Lars Ahnebrink, The Beginnings of Naturalism in American Fiction (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950).
Locates certain American writers in terms of an emerging Naturalism but also discusses European influences, particularly French, Russian, and Scandanavian, most notably the work of Emile Zola, Ivan Turgenev, and Henrik Ibsen. Henry James, William Dean Howells, Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Hamlin Garland are principal subjects.
American Literary Realism (1968-present). Published since 1999 by the University of Illinois Press.
The premier scholarly journal in the field of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American fiction.
George Becker, ed., Documents of Modern Literary Realism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963).
A comprehensive collection of documents from mostly European writers on the principles and theory of Realism, including Zola’s Le Roman experimental(1880). Together, the documents show that Realists were reacting against Romanticism and at the same time developing literary means that were unified in this opposition but sometimes in conflict with one another. The collection of statements has been translated into English, and the editor supplies a comprehensive introduction and useful headnotes. A basic book for anyone seeking to understand foreign influences on American Realism.
Michael Davitt Bell, The Problem of American Realism: Studies in the CulturalHis-tory of a Literary Idea (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).
Contends that “Realism” and “Naturalism” were, in effect, ideological rather than literary terms that promoted a version of reality that was gender and class inflected. For many of the male writers of the period, including Howells, Norris, Crane, and Theodore Dreiser, the claim to be a Realist or Naturalist was a way to fend off suspicions of femininity.
Bert Bender, Evolution and “The Sex Problem”: American Narratives during the Eclipse of Darwinism (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2004).
A wide-ranging book that explores the “sex problem” as it was inherited from Darwinism in Norris, Crane, Jack London, Dreiser, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, and many others. A theory of sexual selection was important to how one might understand contemporary life, though such theories were difficult to treat in the Victorian era. Bender argues for a continuity between Darwinism and Freudian-ism and that Freud extended evolutionary contexts for understanding. Particularly strong on London and Norris.
Warner Berthoff, The Ferment of Realism: American Literature 1884—1919 (New York: Free Press, 1965).
A readable critical history of thirty-five years of American culture addressed not so much to the general reader as to those who already have a broad acquaintance with the era. The first chapter describes the emergence of Realism in response to a cultural ferment; the second treats specific writers (including James, William Dean
Howells, and Mark Twain) or genres (including Regionalism); the third chapter deals with what Berthoff calls the “literature of argument”—sociology, philosophy, criticism, history; and the fourth takes up Naturalism as well as the “new poetry.”
Daniel H. Borus, Writing Realism: Howells, James, and Norris in the Mass Market (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989).
Selects Howells, James, and Norris as principal authors because each justified writing as a “profession” through published commentary that was meant to describe a “systematic theory of Realism and its practice.” The book is also valuable in detailing the differences between the antebellum and postbellum literary marketplace, differences that include publicity and publishing practices, readers’ and editors’ expectations, and so forth.
Richard H. Brodhead, Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in NineteenthCentury America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).
Argues that high-culture literature did not render ordinary life so much as create it for a status-conscious reading public. One of the ironies of Regionalist writing, according to Brodhead, is that it reassured the upper middle class that America remained homogenous, despite considerable evidence to the contrary, and that they could feel superior to that same class. Sarah Orne Jewett and Charles Chesnutt became victimized by this arrangement because they were restricted by editors in their treatment of subject matter they knew well and wished to write about.
Edwin H. Cady, The Light of Common Day: Realism in American Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1971).
A series of interconnected essays on Realist writers that is more personable than polemical in its approach to the subject. The volume begins with a sweeping but reader-friendly attempt at a definition of Realism. Cady argues that Realism cultivates a certain “common vision” in readers and has certain characteristics, including a critical view of the past, a greater interest in character than in plot, and a democratic focus. The successful Realist work dramatizes the relation between ordinary experience and art.
Donna M. Campbell, Resisting Regionalism: Gender and Naturalism in American Fiction, 1885—1915 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997).
Argues that the popularity and critical approval women Regionalists acquired in the 1870s and 1880s derived from the cultural functions it performed—a certain nostalgic ease, a cultural continuity in community, and a regard for time-tested values. For some male writers, including Norris, Crane, and Dreiser, it appeared that literature had become feminized, and Naturalism, with its emphasis on the extreme and grotesque over the common and ordinary, sought to displace this effeminacy with a more-manly fiction.
John J. Conder, Naturalism in American Fiction: The Classic Phase (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984).
A thesis-driven book that seeks to mediate between the positions of Donald Pizer and Charles Walcutt—namely, to argue that Naturalism is deterministic but that freedom can exist within a determinist frame. Conder discusses several nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers in this context, from Crane, Norris, and
Dreiser to John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, and John Steinbeck. For Conder, Naturalists wrestled with the opposition between freedom and determinism and eventually came up with a logically consistent answer to the dilemma with the help of Henri Bergson and other philosophers.
Stanley Corkin, Realism and the Birth of the Modern United States: Cinema, Literature, and Culture (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996).
An interdisciplinary study of literary texts and films from 1885 to 1925 shaped by the financial, political, and social history of the period. Corkin treats Howells’s major novels in connection with Thomas Edison’s pioneering cinema, Dreiser’s Sister Carrie and the films of Edwin S. Porter, and Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time in conjunction with D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation.
Malcolm Cowley, “Not Men: A Natural History of American Naturalism,” Kenyon Review, 9 (Summer 1947): 414—435; collected in Becker, Documents of Modern Literary Realism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963) pp. 429-451.
A straightforward chronicle of the rise and fall of literary Naturalism from Norris and London through Steinbeck with a useful list of its characteristics (for example, “The effect of Naturalism as a doctrine is to subtract from literature the whole notion of human responsibility”). Cowley acknowledges that, their pose of dispassionate objectivity notwithstanding, the Naturalists “could not remain merely observers.”
Donald A. Dike, “Notes on Local Color and Its Relation to Realism,” College English, 14 (November 1952): 81-88.
A pioneering attempt to define local-color writing, which, according to Dike, has no necessary connection to Realism. Local-color writing, Dike concludes, “is writing that insists upon the special context of the events and characters with which it deals, that insists upon the primary importance of that special context to its meaning.” He lists specific components of local-color writing; for example, it “fosters Americanism by documenting American history”; it exhibits “a semi-anthropological interest in local customs”; and/or it presumes to protect “regional interests—an economic system or a class structure.”
John Dudley, A Mans Game: Masculinity and the Anti-Aesthetics of American Literary Naturalism (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004).
Focusing on works by Norris, Crane, London, Edith Wharton, Charles Chesnutt, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and James Weldon Johnson, surveys the association of literary Naturalism with hypermasculinity and parallel developments in turn-of-the-century American culture: the rise of such spectator sports as boxing and football and the emergence of a pop-Darwinism that valorized male sexual conquest. Dudley underscores the Naturalists’ disdain for the foppish aestheticism of Oscar Wilde. He also explains the ambivalent adoption of Naturalism by African American writers who resisted its hypermasculine values.
Jennifer L. Fleissner, Women, Compulsion, Modernity: The Moment of American Naturalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).
Challenges the conventional notion that literary Naturalism is necessarily a masculine form of fiction, given its frequent focus on the lives of young women.
Fleissner also proposes to replace the equation of Naturalism and pessimistic determinism with the notion of compulsion. The typical plot of a Naturalistic novel “is marked by neither the steep arc of decline nor that of triumph, but rather by an ongoing, nonlinear, repetitive motion . . . that has the distinctive effect of seeming also like a stuckness in place.” Her examples include Dreiser’s Carrie Meeber, Norris’s Trina McTeague, Wharton’s Lily Bart, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Jane in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Such fiction is “as much (if not more) about domesticity, details, and women’s inner lives” as they are about men.
Alfred Habegger, Gender, Fantasy, and Realism in American Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).
A lively book with a surprising argument—that American Realism did not descend from European examples but from a group of popular American women novelists who challenged male writers to respond. Two “sissies,” he says, effected the transition from these popular women novelists to the masculine narratives of the Naturalists: Henry James and Howells. Habegger argues that one cannot understand Realism without also understanding gender and its influence on Realist narratives.
Hamlin Hill, “There Ought to Be Clowns: American Humor and Literary Naturalism,” Prospects, 5 (1980): 413-422.
Argues that humor functions as defense mechanism and/or supplies comic relief in some works of Naturalism, specifically in some of the humor writings of Ambrose Bierce, Eugene Field, Harry Graham, and William Cowper Brann.
Barbara Hochman, Getting at the Author: Reimagining Books and Reading in the Age of American Realism (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001).
A reassessment of late-nineteenth-century reading practices. Hochman demonstrates the ambivalence of the Realists toward their own purported objectivity and how their ambivalence shaped standards of literary merit for the modernists.
Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (Boston: Beacon, 1955).
An excellent intellectual history of the period. Particularly valuable is the chapter “The Vogue of Spencer.”
June Howard, Form and History in American Literary Naturalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985).
A highly theoretical treatment of Naturalism as a genre. For Howard, literary history may be studied in terms of forms that represent the cultural assumptions of the period. Thus, for example, the representation of proletariat characters, whatever their creators may have thought, in fact are ideological constructs derived from the prevailing dominant culture. Howard analyzes selected texts of Norris, London, and Dreiser, with briefer treatments of Crane and Upton Sinclair.
William Dean Howells, Criticism and Fiction (New York: Harper, 1891).
A literary and aesthetic credo by the leading American theorist of Realism and prominent realistic novelist. Howells based the book on his editorial columns in Harper’s Monthly, in which he repeatedly argued that “fidelity to experience and probability of motive are essential conditions of a great imaginative literature.” When Realists begin to “map” life rather than “picture” it, “Realism will perish” just as literary romance became passe. The Realist “finds nothing insignificant; all tells for destiny and character; nothing that God has made is contemptible.”
Gene Andrew Jarrett, Deans and Truants: Race and Realism in African American Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).
Interrogates the idea of “racial Realism” and the category of African American literature, standards that have “shackled the creative decisions and objectives of many black authors.” These standards have been promulgated by critics, “de facto deans,” as different as Howells, Alain Locke, Richard Wright, and Amiri Baraka. Jarrett calls for a definition of African American literature and an expansion of the African American literary canon to include writings by black authors, such as Paul Laurence Dunbar, George S. Schuyler, and Frank Yerby, who did not always write about race.
Amy Kaplan, The Social Construction of American Realism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).
Undertakes to redefine Realism in terms of what Realist novels do and how they function culturally. The work of Howells, Wharton, and Dreiser reflects a sense of “unreality” in middle-class American life, brought about alternatively by disruptive class conflict and a homogenizing mass culture, at the same time that it combats these forces through social constructions of reality.
Harold H. Kolb Jr., Illusion of Life: American Realism as a Literary Form (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1969).
A relatively brief book that emphasizes Realism as a literary manner, though Kolb also gives a lengthy and insightful definition of Realism that is not at all limited to this element. He sees the rejection of omniscient narration in favor of a restricted narrative consciousness in Henry James, Twain, and Howells as a common quality that unites these three important Realists.
Robert Paul Lamb and G. R. Thompson, eds., A Companion to American Fiction, 1865-1914 (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005).
Important essays include Winfried Fluck’s “Morality, Modernity, and ‘Malarial Restlessness’: American Realism in its Anglo-European Contexts” (pp. 77-95), a thorough review of the influence of European Realists on American fiction in the late nineteenth century; and Bert Bender’s “Darwin, Science, and Narrative” (pp. 377-394), a precis of Bender’s books on the impact of Darwin’s theories on such American Realists/Naturalists as Howells, James, Kate Chopin, Garland, Crane, and London.
Mary Lawlor, Recalling the Wild: Naturalism and the Closing of the American West (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2000).
Proposes to “get at the shifting meanings of the West as an imaginative geography and as the national concept at the moment when official recognition of the frontier” ended at the turn of the twentieth century. Lawlor traces the making of Western American myth in the writing of James Fenimore Cooper and how the Romantic myth changed under the influence of Darwinism and French Naturalism. American literary Naturalists such as Crane, Norris, and London constructed the West in material terms, as a geography or landscape of forces limiting individual volition and endeavor.
Richard Lehan, “American Literary Naturalism: The French Connection,” Nineteenth Century Fiction, 38 (March 1984): 529-557.
Details the significance of Zola for the “hundreds of novels” by Americans “which did for America after the Civil War what Zola did for the Second Empire.... The cumulative effect of these novels is more impressive than the individual achievement of most of these authors, almost all of whom have fallen out of the canon.” According to Lehan, every Naturalistic novelist, “particularly in America,” was “directly or indirectly in his debt.”
Lehan, Realism and Naturalism: The Novel in an Age of Transition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005).
A provocative intellectual, cultural, and literary history that considers the narrative mode of American, British, French, and Russian Realism/Naturalism not as an evolutionary cul-de-sac but as a hinge between romance and modernism. Sailing against the tide of the New Historicism, Lehan insists on treating scientific laws and historical events not as intellectual constructs or discursive practices but as contexts for the novels. Such an approach invites intertexual study of such novels as E. W. Howe’s The Story of a Country Town (1884) and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919); Norris’s McTeague (1899) and Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900); and Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) and Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905).
Eric Carl Link, The Vast and Terrible Drama: American Literary Naturalism in the Late Nineteenth Century (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004).
Emphasizes “literary Naturalism as an aesthetic movement—an art form, a way of writing” rather than a constellation of intellectual doctrines. Link challenges the notion that American Naturalists were deeply influenced by Zola’s theory and practice, given the differences between what Zola wrote and what Norris, Dreiser, and others wrote. Link contends, like Norris, that American literary Naturalism was a form of literary romance—an inner circle of romance—rather than a development of Realism.
Sami Ludwig, Pragmatic Realism: The Cognitive Paradigm in American Realist Texts (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002).
Traces the influence of William James and pragmatism on literary Realism. Such an approach reaffirms Henry James’s position in the Realist canon beside
Howells and Twain. Ludwig also asserts the importance of Chesnutt’s conjure tales in his chapter “The ‘Pragmatist Deconstruction’ of Racism.”
Jay Martin, Harvests of Change: American Literature 1865—1914 (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967).
Surveys the monumental changes that occurred during this fifty-year period—in education, immigration, science and technology, book publishing, and other are-nas—and analyzes a vast array of literary works as the harvest of those changes. Martin is less interested in advancing some definition of Realism or Naturalism than giving a panoramic view of the period. The author comments on Regionalist writers, utopian writers, humorists, and others; he reserves separate chapters for Twain and Henry James.
Ronald E. Martin, American Literature and the Universe of Force (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1981).
Explores the determinism of Herbert Spencer as a source for Naturalism. Philosophers and scientists agreed that a concept of force was inherent in the universe, and Spencer offered what he called a synthetic philosophy of force, as it was expressed in evolutionary terms, in virtually every aspect of life. Martin points out that Spencerism was not really a science at all, but that writers such as Dreiser and Norris responded positively to this vision and dramatized it in their fiction.
Walter Benn Michaels, The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).
A New Historicist interpretation of American Naturalism that argues that the movement can best be understood in terms of the economic conditions of the time. The author does not limit himself to texts that explicitly deal with economic themes; instead, he contends economic realities, especially the debate over the gold or silver standard for currency, enter into every aspect of life and often in unexpected ways. He reads the work of Norris, Wharton, and Dreiser in this light.
Lee Clark Mitchell, Determined Fictions: American Literary Naturalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989).
Claims that Naturalist writers challenge the premises of Realism, particularly with regard to moral agency and the existence of an independent autonomous self. In separate chapters, Mitchell analyzes the style of Naturalism in London’s “To Build a Fire,” Norris’s Vandover and the Brute, Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, and Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage.
Brenda Murphy, American Realism and American Drama, 1880—1940 (Cambridge, England & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
A pioneering study of the dramatic literature of Howells, James, Twain, and Bret Harte—the four wrote a total of about sixty plays, many never produced and most utterly neglected—as well as the plays of more-minor figures, such as Hamlin Garland, Susan Glaspell, and Clyde Fitch. Murphy describes the theory of drama the American Realists proposed in their criticism; examines how this theory informs their own dramatic literature and how the plays changed over time; and explains how the work of the Realists anticipated the early plays of Eugene O’Neill.
Thomas Peyser, Utopia and Cosmopolis: Globalization in the Era of American Literary Realism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998).
Evaluates utopian and realistic fiction by Edward Bellamy, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Howells, and Henry James in the light of contemporary notions of globalization, or “what it might mean to be a citizen of the world.” That is, Peyser recontextualizes fiction of the period in regard to the emergence of consumer culture, debates over immigration and imperialism, and the rivalry of socialism and capitalism.
Donald Pizer, The Cambridge Companion to American Realism and Naturalism: Howells to London (Cambridge, England & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
To a degree, conceived in response to poststructuralist assessments of Realism and Naturalism as they were expressed in Eric Sundquist’s American Realism: New Essays. In his introduction Pizer analyzes the problem of defining Realism and Naturalism. The remaining essays are divided into three categories: “Historical Contexts” (the American and European background); “Contemporary Critical Issues” (recent critical approaches and the expansion of the canon of Realism); and “Case Studies” (seven essays on individual works). This book is a useful volume for the student of the period.
Pizer, “Late Nineteenth-Century American Literary Naturalism: A ReIntroduction,” American Literary Realism, 38 (Spring 2006): 189-202.
A corrective to the more theoretical approaches to literary Naturalism. Pizer emphasizes that Naturalism was a form of “radical expression” designed to evoke strong responses in contemporary readers. “Naturalism in its own day was often viewed as a threat to the established order because it boldly and vividly depicted the inadequacies of the industrial system that was the foundation of that order.”
Pizer, “Maggie and the Naturalistic Aesthetic of Length,” American Literary Realism, 28 (Fall 1995): 58-65.
Given the consensus view that a Naturalistic text must be substantial in length and detail, addresses two questions: why is the typical Naturalistic novel so long, and how does Crane “achieve a Naturalistic effect without a reliance on length?” The answer centers on “Crane’s art of compression” or “Naturalistic aesthetic of brevity.”
Pizer, “Nineteenth-Century American Naturalism: An Essay in Definition,” Bucknell Review, 13 (December 1965): 1-18.
Contends that the melodrama, sensationalism, and moral confusion some critics attack in Naturalistic novels of the period are “essential constituents” of such works as Norris’s McTeague, Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, and Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. That is, Pizer argues for a coherence or internal consistency to American Naturalism other critics deny.
Pizer, Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1966).
Attempts to answer two questions: how can one describe Realism and Naturalism in fiction (a question of definition), and how do Realism and Naturalism relate to the criticism of the age (a cultural and historical matter)? For Pizer, Realism is ethically idealistic, even though there was increasing awareness of the limitations, both biological and social, placed upon the individual. Naturalism, while both deterministic and pessimistic, nevertheless posits an ethical affirmation by asserting the value of all life no matter how low or compromised.
Pizer, ed., Documents of American Realism and Naturalism (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998).
Conceived as supplementary to George Becker’s Modern Literary Realism, concentrates on American statements and reactions. This collection is composed of three sections—The Critical Debate, 1874-1950; The Early Modern Period, 1915-1950; and Modern Academic Criticism, 1951-1995. It contains a healthy selection of critical statements by the practitioners of Realism, including Howells and Garland, as well as more-recent essays and excerpts of critical commentary. Pizer’s general introduction and his introductions to the three sections are instructive.
Tom Quirk and Gary Scharnhorst, eds., American Realism and the Canon (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994).
A collection of twelve essays illustrating the flexibility of Realism as a literary mode. Contributions include essays on women’s poetry and women’s humor, representations of Chinese Americans, eastern European Jewish immigrants, and Native Americans in Realist fiction, and the evolution of canonization and anthologizing of writers during this period. Among the writers discussed are Charles Chesnutt, Abraham Cahan, Anzia Yezierska, Sui Sin Far, and Emma Lazarus, as well as Henry James, Twain, and Harte.
Philip Rahv, “Notes on the Decline of Naturalism,” in his Image and Idea (New York: New Directions, 1949), pp. 128-138.
An analysis of the inherent contradictions of literary Naturalism rooted in its “scientific bias.” Rahv attributes the exhaustion of the strategy to the modern scientific challenges to the notion of reality, particularly from the psychological sciences.
David E. Shi, Facing Facts: Realism in American Thought and Culture, 1850—1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).
A rich “synthetic” account of the presence of Realism in American culture. Shi shows in a highly readable way the desire among many philosophers, artists, writers, and architects to “face the facts” of modern life. The book includes ample testimony on the part of individuals to participate in this cultural movement. Divided into five sections, it explores the social and intellectual underpinnings of Realism, the achievement in the arts of Realists in various art forms, the Naturalistic response to more extreme realities, and the rise of modernism, in which a new Realism emerged.
Studies in American Naturalism (2005-present). Published by the University of Nebraska Press.
Includes scholarship on American literary Naturalism across all genres from its origins in the writings of Norris, Crane, and London to its contemporary manifestations in the writing of Don DeLillo and Joyce Carol Oates.
Eric Sundquist, ed., American Realism: New Essays (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982).
A collection of fourteen essays that do not cohere as a unified statement about Realism. To the contrary, as the editor maintains, they propose “no specific ideological or theoretical program on behalf of Realism.” Instead, they identify in diverse ways the complexity of responses writers had to their own time, and this very complexity defines the period.
Brook Thomas, American Literary Realism and the Failed Promise of Contract (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
A study of the relation between law and literature that argues that Realism assumes that negotiation and agreement between equal parties is possible and just but that corporate capitalism, segregation, gender bias, and other infringements on social justice thwarted this ideal. Thomas provides extended analyses of a substantial number of novels of the period, many unfamiliar to most readers.
Charles C. Walcutt, American Literary Naturalism: A Divided Stream (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956).
Walcutt maintains that Naturalism is the “offspring” of the Transcendentalism of an earlier era, but that that movement divided into idealism, on the one hand, and a mechanistic determinism, on the other hand. Most Naturalist writers were caught between these two expressions of Transcendentalism and could not resolve the tension. Norris and London, for example, permitted moral judgments to enter into otherwise deterministic stories. Crane and Dreiser were more successful in integrating the polar oppositions in their fictions.
Kenneth W. Warren, Black and White Strangers: Race and American Literary Realism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).
Argues that late-nineteenth-century literary Realism was shaped by and in turn helped to shape post-Civil War racial politics. Warren demonstrates the centrality of race in late-nineteenth-century American Realism and puts writers not usually associated with one another in critical conversation. He shows that even works not directly concerned with race assisted after Reconstruction in a return to a racially segregated society.
Christopher P. Wilson, “American Naturalism and the Problem of Sincerity,” American Literature, 54 (December 1982): 511-527.
Traces the devotion of working-class authors to a democratic (yet commercial) literature. The Naturalists sought to synthesize romance and Realism in order to achieve a brand of sincerity. Significantly, many of the authors of early-twentieth-century business manuals were magazine editors “for whom the Naturalists often worked and wrote.” That is, the American literary marketplace at the turn of the twentieth century spawned its own aesthetic, which celebrated “the language of business.” Wilson challenges the simplistic notion of Naturalism as “pessimistic determinism” given its valorization of positive thinking or “triumph of the will.”
Molly Winter, American Narratives: Multiethnic Writing in the Age of Realism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007).
Recovers the work of four marginalized writers from the period 1890 to 1915: Mary Antin, a Jewish immigrant and author of The Promised Land (1912); the Sioux author Zitkala-Sa; Sutton Griggs, the African American author of Imperium in Imperio (1899); and Sui Sin Far, the Chinese American and author of Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912). Winter contends that the emphases of these writers on ideas of ethnicity and national identity place their work squarely within the Realist camp.
Nicolas Witschi, Traces of Gold: California’s Natural Resources and the Claim to Realism in Western American Literature (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002).
An ecocritical study of the writings of late-nineteenth-century Western American Realists, among them Harte, John Muir, and Mary Austin, who existed at the intersection of cultural and material or industrial production. “Western narratives of nature prove, upon closer examination, to be narratives of natural resources, the result of an ideology of Realism inextricably tied to the material unconscious of western American culture.”
Henry B. Wonham, Playing the Races: Ethnic Caricature and American Literary Realism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Demonstrates that ethnic caricature, far from antithetical to realistic fiction, was integral to it. In this study of the novels of Howells, Twain, James, Wharton, and Chesnutt and their illustrations, Wonham suggests that caricature restores the narrator’s sense of “racial privilege even as it calls attention to the dubious legitimacy of that privilege” and that the “same images work to destabilize the very categories they are meant to police.” Ironically, the age of Realism was also the age of caricature, and Wonham explains how the two forms of representation were complementary. The difference between text and image, as in Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and E. M. Kemble’s controversial illustrations for the novel, is thus not as dramatic as critics have often alleged.
Larzer Ziff, The American 1890s: Life and Times of a Lost Generation (New York: Viking, 1966).
Contends that this generation of writers was “lost” owing to social disturbances and a loss of old certainties. Nostalgia and romance were present among some, but another group of social Realists were the precusors of twentieth-century art and culture. Ziff analyzes the works of individual writers ( James, Howells, Twain, Dreiser, and others) and also groups of writers (journalists, women writers, and poets). These writers contributed to the formulation of a “new nationalism” that emerged in the early years of the new century.