Examining the novels of Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, Jack
London, and other writers, June Howard presents a study of American
literary naturalism as a genre. Naturalism, she states, is a way of
imagining the world and the relation of the self to the world, a
way of making sense -- and making narrative -- out of the comforts
and discomforts of its historical moment.
Howard believes that naturalism accomodates the sense of
perilousness, uncertainty, and disorder that many Americans felt in
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She argues for a
redefinition of the form which allows it to be seen as an immanent
ideology responding to a specific historical situation.
Working both from accepted definitions of naturalism and from close
analysis of the literary texts themselves, Howard consructs a new
description of the genre in terms of its thematic antinomies,
patterns of characterization, and narrative strategies. She defines
a range of historical and cultural reference for the ideas and
images of American naturalism and suggests that the form has
affinities with such contemporary ideologies as political
progressivism and criminal anthropology. In the process, she
demonstrates that genre criticism and historical analysis can be
combined to create a powerful method for writing literary
Throughout Howard's study, the concept of genre is used not as a
prescriptive straitjacket but as a category allowing the perception
of significant similarities and differences among literary works
and the coordination of textual analysis with the history of
literary and social forces. For Howard, naturalism is a dynamic
solution to the problem of generating narrative from the particular
historical and cultural materials available to the authors.
Originally published in 1985.
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