This Library of America volume presents three novels and the collected essays of the most promising of the American naturalist writers. Inspired by the “new novel” developed by Zola and Flaubert, Frank Norris adapted its methods to American settings, adding his own taste for exciting action and a fascination with the emergent sciences of economics and psychology.
Vandover and the Brute (1914) was published posthumously but written in 1895 during Norris’s year at Harvard. Drunkenness, sensuality, gambling, and debauchery reduce young Vandover, once a fashionable playboy and aspiring artist, to virtual bestiality. His dissipation is described with shocking realism, as Norris paints each level of San Francisco society he encounters in his descent.
The novel McTeague (1899) represented a radical departure for American fiction of its era in its frank treatment of sex, domestic violence, and obsession. McTeague is a huge, simple dentist who dreams of having a giant tooth to hang outside his office and who carries his pet canary wherever he goes; Trina is his gentle, diminutive wife, who wins a lottery and compulsively hoards her money. They live on Polk Street in San Francisco, where the new middle class struggles with its pathological underside. Erich von Stroheim based his classic film Greed (1924) on this immensely powerful and grimly realistic novel.
The Octopus (1901), the first work in Norris’s unfinished trilogy “The Epic of the Wheat,” is a novel about the ranchers and wheat producers of California. Pitted against the railroad monopoly and political machine, the members of the ranching community are forced to take up arms against the state. Inspired by the Mussel Slough Massacre of 1880, it depicts a band of strong ruthless Westerners who are crushed by inexorable forces of nature and capital they had sought to control.
The twenty-two essays in this volume include book reviews, articles, literary columns, and parodies of popular authors in the hilarious “Perverted Tales.”
LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America’s best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.