Naturalism – the literary articulation of a social darwinist theory of history and human nature – coincided with the beginnings of corporate capitalism in the late nineteenth century: the emergence of rich tycoons and robber barons, rapid industrialization fired by steel and oil; free-wheeling financial speculation; with mass immigration and the growth of ghettos; with the growth of labor unions and, last not least, with American imperial engagements in the Pacific and Caribbean. As an aesthetic concept, Naturalism is frequently associated with Emile Zola’s introduction of a ‘scientific’ method in literature – of turning writing into a laboratory for studying humans’ response to a brutal economic world. Naturalism can teach us much about understanding our present historical conjuncture. What, for example, does the well-known term "survival of the fittest" really mean? How did the ideology it promotes come about, and how was it reconciled with the national narratives of democracy, social equality, and the self-made man? Next to scientific and political essays we will read selected short fiction and two novels, one of which applies naturalistic ideas to an analysis of New York’s wealthy class, while the other offers an analysis of agrarian conflict in faraway California. There remain plenty of further texts to be adopted for reports and term papers.
Students are required to purchase a Reader (Copy&Paste), as well as the following novels:
- Wharton, Edith (1905) The House of Mirth. Penguin, 1993. ISBN: 0140187294
- Norris, Frank (1901) The Octopus. Penguin, 1994. ISBN: 0140187707