- author of a number of realistic and moralistic novels

- records the details of everyday life with a photography-like fidelity

Their Wedding Journey (1878)

A Modern Instance (1882): the lawyer protagonist urges not to sneer at the common, ordinary, and everyday

The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885): the protagonist’s social and professional rise = his moral fall x his bankrupt = his moral victory

C r i t i c i s m :

Criticism and Fiction (1891), My Literary Passions (1895), My Mark Twain (1910)


H e n r y  J a m e s

[see J. under ‘41 Modernism…’]


J a c k  L o n d o n  ( 1 8 7 6 – 1 91 6 )

L i f e :

- an illegitimate child, took the name of his stepfather, an unsuccessful rancher

- received little formal education, quit school at 14

- underwent a period of heavy drinking, daring adventures, and odd jobs: an oyster pirate, cannery worker, and seaman

- interested in hoboism: a father figure for ‘on the road characters’ = the ‘vags’

- embraced socialism and tramped halfway across the country with a group of unemployed staging a protest march on Washington

- arrested for vagrancy >> began a ‘frantic pursuit of knowledge’

- enrolled at uni x but: left after a semester prospecting for gold in the Klondike > experiences and material for his writing

- enjoyed a pop. and financial success x but: his strenuous life, failing health, and shrinking fortune resulted in committing suicide

W o r k :

(a) Am. writer

(b) Naturalist writer

< C. Darwin > admired ruthless fight, power, strength, and adaptation x but: sympathised with the underdog

< K. Marx > embraced the ideas of utopian socialism x but: believed in an individual and racial superiority

< F. Nietzsche > worshipped the superman

< occultism, mysticism, and a search for the life force > interested in astrology, spiritualism, metempsychosis, and élan vital

< romanticism > preocc. with nature, individualism, and titanism

- a lifelong tension btw the Marxian desire for social justice x the Darwinian belief in the survival of the powerful

- the concept of nature as an elemental force to be reckoned with: the same for ideas

- a blunt style of thinking x but: a natural storyteller (<=> R. Kipling whom he admired), narrative energiser, and powerful reviver of ancient myth

The Son of Wolf (1900):

- his 1st coll. of short stories

“The Law of Life”:

- the tribal patriarch’s death:

(a) an illustr. of the law of life

(b) an examination of the psychological state of a dying individual

“To Build a Fire”:

- a plight of an individual x wilderness

- extremely reduced states of consciousness to reveal the ecstasy lying beyond the summit of life

People of the Abyss (1903):

- a novel based on his journalistic stay in London slums to gather material for a book on hoboism

- an indictment of capitalism and the class system x an embrace of socialism

The Sea-Wolf (1904):

- a ruthless and amoral captain = a superman of body and soul (<=> H. Melville’s captain Ahab)

- the physically rough and psychologically independent heroes of R. Kipling adapted to the Am. experience

The Call of the Wild (1903): a best-seller, an attempt to enter the consciousness of a dog

White Fang (1906): autobiog.

Martin Eden (1909): largely autobiog., a central document for the London scholar

John Barleycorn (1913)


S t e p h e n  C r a n e  ( 1 8 7 1 – 1 9 0 0 )

L i f e :

- a rebel against conventions:

(a) his bohemian life

(b) his life partner (mistress of one ‘of the better houses of ill fame’)

(c) his ‘muckraker’ work

- a newsp reporter in NY slums, a correspondent on often violent events in Mexico, the Am. West, Cuba, and Gr. > endowed his work with pessimism

- died of TBC in Ger.

W o r k :

(a) a realist x but: does he judge conventional society?

(b) a naturalist x but: does he analyse in a cool and matter-of-fact tone?

(c) an impressionist x but: does he imprint images on the readers’ minds for their own sake?

=> his ironic tone makes difficult to determine his motives

- conc.: war and oth. forms of physical and psychic violence

- an acute observer of psychological and social reality

F i c t i o n :

Maggie, A Girl of the Streets (1890):

- conc. with the plight of an individual in society = environmental determinism

- set in the Lower Manhattan Bowery tenement houses full of alcohol, fights, and violence

- Ir. immigrant characters:

(a) the lower class naive Maggie, her hypocritical mother and brother, and Pete: dialect E

(b) ‘sophisticated’ Nellie: marked by a different language

- the characters’ attempts to escape their environment, experience an upward mobility, and change their lives: M. gets the factory job, gets attached to Pete x P. gets attached to Nellie

- the characters’ failure due to social determination: M. given very little models to follow, fails to adapt, and dies x Jim follows the violent models of behaviour, succeeds to adapt, and survives

=> criticism of society’s problems of slums and tenement houses

- publ. on his own expense

- received little attention x but: W. D. Howells recognised his talent and became his mentor

The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War (1895):

- conc. with the education of a young man in the context of a struggle

- a story-type dominant from B. Franklin, through H. Melville, and E. Hemingway x but: a modernist approach to personal identity as complex and ambiguous

- a characteristically troublesome concl.: the young soldier’s certainty of having recognised the value of heroic action x the narrator’s doubts thereof

=> a masterpiece of impressionist lit.

- won him international reputation, success both in US and Eur., and a deep appreciation of H. James

George’s Mother (1896): a psychological account of the death-grip solicitude of a mother for her son

Active Service (1899): a furious attempt to earn money under worsening health conditions => rather weak

The O’Ruddy: unfinished

“The Open Boat” (1898):

- his own experience of surviving the sinking of a ship

- conc. with the physical, emotional, and intellectual responses of men under extreme pressure

- accompanies nature’s indifference to humanity’s fate with a tough-minded irony

“The Blue Hotel”

P o e t r y :

- original, spare, and unflinchingly honest

- experimental in form: poems without titles = ‘lines’

- unconventional in philos. outlook: the dark mood of his vision

- characteristic by irony (“Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind”) and cosmic irony (“A Man said to the universe” and “I walked in a desert”)

The Black Riders, and Other Lines (1895): his 1st coll., received unfavourably

War is Kind, and Other Poems (1899): his 2nd coll.


F r a n k  N o r r i s  ( 1 8 7 0 – 1 9 0 2)

- a naturalist and critical realist

< E. Zola > his early determination to portray life with a photography-like fidelity

< Social Darwinism > his conviction individuals must be sacrificed to the ongoing inevitable human progress

M a s t e r p i e c e s :

- the masterpieces he failed to publ. in the 1890s

McTeague (1899):

- an amateur San Francisco dentist experiences a sexual awakening and marries his patient x but: his wife becomes a greedy monster and he kills her in emotion

- attempts to escape from his guilt and dies in a desert

- the rather bombastic concl. contrib. to the success of a film version

- greed, lust, rage, and envy = no longer sins x but: inherited traits

=> M. = a victim of determinism by heredity

Vandover and the Brute (1914):

- a physical and mental decay of a man allowing for his brutish impulses to master him

P o p u l a r  F i c t i o n :

- pieces to satisfy pop. taste and win audience for his next achievement

Moran of the Lady Letty (1898): Moran = an ‘amazon’, comes to master the crew of her father’s ship after her his death

Blix (1899): a partly autobiog. love-story

A Man's Woman (1900)

‘ T h e  E p i c  o f  t h e  W h e a t ’ :

- the unfinished trilogy ‘The Epic of the Wheat’

The Octopus (1901):

- conc. with the production of grain

- based on an actual issue: CA wheat farmers x the Southern Pacific Railroad

- the author remains detached from the object of his study x but: incl. a symbolic incident – the wheat buries the entrepreneur who gained it by unsound methods when it is loaded by a machine on a ship

The Pit (1903):

- conc. with the commercial marketing of grain

- based on the speculation of the Chicago (IL) stock market

The Wolf:

- would have been conc. with the world-wide distribution of grain


T h e o d o r e  D r e i s e r  ( 1 8 7 1 – 1 9 4 5 )

L i f e :

- son of Ger. immigrants: his father a relig. fanatic, his mother kind but illiterate

- grew up poor and unhappy

- sought journalism as an escape from his childhood

- worked with regional newsps >> NY >> Chicago

W o r k :

- associated with the Chicago School of Realism and with the C. Renaissance

< his own difficult childhood and knowledge of the street life

< the contemp. figures whose stories were played out in the newsps

< C. Darwin’s and T. Huxley’s evolutionary theories of scientific and social determinism

- conc. with the indifferent universe x but: sympathetic to his characters

=> made money, sex, and power the major themes of the 20th c. lit.

Sister Carrie (1900):

- based on the elopement of one of his sisters and on the newsp reports on the embezzlement of company funds

- made Carrie Meeber x George Hurstwood pass one another along the lines of their ascent x descent

- combined naturalism and expressionism

- received little attention x but: reissued (1907), won him the deserved attention, and infl. the turn of lit.

Jennie Gerhardt (1911):

- based on his sister’s experience as a rich man’s mistress

“The Cowperwood Trilogy”:

- incl. The Financier, The Titan, and The Stoic

- dramatised the methods used by ruthless entrepreneurs to take control of the Am. system

An American Tragedy (1925):

- based on an actual murder trial

- the protagonist sentenced to death for the murder of one girl because of his longing for another and richer girl

- exploited both the foolish dream of upward mobility and the foolish desire for perfect love


Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.

Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American  Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.

Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.

McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.

Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od  puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.

Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.

Other Sources

Peprník, Michal. Semináře: Americká literatura 1. ZS 2004/05. 

Flajšar, Jiří. Semináře: Americká literatura 2. ZS 2004/05.


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