An extreme form of realism in novels, short stories and plays: naturalist works rejected idealizations of human life and focused instead on the forces of heredity and environment that shape and drive human nature. Naturalist writings are informed by Darwin’s theories of evolution, Comte’s application of biological models to the study of society, and Taine’s application of theories of determinism to literature.
Critics often trace the origins of literary naturalism back to the publication of Germinie Lacerteux by Jules and Edmond Goncourt in 1865. It was another Frenchman, Émile Zola, who formulated a manifesto-piece for naturalism: he wrote “Le roman expérimental” (“The Experimental Novel”) in 1880. Drawing continual parallels between his own literary aims and the aim of experimental medicine, Zola casts the novelist as pathologist and suggests that he study the effects of heredity and environment on character with scientific objectivity. The essay accompanies Zola’s hugely ambitious series of twenty “Rougon-Macquart” novels, in which a family line is traced through several generations.
Naturalist writers frequently set their works in slum areas, depicting modern urban environments and the effects they have on their inhabitants. Important writers associated with naturalism include Guy de Maupassant in France; George Moore and George Gissing in Britain; Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, and Stephen Crane in America; Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky in Russia. In the theater, dramatic naturalism is linked to the names of Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, and Gerhart Hauptmann. Naturalism developed along slightly different lines in Italy, in the “verismo” movement associated with Giovanni Verga in the 1880s. Naturalist writings exercised an important influence on the modernists: Marinetti names Zola among his main influences in the formation of Italian futurism.
Baguley, David. Naturalist Fiction: The Entropic Vision. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.
Furst, Lilian R., and Skrine, Peter N. Naturalism. London: Methuen, 1971.
Nelson, Brian, ed. Naturalism in the European Novel: New Critical Perspectives. New York and Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1992.
Pizer, Donald. The Cambridge Companion to American Realism and Naturalism: Howells to London. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.
The neo-impressionist movement (1883–91) treated form and color scientifically. In Georges Seurat’s divisionism (or “pointillism”), natural colors were divided into primary components; when rhythmically juxtaposed on canvas, the complementary patches recombined optically to intensify