Documents of American Realism and Naturalism

Documents of American Realism and Naturalism

Documents of American Realism and Naturalism

Documents of American Realism and Naturalism


Donald Pizer presents the major critical discussions of American realism and naturalism from the beginnings of the movement in the 1870s to the present. He includes the most often cited discussions ranging from William Dean Howells, Henry James, and Frank Norris in the late nineteenth century to those by V. L. Parrington, Malcolm Cowley, and Lionel Trilling in the early twentieth century. To provide the full context for the effort to interpret the nature and significance of realism and naturalism during the periods when the movements were live issues on the critical scene, however, he also includes many uncollected essays. His selections since World War II reflect the major recent tendencies in academic criticism of the movements.

Through introductions to each of the three sections, Pizer provides background, delineating the underlying issues motivating attempts to attack, defend, or describe American realism and naturalism. In particular, Pizer attempts to reveal the close ties between criticism of the two movements and significant cultural concerns of the period in which the criticism appeared. Before each selection, Pizer provides a brief biographical note and establishes the cultural milieu in which the essay was originally published. He closes his anthology with a bibliography of twentieth-century academic criticism of American realism and naturalism.


My study of late nineteenth-century American realism and naturalism has often led me to George J. Becker Documents of Modern Literary Realism, a collection of critical texts bearing on the movements that he published in 1963. Becker's edition, however, contains only a few selections that deal specifically with American realism and naturalism. It therefore occurred to me that a companion volume, collecting the major critical discussions of late nineteenth- century American realism and naturalism from the beginnings of the movements to the present, would be a comparable boon to scholars and critics of the period.

The importance and usefulness of a volume of this kind are supported by two tendencies in recent criticism. First, the return of academic criticism to historical and cultural studies has prompted a major revival of interest in American literature of the late nineteenth century. By my own rough count, at least twenty-five books devoted entirely to the period have been published since the early 1980s; many more works are in part concerned with it. In addition, it has been increasingly recognized that the terms "realism" and "naturalism" as they have been employed in American criticism since the 1880s are far more complex than is implied by their conventional formulaic definitions. Literary criticism, it is now understood, is a significant form of cultural discourse in its own right and thus embeds the terms in intellectual, moral, and social contexts richly suggestive of the underlying values of the moment in which they appear. Few critics and scholars now seek to derive from the fiction and criticism of American realism and naturalism all-encompassing definitions of these movements, but many are absorbed in the ways in which the cultural baggage accompanying critical discussions of the terms express the preoccupations and beliefs of specific historical moments.

It should be clear, however, in relation to the contempo-

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