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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 261

his chief teacher, and Kipling had taught Norris how much the strength of realism depends upon facts observed in their native places. And though one of his earliest passions was for Froissart, and his first book, Yvernelle (1892), was a verse romance upon a medieval French theme, his mature plots were laid almost entirely in settings with which he was familiar. That so many of them are Californian must be ascribed to his early death; he meant later to turn to other regions.
  What gave Norris this large “continental” view of his materials was a certain epic disposition which he had. He tended to vast plans and conceived trilogies. His Epic of the Wheat—The Octopus (1901), which deals with the production of wheat in California, The Pit (1903), which deals with the distribution of wheat through the Chicago Board of Trade, and The Wolf, which, though never written, was to have dealt with the relieving of a famine in Europe by American wheat—he thought of as three distinct novels, bound together only by the cosmic spirit of the wheat which comes up from the abundant earth and moves irresistibly to its appointed purpose, guided, of course, by men, and fought and played over by them, but always mightier than they and always their master as well as their sustenance. Another trilogy to which he meant to give years of work would have centered about the battle of Gettysburg, one part for each day, and would have sought to present what Norris considered the American spirit as his Epic of the Wheat sought to present an impersonal force of nature. Such conceptions explain the grandiose manner which Norris never lost and they serve to explain, too, the passion of his naturalism.



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