What Was Naturalism?: Materials for an Answer

What Was Naturalism?: Materials for an Answer

What Was Naturalism?: Materials for an Answer

What Was Naturalism?: Materials for an Answer

Excerpt

Trying to understand the state of mind of a particular period of literature is always an engaging pursuit, though it frequently proves as baffling as it is rewarding. Attempting to perceive a single cluster of ideas as it emerges in the writings of earlier generations and as it structures and flavors the literature of a later time usually proves less baffling though no less rewarding. The selections included here under the title What Was Naturalism?: Materials for an Answer encircle a significant pattern of ideas and reveal some of the uses of these ideas in American literature.

Scholars seldom agree wholeheartedly in the answers they give to questions concerning the mental climate of an age or the significant ideas that undulate through it. In the case of Naturalism, any answers to such questions are complicated by the fact that literary critics and historians have used the term "naturalism" to describe both an artistic technique as well as intellectual content. Professor Robert E. Spiller's warning of "the pitfalls into which this word leads its victims" is thus still a timely one. In spite of these complexities that underline a need for caution, there remains the perennially challenging adventure of defining terms in accord with historical fact and logical clarity.

Although there is now some agreement concerning the theoretical works that are most directly responsible for the literature of Naturalism, these works are largely inaccessible today. Modern college students are, accordingly, forced to rely on editorial assurance that certain foreign theories, presented to them either in paraphrase or in some key term, inspired certain achievements in American literature. This is regrettable. Granted that the prose of theorists, foreign or domestic, can be tirelessly voluminous and stylistically forbidding, surely it once burned with brightness and won applause, even though most of it now lies ashen and neglected in the 10-to-25¢ bins of second-hand bookstores. Is there no living spark left in these discarded works, works whose perspectives have so thoroughly permeated our thinking that their original dimensions of men, moments, and ideas are now sunk below our sight?

The present volume attempts to raise the basic question and to . . .

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