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Frank Norris (Benjamin Franklin Norris) Biography

(1870–1902), (Benjamin Franklin Norris), Yvernelle: A Legend of Feudal France, Chronicles, McTeague, Chronicle

American novelist, born in Chicago, educated at the University of California at Berkeley, and at Harvard. He is among the important exponents of American literary naturalism at the end of the nineteenth century, whose number also included Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser. After a grand tour of Europe in 1887, Norris remained in Paris to study painting at Atelier Julien. His first book, written while at Berkeley, Yvernelle: A Legend of Feudal France (1892), is a narrative verse romance, showing the influence of Sir Walter Scott and the Chronicles of Jean Froissart. At Harvard he came under the influence of Lewis E. Gates, an English teacher to whom he was to dedicate his best-known novel, McTeague (1899); this work concerns an unqualified San Francisco dentist who marries one of his patients, Trina Sieppe, and charts their decline with a remorseless intensity that owes much to Zola and the author's familiarity with Social Darwinism. In 1895 he joined the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle and then travelled to South Africa to cover the Uitlander insurrection. His next novel, Moran of the Lady Letty: A Story of Adventure off the California Coast (1898), was followed by Blix (1899) and A Man's Woman (1900). By late 1899 Norris was planning a more ambitious fictional project. Drawing on the models of Balzac's Comédie Humaine and Zola's Rougon-Macquart series, he conceived a cyclical work of three novels, ‘The Epic of the Wheat’, which, in his own words, ‘will in no way be connected with each other save only in their relation to

  1. the production,
  2. the distribution,
  3. the consumption of American wheat

’. Only the first two volumes, The Octopus (1901) and The Pit 1903), were published; the projected final volume, The Wolf, was never begun. The Pit was for a long time his most successful work and saw both stage and screen adaptation, but The Octopus, with its range and skilful fusion of the seemingly contradictory aspects of Norris's art—his enthusiasm for both the romantic and the naturalistic—is regarded by many critics as one of the most remarkable American novels of the early twentieth century. Posthumous publications include The Responsibilities of the Novelist and Other Literary Essays (1903) and Vandover and the Brute (1914), a novel probably begun while Norris was at Harvard. Frank Norris: A Biography (1932, 1963) is a biography by Franklin Walker. The Novels of Frank Norris (1966) by Donald Pizer is a critical study.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: New from Tartary to Frank O'connor