Frank Norris, (1870-1902), was an American novelist and journalist and a leader of the Naturalism movement. Norris believed that a novel should serve a moral purpose. "The novel with a purpose," he explained, "brings the tragedies and griefs of others to notice" and "prove(s) that injustice, crime, and inequality do exist."
Benjamin Franklin Norris, Jr., was born on March 5, 1870, in Chicago. He moved to San Francisco with his family in 1884. While attending the University of California from 1890 to 1894, he came under the influence of the French Naturalist writer Emile Zola and began to write MCTEAGUE
, one of his finest novels. Norris then spent a year at Harvard University and wrote part of an unfinished novel, VANDOVER AND THE BRUTE.
In 1895 and 1896, Norris was a reporter in South America for the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE and a magazine called the WAVE. In 1896, he returned to San Francisco and became assistant editor of the WAVE. In 1899, he became a manuscript reader for a publisher in New York City. That year he finished MCTEAGUE, which tells how economic circumstances, alcoholism, heredity, and chance compel a man to become a murderer.
Norris planned a three-novel series called EPIC OF THE WHEAT to tell about the production, distribution, and consumption of wheat in the United States. THE OCTOPUS (1901) dramatizes how a railroad controlled a group of California wheat farmers. The book emphasizes the control of "forces," such as wheat and railroads, over individuals or even groups of individuals. It ranks with MCTEAGUE as Norris' finest work. Both novels show the author's weakness for melodrama but illustrate his genius for revealing character and writing exciting action scenes. The second volume of the series, THE PIT, was published in 1903, after Norris died on Oct. 25, 1902, at the age of 32 following an operation for appendicitis. The final volume, THE WOLF, was never written.
Alan Gribben, Ph.D., Department Head and Distinguished Research Professor, Department of English, Auburn University Montgomery.
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