naturalism (literature)

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Naturalism was one of a wave of "isms" that swept through the cultural world of the late nineteenth century. Its most vocal advocate was the French author Émile Zola (18401902), a prolific novelist, dramatist, essayist, and critic. Highly controversial in the period between the heyday of realism (18301860) and the emergence of early forms of modernism at the end of the century, naturalism in France was so closely identified with Zola's fiction that few claimed the label after his death. The widespread translation of his work, however, gave Zola a global influence that led to the emergence of naturalist schools around the world. The influence of Zola's naturalism was particularly prominent in Russia, which in the nineteenth century had very strong cultural ties to France; in western European nations; and in the United States. The naturalist charge in the United States was led by novelist and critic Frank Norris (18701902), dubbed "the boy Zola" by contemporary critics. Although Norris is now considered somewhat of a secondary figure in U.S. literature, the naturalist aesthetic he popularized influenced major twentieth-century writers such as Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, and John Steinbeck.

In popular use, the term naturalism is sometimes used to mean fiction that exaggerates the techniques of realism, sacrificing prose style and depth of characterization for an exhaustive description of the external, observable world. Literary critics often accept this view, but add to it a laundry list of features used to identify the naturalist novel:

  • a deterministic plot of decline or degeneration, where characters are crushed by the forces of a universe they can neither understand nor control;
  • attenuation of exceptional or heroic characters, so that each character is a balance of merits and flaws; the critic Philippe Hamon calls this an "aesthetic of normative neutralization" (p. 102);
  • attention to lurid or squalid subject matter, particularly focused on the aspects of human experience conceived to be base or instinctual; main characters are often perverted by uncontrollable appetites, drives, or lusts;
  • characters drawn from the working classin U.S. naturalism particularly, perversion and degeneration are associated with working-class characters;
  • a modern or contemporary setting, most often urban or industrial, rather than the geographically or temporally distant settings favored by adventure and romance fiction;
  • sociological research by the author, including on-site investigation of a workplace, subculture, or location, expert advice, and incorporation of specialized vocabularies.

This list is derived in large part from Zola's most emblematic (and best-selling) novels, such as L'assommoir (1877), Nana (1880), Germinal (1885), and La bête humaine (1890), and closely matches other naturalist monuments, such as Frank Norris's McTeague (1899).

Origins of the Term

The precise meaning of the term naturalism varies across the disciplines: a literary critic, philosopher, theologian, and political scientist would each use the term in a slightly different way. In its broadest sense, naturalism is a doctrine holding that the physical world operates according to laws discernible through empirical science. The naturalist method, modeled after nineteenth-century innovations in the experimental sciences, involves informed, systematic observation of the material world. For the naturalist thinker, human beings are nothing more than a part of this worldlike rocks, plants, and animals, they are subject to the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, which govern human behavior as inexorably as they govern the natural world. Naturalism is thus materialist and anti-idealist in that is does not recognize the existence of nonmaterial or nonobservable phenomena (such as a spiritual realm or higher moral law); it is also antihumanist in that it grants no exceptional status to human beings. Every action taken by a human being, according to the strict naturalist view, has a cause in the physical plane; human behavior is thus entirely determined by the laws of cause and effect in the material world.

In applying this theory to literature, Zola drew on the work of an older contemporary, the French philosopher, historian, and literary critic Hippolyte Taine (18281893). Taine's monumental Histoire de la littérature anglaise (18631864; History of English literature)a philosophical treatise disguised as literary criticismsought to demonstrate that a nation's culture and character are products of material causes; as he put it in a famous quip, "vice and virtue are products, like vitriol and sugar" (p. 3). Taine argued that works of art are the products of three factors: race, moment, and milieu. Taine's English translator renders this phrase as "race, epoch, and surroundings" (p. 12), though the French term race is much closer to the English words nation or people than to race. In the analysis of literature, Taine claimed, "we have but a mechanical problem; the total effect is a result, depending entirely on the magnitude and direction of the preceding causes" (p. 13).

Zola's Understanding of Naturalism

While Taine sought to develop a scientific method for the analysis of literature, Zola's naturalism was a method for writing novels; where Taine sought to understand a nation through its literary output, Zola used naturalist philosophy as a basis for creating characters, and with them a portrait of French society in the second half of the nineteenth century. Combining Taine's theories with research developments in the biological and behavioral sciences, Zola conceived of the novel as a laboratory for the study of human behavior under the influence of heredity and environment. By his mid-twenties, having published several novels, he began to plot out his massive life's work, a twenty-novel series entitled The Rougon-Macquart a work to rival the vast Human Comedy of Honoré de Balzac (17991850), to be based in science rather than intuition.

Zola tirelessly promoted his theories in columns that appeared in newspapers, magazines, and journals. Unfortunately, the most widely anthologized expression of this theory is also among the least thoughtful. This essay, "The Experimental Novel" (1880), is essentially an extended paraphrase of the physician Claude Bernard's influential 1865 work, Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine. The essay is now regarded as historically interesting if theoretically naïve, and contemporariesincluding former disciples of Zola, such as the author Henry Céard (18511924)ridiculed it as a misunderstanding of Bernard's work.

To take this essay as representative of Zola's thinking about naturalism would be a serious error. Naturalism in literature was as much a promotional concept as a literary-critical one, and the range, variety, and energy of Zola's writing about the term indicates he was perhaps less interested in providing a final definition than in keeping alive the heated debates about naturalism. As a literary critic, theater critic, and essayist, Zola was a provocateur: he was strident, often caustic, and prone to dramatic and sensationalist gestures. Early in his career, Zola came to understand and exploit the value of notoriety; his first volleys of criticism were collected in 1866 under the title My Hatreds, and his unrepentant slogan "I am here to live out loud" is still occasionally cited by artists and activists. "The Experimental Novel"along with many of Zola's defenses of naturalismis best understood from this perspective: to criticize the essay for its lack of theoretical rigor is to miss entirely its brilliance as a provocation and a promotion.

If Zola's criticism is more confrontational than systematic, a broader look at his writing on naturalism nonetheless reveals several consistent ideas. First, Zola often claimed that the lurid, pornographic subject matter of many his novels was incidental to naturalism; what counted was the methodwhich, as his former disciple Céard observed, could hardly be called "experimental," but that nonetheless shared the careful, systematic observational methods of the emerging social sciences of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. For audiences that consumed Zola's novels as quickly as he could write them and for critics and government censors who called naturalism "putrid literature," the graphic content of the novels was naturalism's most salient feature, and Zola and his publishers often faced obscenity charges in France and abroad (cheap pulp editions with racy covers appeared in the United States as late as the 1950s). For Zola, however, unflinching analysis was the substance of naturalism.

A second, often overlooked theme that runs throughout Zola's writing on naturalism is his repeated association of naturalism and democracy. Perplexed scholars have called this connection a double dysfunction, a strange marriage, a paradox: nineteenth-century theories of biological determinism seem hardly compatible with the Enlightenment ideals of citizenship and self-government. In the words of the critic Harold Kaplan, for naturalist literature in the United States, "democracy seemed to require strong idealizations to support free choice" (p. 37). But for Zola, naturalism in literature and democracy in politics were logical, even necessary evolutionary developments. Zola likened the outsized protagonists of Romanticism to kings and princes, out of place in the modern world. For him naturalism, like democracy, was a representationfaithful if at times unflatteringof the common people.

Critical Debates

Naturalism was politically controversial in its heydayconservatives called Zola a "literary anarchist," while liberals saw his work as a "calumny of the people"and its place in literary history has been hotly debated by scholars. By the midtwentieth century, three major strands of thinking about naturalism's legacies had emerged in Europe. In the early part of the century, Zola was adopted by the French left and elevated to the status of one of France's great writers. Thanks in part to Zola's courageous role in the Dreyfus affair, a political scandal that rocked France in the 1890s, naturalismonce reviled for its unsympathetic portrayals of the working classwas reassessed as an eye-opening portrait of the exploitation of the weak. As a result Zola, spurned by the literary establishment and prosecuted by the French government during his lifetime, was eventually laid to rest in the Pantheon, France's secular cathedral to the "Great Men" of France.

Twentieth-century critics who favored the difficult modernist writing of James Joyce or Marcel Proust, however, were suspicious of this popularity. Naturalism's accessibility and faith in science were incompatible with the modernist turn toward self-consciousness, interiority, opacity, and style; from the modernist perspective, Zola's naturalism looked like a kind of dead end of realism, an overextension of realist strategies at a time when modernist artists were turning away from representational art forms. As the critic James McFarlane put it, naturalism "exhausted itself taking an inventory of the world while it was still relatively stable, [and as a result] could not possibly do justice to the phenomena of its disruption" (p. 80).

A third response to Zola and naturalism is best represented by the Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukács (18851971), a prominent figure in leftist aesthetic debates in Europe in the midtwentieth century. Lukács affirmed the common antithesis between realism and modernism, but saw naturalism as a form of modernism, not an outgrowth of realism. The differences between naturalism and modernism were, for Lukács, merely superficial differences of style. On a more substantive levelfor Lukács, the ideological levelnaturalism is a form of modernism. As he put it, "There is a continuity from Naturalism to the Modernism of our day"a continuity of "underlying ideological principles" (1963, p. 29). In contrast to "critical" realism's "dialectical unity," both naturalism and modernism, despite their widely divergent styles, deny the possibility of understanding and action, instead presenting the human condition as one of alienated subjectivity, isolation, and psychopathology. For Lukács, thenin spite of Zola's courageous politics (see his 1940 essay "The Zola Centenary")naturalism was, like modernism, "not the enrichment, but the negation of art" (1963, p. 46).

Naturalism in the United States

Naturalism was a short-lived phenomenon in France, where it was closely associated with Zola himself. Of Zola's acolytes (known as the "Médan group, after the location of Zola's country estate), only one, Guy de Maupassant (18501893), has achieved a lasting reputation. Although short-lived, Zola's influence was global: his work was translated into nearly every language, and writers from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Moscow saw in his work both a modern sensibility and a fierce critical edge. Scholars have long discussed naturalist literary movements in England, Russia, Germany, and Spain, but are still hard at work mapping naturalism's influence outside Europe: in the 1990s, two journals devoted to Zola and his legacy, Excavatio: Nouvelle Revue Émile Zola et le naturalisme and Les Cahiers Naturalistes, published a number of essays tracing naturalist movements, often short-lived, in eastern Europe, Asia, and South America.

The U.S. version of naturalism proved to be more enduring: the novelist Frank Norris succeeded in establishing naturalism as a permanent part of the lexicon of literary critics (in spite of his rather idiosyncratic view of naturalism as a magnification of Romanticism rather than a form of realism). Although naturalism was initially associated with Norris and his contemporaries Stephen Crane (18711900) and Jack London (18761916), a wide range of authors over the next seven decades have been shown to have been influenced by naturalism. As the U.S. scholar June Howard put it, "the name taken by a clearly defined, relatively short-lived movement in France [became] in America a broad term used by some writers and many critics to characterize a diverse group of works over a long period of time" (p. 30). The critic Donald Pizer, in particular, has mapped naturalism's influence on twentieth-century U.S. literature.

Although Norris also wrote adventure novels, his McTeague (1899), The Octopus (1901), and the posthumously published Vandover and the Brute (1914) are the touchstones of U.S. naturalism and were strongly influenced by Zola; some critics accused Norris of lifting passages directly from the French novelist. Although Crane's novella Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) is sometimes used to mark the beginning of naturalism in the United States, Norris's criticism established the term in an American context. Norris also used his influence as a reader at Doubleday to promote naturalism; his most notable success was Theodore Dreiser's masterpiece Sister Carrie (1900), which the publisher pursued on the strength of Norris's recommendation in spite of his own distaste for the book.

Beginning in the 1980s, U.S. naturalism saw a critical revival, as new theoretical developments led to a fresh perspective on the genreand indeed, on the notion of genre itself. For traditional literary criticism, focused largely on concerns of aesthetic merit and often, if implicitly, moral value, naturalism had been somewhat of a problem: as a genre, U.S. naturalism privileges blunt artlessness andlike Zolaposits an essentially amoral universe. Critical works such as Walter Benn Michaels's The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism, a tour de force of New Historicism, and June Howard's Form and History in American Literary Naturalism, broadly informed by the theoretical developments of structuralism and poststructuralism, examine naturalism as a complex meditation on cultural contradictions faced by U.S. culture at a pivotal moment in its history. Michaels, for example, sees both literary naturalism and debates about the gold standard as part of an entire culture's struggle with the relationship between the material and the ideala struggle that, for Michaels, is constitutive of personhood itself. Howard, drawing on the French philosopher Louis Althusser's notion of ideology, argues that naturalism was one way for turn-of-the-twentieth-century U.S. culture to process threatening contradictions in the social order, such as contradictions between the egalitarian ideals of democracy and prominent social and political inequalities of the period. For Howard, the most notable of these are the dominance of industrial capitalism and the increasingly visible presence of groupsa largely immigrant urban working class, women, and African Americansseeking to be included as agents in U.S. political life.

See also Literature ; Naturalism in Art and Literature ; Realism .


Hamon, Philippe. Texte et idéologie: Valeurs, hiérarchies et évaluations dans l'œuvre littéraire. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1984.

Howard, June. Form and History in American Literary Naturalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Kaplan, Harold. Power and Order: Henry Adams and the Naturalist Tradition in American Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Lukács, Georg. The Meaning of Contemporary Realism. Translated by John Mander and Necke Mander. London: Merlin Press, 1963.

. "The Zola Centenary." 1940. In his Studies in European Realism, pp. 8596. London: Merlin Press, 1972.

Masson, Pierre. Le Disciple et l'insurgé: Roman et politique à la Belle Époque. Lyon, France: Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1987.

McFarlane, James. "The Mind of Modernism." In Modernism: 18901930, edited by Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane. New York: Penguin, 1976.

Michaels, Walter Benn. The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: American Literature at the Turn of the Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Mitterand, Henri. Zola et le naturalisme. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1986.

Pizer, Donald. The Theory and Practice of American Literary Naturalism: Selected Essays and Reviews. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993.

Schor, Naomi. Zola's Crowds. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

Taine, Hippolyte. History of English Literature. Translated by H. Van Laun. New York: Henry Holt, 1879.

Walcutt, Charles C. American Literary Naturalism, a Divided Stream. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956.

Jonathan P. Hunt

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NATURALISM, a literary mode developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, characterizedby detailed description, scientific and sociological themes, an objective, documentary quality, and a deterministic philosophy. The term "naturalism" is especially, but not exclusively, applied to novels. French writers such as the Goncourt brothers and Émile Zola pioneered naturalism in the late 1860s and 1870s. In the following three decades, naturalism appeared in Germany (the plays of Gerhart Hauptmann) and England (the novels of George Gissing and Arnold Bennett).

When transplanted to American soil near the turn of the twentieth century, naturalism flourished in the hands of such novelists as Harold Frederic, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, Stephen Crane, Hamlin Garland, David Graham Phillips, and Upton Sinclair. Many later works also have naturalistic qualities—including John Dos Passos's U.S.A. trilogy (1930, 1932, 1936), John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath (1939), James Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy (1932, 1934, 1935), Richard Wright's Native Son (1940), Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song (1979), Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), and Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho (1991). Naturalism's endurance suggests that it has become a fixture in the American literary landscape.


Naturalism's most important theorist, Émile Zola, was perhaps its leading practitioner. His preface to the second edition of Thérèse Raquin (1868) defines naturalism, while his "The Experimental Novel" (1880) elaborates on its method. Zola urges novelists to work like scientists, placing characters in controlled environments and studying temperaments rather than individualized characters. This strategy results in a narrative posture of detached objectivity and clinical observation. Zola exemplified these qualities in his twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart series, illustrating the effects of heredity and environment on several generations.

Naturalism absorbed scientific and social scientific ideas, in particular Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and Karl Marx's theory of class struggle. These influences suggest why naturalists deliberately depict limited characters—not autonomous agents but creatures acted upon by biological or social forces. That Dreiser's Carrie Meeber "drifts" through Sister Carrie (1900), or that Sinclair's Jurgis Rudkis is pummeled by circumstances throughout The Jungle (1906) is precisely the point. Coercion or chance will more likely determine events than will choice, deliberation, or morality.

Naturalist works respond as much to material changes as to intellectual currents. Industrialization and urbanization occurred rapidly in America following the Civil War, and naturalists responded by addressing new literary subjects such as factory work (The Jungle), immigrant populations (Abraham Cahan's The Rise of David Levinsky, 1917), slums (Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, 1893), the closing of the western frontier (Norris's The Octopus, 1901), and the growth of consumer culture (Sister Carrie). Despite a characteristic interest in dislocations brought on by the modern economy—or perhaps because of it—some naturalist authors trace a retreat from civilization, such as to the high seas (London's The Sea Wolf, 1904), or examine the provincial countryside that was increasingly being eclipsed by urban centers (Garland's Main-Travelled Roads, 1891).


Naturalists often depict biological, social, and economic determinants as interdependent, though dominant preoccupations can be isolated. Racial or genetic conditions may prevail (as in McTeague or The Octopus), or environmental ones (as in Wright's Native Son, 1940, or Maggie); economic class may be decisive (Dreiser's An American Tragedy, 1925), as may gender (as in Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, 1905). Often naturalistic narrators, or their mouthpieces, engage in lengthy disquisitions explaining abstract concepts incomprehensible to their hapless characters (as in book three of Native Son, where the defense lawyer provides a Marxist analysis of why Bigger Thomas committed murder). Such lectures may seem digressive, while also placing the characters at a distance from the author and the reader. Such narrative interpolations also suggest the overlap of naturalism with social science. Indeed, naturalist novels share topics and rhetorical strategies with such nonfiction treatises as Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Women and Economics (1898), Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives (1890), the criminology of Cesare Lombroso, and the time-motion studies of Frederick Winslow Taylor.

Degeneration or "devolution" is a dominant naturalistic motif, manifesting itself in studies of crime and violence (such as Native Son and American Psycho) and in the liberal use of animal imagery to describe human conduct, as in the famous lobster and squid episode at the beginning of Dreiser's The Financier (1912). The animal fixation extends to one of Norris's characters thinking he becomes a wolf (Vandover and the Brute, 1914), and to London making a dog the protagonist of The Call of the Wild (1903).

Although some American naturalists attempt the objectivity lauded by Zola, most write more like journalists than like scientists. Many worked for newspapers and magazines before adapting journalism's characteristic descriptiveness into fiction. Sinclair's on-site research for The Jungle helped make his exposé of the meatpacking industry so shocking. Norris's research for McTeague ranged from dentistry to actual murder cases. In describing the trolley strike in Sister Carrie, Dreiser drew liberally from an account he had written for the Toledo Blade. Furthermore, journalism itself becomes a literary motif: in An American Tragedy, Clyde Griffiths reads a news account that inspires him to murder his pregnant girlfriend; in Native Son, Wright uses newspapers to expose the racist bias of the press; in the U.S.A. trilogy, Dos Passos combines actual news clippings to produce the "Newsreel" sections. American naturalism's documentary strategies have made it a reliable source for historians.

Another hallmark is a fixation on sexuality and gender. Naturalism has been described as hypermasculine, with its rugged male characters such as Norris's plain-spoken Buck Annixter in The Octopus, the virile tycoon Frank Cowperwood of Dreiser's Financier trilogy (1912, 1914, 1947), or London's brutal sea captain Wolf Larsen of The Sea-Wolf. Naturalists often depict women in similarly exaggerated terms: Dreiser's Carrie is more aroused by shopping than by her lovers; the large-armed Hilma Tree of The Octopus seems more nature goddess than human; and the miserly Trina McTeague parodies the frugal housewife. Women have not written as many naturalist novels, though Ann Petry's The Street (1946), Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth (1905), and Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899), all profound studies of environmental pressures on women, certainly qualify.

Despite naturalist authors' overarching interest in ideologically charged subjects, it is impossible to generalize about their political positions. London and Sinclair were proud to be socialist reformers, and the development of proletarian literature in the 1930s owes much to naturalism. Norris, by contrast, looks down on his working-class characters, especially in McTeague. Authors frequently change positions over time: Dreiser, for instance, is critical of capitalism in Sister Carrie (the beginning of which shows factories exploiting workers, especially women) and in An American Tragedy (where Griffiths's unquestioning acceptance of the dominant ideology of success and ambition causes his downfall), but he glorifies capitalist unscrupulousness in the Financier trilogy.

Naturalism and Literary History

American naturalism has never been a self-conscious school, nor have its practitioners issued systematic theories. Naturalism is often situated alongside the more polite realism of such writers as William Dean Howells or Henry James. The comparison is both necessary and inconclusive, for some authorities maintain naturalism is an outgrowth of realism, and others, that naturalism repudiates the genteel premises of realism. An additional complication is that some authors said to exemplify naturalism, such as Dreiser, are also hailed as landmark realists. Further confusion results from archetypal naturalist Norris defining his writing (and also Zola's) as romanticism in The Responsibilities of the Novelist (1903). That text, along with Garland's Crumbling Idols (1894) and Dreiser's "True Art Speaks Plainly" (1903), are important manifestos of American naturalism with widely different emphases.

One way of resolving this confusion is to consider realism and naturalism as existing on a continuum. Both employ descriptive detail and social themes, but realism tends to adopt more conventionally moral positions, while seeming less extreme, less pessimistic, and simply less bizarre than naturalism. Thus, Howells's Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) shows its allegiance to realism by locating a businessman's "rise" in his decision to place morality above money making, while Dreiser's The Titan (1914) exemplifies naturalism in depicting a businessman's being rewarded for his amorality through financial success and multiple sexual partners.

The case of American naturalism demonstrates that literary modes are not absolute categories but flexible approaches

that authors can shape, combine, and rework. The treatment of the oppressive urban environment in Henry Roth's Call It Sleep (1934), for example, is naturalistic while its stream-of-consciousness narration is a modernist technique. Much of the nightmarish imagery of The Street is expressionistic, notwithstanding its naturalistic treatment of the effects of the ghetto on character. The compulsive characters in Winesburg, Ohio (1919) suggest naturalism, while Sherwood Anderson's Freudian emphasis on dreams and sexuality aligns his book with modernism.

This fluidity is especially significant because neither naturalism nor realism has ever enjoyed the éclat of the literary modes that flourished before it (the romanticism of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville) or after it (the modernism of Gertrude Stein and William Faulkner). Naturalism's detractors have claimed its penchant for plots of decline, deterministic vision, and limited characters demonstrate its impoverished vision. Such unpleasant features caused many early twentieth-century readers to complain of barbarous and even immoral writing. Dreiser's response is exemplary: "True art speaks plainly. … The sum and substance of literary as well as social morality may be expressed in three words—tell the truth" (reprinted in Becker, p. 155). Even if unwilling to grant naturalists the ground of superior truthfulness that they prized, we can still appreciate their widening of the literary canvas, their engagement with important social issues, and their often unembarrassed political engagement. The mode that struck earlier readers as "immoral" is indeed strong medicine, but has opened up countless literary possibilities that have yet to be exhausted.


Becker, George J., ed. Documents of Modern Literary Realism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Howard, June. Form and History in American Literary Naturalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Kazin, Alfred. On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature. Fortieth Anniversary Edition. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982.

Michaels, Walter Benn. The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: American Literature at the Turn of the Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Pizer, Donald. Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Rev. ed. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984.

Pizer, Donald, ed. The Cambridge Companion to American Realism and Naturalism: Howells to London. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Wilson, Christopher P. The Labor of Words: Literary Professionalism in the Progressive Era. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.

Clare VirginiaEby

See alsoLiterature .

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naturalism, in literature, an approach that proceeds from an analysis of reality in terms of natural forces, e.g., heredity, environment, physical drives. The chief literary theorist on naturalism was Émile Zola, who said in his essay Le Roman expérimental (1880) that the novelist should be like the scientist, examining dispassionately various phenomena in life and drawing indisputable conclusions. The naturalists tended to concern themselves with the harsh, often sordid, aspects of life. Notable naturalists include the Goncourt brothers, J. K. Huysmans, Maupassant, the English authors George Moore and George Gissing, and the American writers Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, James T. Farrell, and James Jones. In the drama, naturalism developed in the late 19th cent. By stressing photographic detail in scene design, costume, and acting technique, it attempted to abolish the artificial theatricality prominent in 19th-century theater. The movement was most closely associated with the Théâtre Libre (founded 1887) of André Antoine, with the Freie Bühne (founded 1889) of Otto Brahm, and with the Moscow Art Theatre (founded 1898) under the direction of Stanislavsky. Notable naturalistic dramatists include Becque, Brieux, Hauptmann, and Gorky.

See studies by J. Howard (1985) and W. B. Michaels (1988).

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naturalism Late 19th-century literary movement that began in France and was led by Émile Zola. An extension of realism, it emphasized the importance of documentation. Writers sought to represent unselective reality with all its emotional and social ramifications. A major exponent of naturalistic drama was August Strindberg. The movement declined by the beginning of the 20th century, but influenced the development of the modern US novel and socialist realism.