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


Page 264

primitive life. Blix (1899) and A Man’s Woman (1900) and The Octopus and The Pit only repeat this pair of lovers in varying costumes and occupations. In McTeague (1899) the protagonist, married to a woman of a different type, finally murders her. Love, however, is by no means the chief concern of these novels, which are crowded with ardently detailed phases of life which had not yet appeared, or at least had not yet become common, in American fiction: shark-fishing and beach-combing off the California coast; the routine doings of vulgar people in San Francisco and the city’s Bohemian aspects; the deadly perils of Arctic exploration; the materials of The Octopus already cited; the enormous conflicts of trading in the Chicago Wheat pit; the ugly dissipations of undergraduates as presented in the posthumous but early Vandover and the Brute (1914). In all these Norris sought to find the basic elements of human nature and to present them with unhesitating accuracy. His eagerness to be truthful in a new way gave him his energy, particularly in scenes of action, although the same eagerness deprived him of mellow reflection and rounded grace. His volume of essays, The Responsibilities of the Novelist (1903), companion in theory to Hamlin Garland’s Crumbling Idols, shows him to have been less a thinker than a passionate partizan of the rising doctrine of naturalism. It shows, too, how large was the store in him of a fire and an energy which would not lightly have perished had he lived, but must have carried him on to growth and varied triumphs.
  Norris was but one of a group of novelists who began their careers about 1900, in the very midst of the hullabaloo



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