American Literary Naturalism: A Divided Stream

American Literary Naturalism: A Divided Stream

American Literary Naturalism: A Divided Stream

American Literary Naturalism: A Divided Stream

Excerpt

A study of the naturalistic novel should perform two tasks. It should describe the body of theory that is designated by the term naturalistic; and it should show in some detail what this body of theory does to the novels in which it appears. The undertaking would be simpler if the theory actually controlled the "naturalistic" novel, but it does not; it merely affects it in a variety of ways. The body of theory involves philosophy, biology, sociology, psychology, physiology, and economics, loosely, of course, and in terms that change from one decade and writer to the next. What this theory does to particular novels, as well as where and how it is to be found in them, can be shown only through a close examination of a number of works that have been called naturalistic. We are dealing with an element and a tendency that takes as many forms as Proteus but never in itself accounts for the total aesthetic reality of a work of fiction.

My thesis is that naturalism is the offspring of transcendentalism. American transcendentalism asserts the unity of Spirit and Nature and affirms that intuition (by which the mind discovers its affiliation with Spirit) and scientific investigation (by which it masters Nature, the symbol of Spirit) are equally rewarding and valid approaches to reality. When this mainstream of transcendentalism divides, as it does toward the end of the nineteenth century, it produces two rivers of thought. One, the approach to Spirit through intuition, nourishes idealism, progressivism, and social radicalism. The other, the approach to Nature through . . .

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