American Naturalism and the Jews examines the unabashed anti-Semitism of five notable American naturalist novelists otherwise known for their progressive social values. Hamlin Garland, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser all pushed for social improvements for the poor and oppressed, while Edith Wharton and Willa Cather both advanced the public status of women. But they all also expressed strong prejudices against the Jewish race and faith throughout their fiction, essays, letters, and other writings, producing a contradiction in American literary history that has stymied scholars and, until now, gone largely unexamined. In this breakthrough study, Donald Pizer confronts this disconcerting strain of anti-Semitism pervading American letters and culture, illustrating how easily prejudice can coexist with even the most progressive ideals.
Pizer shows how these writers' racist impulses represented more than just personal biases, but resonated with larger social and ideological movements within American culture. Anti-Semitic sentiment motivated such various movements as the western farmers' populist revolt and the East Coast patricians' revulsion against immigration, both of which Pizer discusses here. This antagonism toward Jews and other non-Anglo-Saxon ethnicities intersected not only with these authors' social reform agendas but also with their literary method of representing the overpowering forces of heredity, social or natural environment, and savage instinct.
Donald Pizer presents the major critical discussions of American realism and naturalism from the beginnings of the movement in the 1870s to the present. He includes the most often cited discussions ranging from William Dean Howells, Henry James, and Frank Norris in the late nineteenth century to those by V. L. Parrington, Malcolm Cowley, and Lionel Trilling in the early twentieth century. To provide the full context for the effort to interpret the nature and significance of realism and naturalism during the periods when the movements were live issues on the critical scene, however, he also includes many uncollected essays. His selections since World War II reflect the major recent tendencies in academic criticism of the movements.
Through introductions to each of the three sections, Pizer provides background, delineating the underlying issues motivating attempts to attack, defend, or describe American realism and naturalism. In particular, Pizer attempts to reveal the close ties between criticism of the two movements and significant cultural concerns of the period in which the criticism appeared. Before each selection, Pizer provides a brief biographical note and establishes the cultural milieu in which the essay was originally published. He closes his anthology with a bibliography of twentieth-century academic criticism of American realism and naturalism.
Dos Passos: A Life
Virginia Spencer Carr Northwestern University Press, 2004 Library of Congress PS3507.O743Z548 2004 | Dewey Decimal 813.52
A New York Times Notable Book
An intimate biography of a great American writer.
He rose from a childhood as the illegitimate son of a financial titan to become the man Sartre called "the greatest writer of our time." A progressive writer who turned his passions into the groundbreaking U.S.A. trilogy, John Dos Passos later embraced conservative causes. At the height of his career he was considered a peer of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, yet he died in obscurity in 1970.
Award-winning biographer Virginia Spencer Carr examines the contradictions of Dos Passos's life with an in-depth study of the man. Using the writer's letters and journals, and with assistance from the Dos Passos family, Carr reconstructs an epic life, one of literary acclaim and bitter obscurity, restless wandering and happy marriage, friendship with Edmund Wilson and feuds with Hemingway. First published to acclaim in 1984, Dos Passos remains the definitive personal portrait of the author.
All of American author Frank Norris’s significant critical writings have been compiled in this book, including his articles for the San Francisco Wave during 1896–1897 and selections from his “Weekly Letter” column for the Chicago American in 1901. Essays from these two previously unexploited sources, comprising almost half the book, reveal certain areas of Norris’s thought which heretofore had been overlooked by scholars. This book was compiled in order to clarify Frank Norris’s literary creed. When Donald Pizer began to read Norris’s uncollected critical articles, he observed concepts which had been unnoted or misunderstood by his critics. Crediting this to the inadequate representation of Norris’s ideas in the posthumous The Responsibilities of the Novelist (1903), Pizer recognized the need for an interpretive and complete edition of Norris’s critical writings. This volume thus fills a noticeable gap in the field of American literary criticism. By the time of his death in 1902 Norris had a closed system of critical ideas. This core of ideas, however, is only peripherally related to the conventional concept of literary naturalism, which perhaps explains why critics have gone astray trying to find Zolaesque ideas in Norris’s criticism. Norris’s central idea, around which he built an aesthetic of the novel, was that the best novel combines an intensely primitivistic subject matter and theme with a highly sophisticated form. His paradox of sophisticated primitivism clarifies the vital link between the fiction produced in the 1890s and that written by Hemingway, Faulkner, and Steinbeck. Norris’s essays deal with many of the literary themes which preoccupy modern critical theorists. His range of subjects includes the form and function of the novel; definitions of naturalism, realism, and romanticism; and the problem of what constitutes an American novel. His interpretation of commonplace events, his comments on prominent figures of his day, and his parodies of writers such as Bret Harte, Stephen Crane, and Rudyard Kipling are characterized by ingenuity and perception. Through these writings the personality of a man with well-defined convictions and the ability to expound them provocatively comes into sharp focus. In a general introduction Pizer summarizes Norris’s critical position and surveys his career as literary critic. This introduction and the interpretative introductions preceding each section constitute an illuminating essay on the literary temper of the period and provide a new insight into Norris’ craft and his literary philosophy.
The Novels of Theodore Dreiser was first published in 1976. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.
Relying heavily on the manuscripts and letters in the Dreiser Collection of the University of Pennsylvania Library, Professor Pizer seeks to establish the facts of the sources and composition of each of Dreiser's eight novels and to study the themes and form of the completed works. In this study he relates what can be discovered about the factual reality of a novel to its imaginative reality. His interpretation of the novels avoids the suggestion that there is a single overriding theme or direction in Dreiser's work and emphasizes that Dreiser deserves examination primarily on the basis of the individuality and worth of each of his novels. A separate chapter is devoted to each of the novels: Sister Carrie, Jennie Gerhardt, The "Genius," The Financier, The Titan, An American Tragedy, The Bulwark, and The Stoic.
The 1966 edition of this book has become a standard work. In this new, revised edition, Pizer has dropped three chapters and has refined and extended the work by adding six: “American Literary Naturalism: An Approach Through Form,” “American Literary Naturalism: The Example of Dreiser,” “The Problem of Philosophy in the Naturalistic Novel,” “Hamlin Garland’s 1891 Main-Travelled Roads: Local Color as Art,” “Jack London: The Problem of Form,” and “Dreiser’s ‘Nigger Jeff’: The Development of an Aesthetic.”
The book contains definitions of realism and naturalism based on representative novels of the period ranging from Howells’ Rise of Silas Lapham to Crane’s Red Badge of Courage; analyses of the literary criticism of the age, stressing that of Howells, Garland, and Norris; and close readings of specific works by major figures of the period.
In his first book devoted exclusively to naturalism, Donald Pizer brings together thirteen essays and four reviews written over a thirty-year period that in their entirety constitute a full-scale interpretation of the basic character and historical shape of naturalism in America.
The essays fall into three groups. Some deal with the full range of American naturalism, from the 1590s to the late twentieth century, and some are confined either to the 1890s or to the twentieth century. In addition to the essays, an introduction in which Pizer recounts the development of his interest in American naturalism, reviews of recent studies of naturalism, and a selected bibliography contribute to an understanding of Pizer’s interpretation of the movement.
One of the recurrent themes in the essays is that the interpretation of American naturalism has been hindered by the common view that the movement is characterized by a commitment to Emile Zola’s deterministic beliefs and that naturalistic novels are thus inevitably crude and simplistic both in theme and method. Rather than accept this notion, Pizer insists that naturalistic novels be read closely not for their success or failure in rendering obvious deterministic beliefs but rather for what actually does occur within the dynamic play of theme and form within the work.
Adopting this method, Pizer finds that naturalistic fiction often reveals a complex and suggestive mix of older humanistic faiths and more recent doubts about human volition, and that it renders this vital thematic ambivalence in increasingly sophisticated forms as the movement matures. In addition, Pizer demonstrates that American naturalism cannot be viewed monolithically as a school with a common body of belief and value. Rather, each generation of American naturalists, as well as major figures within each generation, has responded to threads within the naturalistic impulse in strikingly distinctive ways. And it is indeed this absence of a rigid doctrinal core and the openness of the movement to individual variation that are responsible for the remarkable vitality and longevity of the movement.
Because the essays have their origin in efforts to describe the general characteristics of American naturalism rather than in a desire to cover the field fully, some authors and works are discussed several times (though from different angles) and some referred to only briefly or notat all. But the essays as a collection are "complete" in the sense that they comprise an interpretation of American naturalism both in its various phases and as a whole. Those authors whose works receive substantial discussion include Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, James T. Farrell, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, and William Kennedy. Of special interest is Pizer’s essay on Ironweed, which appears here for the first time.
Scorned by critics since birth, decreed dead by many, naturalism, according to Donald Pizer, is “one of the most persistent and vital strains in American fiction, perhaps the only modern literary form in America that has been both popular and significant.”
To define naturalism and explain its tenacious hold throughout the twentieth century on the American creative imagination, Pizer explores six novels: James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan, John Dos Passos’s U.S.A., John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, William Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness, and Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March.
Pizer’s approach to these novels is empirical; he does not wrench each novel awkwardly until it fits his framework of generalizations and principles; rather, he approaches the novels as fiction and arrives at his definition through his close reading of the works.
Establishing the background of naturalism, Pizer explains that it comes under attack because it is “sordid and sensational in subject matter,” it challenges “man’s faith in his innate moral sense and thus his responsibility for his actions,” and it is so full of “social documentation” that it is often dismissed as little more than a photographic record of a life or an era; thus the “aesthetic validity of the naturalistic novel has often been questioned.”
Pizer posits the 1890s, the 1930s,and the late 1940s as the decades when naturalism flourished in America. He concentrates on literary criticism, not on the philosophy ofnaturalism, to show that literary criticism can make a contribution to a particularly muddled area of literary history—a naturalism that is alive and changing, thus resisting the neat definitions reserved for the dead.