Frank Norris

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Benjamin Franklin Norris, Jr.
Frank Norris.jpg
Born(1870-03-05)March 5, 1870
Chicago, Illinois, United States
DiedOctober 25, 1902(1902-10-25) (aged 32)
San Francisco, California
Pen nameFrank Norris
Notable worksMcTeague, The Octopus: A Story of California
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For the Anglican bishop, see Frank Norris (bishop). For other people named Norris, see Norris (disambiguation).
Benjamin Franklin Norris, Jr.
Frank Norris.jpg
Born(1870-03-05)March 5, 1870
Chicago, Illinois, United States
DiedOctober 25, 1902(1902-10-25) (aged 32)
San Francisco, California
Pen nameFrank Norris
Notable worksMcTeague, The Octopus: A Story of California

Benjamin Franklin Norris, Jr. (March 5, 1870 – October 25, 1902) was an American novelist, during the Progressive Era, writing predominantly in the naturalist[1][2][3][4][5] genre. His notable works include McTeague[6][7][8][9] (1899), The Octopus: A Story of California[10][11][12] (1901), and The Pit[13][14] (1903).


Frank Norris was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1870. His father, Benjamin, was a self-made Chicago businessman and his mother, Gertrude Glorvina Doggett, had a stage career. In 1884 the family moved to San Francisco where Benjamin went into real estate. In 1887, after the death of his brother and a brief stay in London, young Norris went to Académie Julian in Paris where he studied painting for two years and was exposed to the naturalist novels of Émile Zola.[15][16] Between 1890 and 1894 he attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he picked up the ideas of human evolution of Darwin and Spencer that are reflected in his later writings. His stories appeared in the undergraduate magazine at Berkeley and in the San Francisco Wave. After his parents' divorce he went east and spent a year in the English Department of Harvard University. There he came under the influence of Lewis E. Gates, who encouraged his writing. He worked as a news correspondent in South Africa (1895–96) for the San Francisco Chronicle, and then as editorial assistant on the San Francisco Wave (1896–97). He worked for McClure's Magazine as a war correspondent in Cuba during the Spanish–American War in 1898. He joined the New York City publishing firm of Doubleday & Page in 1899.

During his time at the University of California, Berkeley, Norris was a brother in the Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta[17][18][19] and was an originator of the Skull & Keys society. Because of his involvement with a prank during the Class Day Exercises in 1893, the annual alumni dinner held by each Phi Gamma Delta chapter still bears his name. In 1900 Frank Norris married Jeanette Black. They had a child in 1901. Norris died on October 25, 1902, of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix in San Francisco.[20][21] This left The Epic of the Wheat trilogy unfinished.[22] He was only 32. He is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.

Charles Gilman Norris, the author's younger brother, became a well regarded novelist and editor. C.G. Norris was also the husband of the prolific novelist Kathleen Norris. The Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley, houses the archives of all three writers.


Frank Norris's work often includes depictions of suffering caused by corrupt and greedy turn-of-the-century corporate monopolies.[23][24] In The Octopus: A California Story, the Pacific and Southwest Railroad is implicated in the suffering and deaths of a number of ranchers in Southern California. At the end of the novel, after a bloody shootout between farmers and railroad agents at one of the ranches (named Los Muertos), readers are encouraged to take a "larger view" that sees that "through the welter of blood at the irrigating ditch ... the great harvest of Los Muertos rolled like a flood from the Sierras to the Himalayas to feed thousands of starving scarecrows on the barren plains of India". Though free-wheeling market capitalism causes the deaths of many of the characters in the novel, this "larger view always ... discovers the Truth that will, in the end, prevail, and all things, surely, inevitably, resistlessly work together for good".

Vandover and the Brute, written in the 1890s, but not published until after his death, is about three college friends, on their way to success, and the ruin of one through a degenerate lifestyle.

In addition to Zola, Norris's writing has been compared to that of Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, and Edith Wharton.[25]


Norris has been characterized as an antisemitic writer. In the words of Richard Levy:[26]

...literary scholars have overlooked the strenuous antisemitism in his most successful novels. Norris's derogation of Jews[27] presented a more invasive and menacing image than Henry Adams's elite and snobbish eastern intellectual antisemitism or Ignatius Donnelly's derisive populist sketch of a Jewish money lender in Caesar's Column: A Story of the Twentieth Century (1890). As villains in Norris's mug book, Zerko in McTeague (1899) and Behrman in The Octopus (1901) were toxic agents in nature itself, a death force brutalizing California's urban and agrarian scene. These brute devils, lurking in the nature of everyman and prepared to corrupt Anglo-Saxon Christian civilization, transcended the conventional Jewish stereotypes of Shylock and Christ killers.




Short Stories




Collected works


  1. ^ Biencourt, Marius. Une Influence du Naturalisme Français en Amérique: Frank Norris, Giard, 1933.
  2. ^ Walcutt, Charles Child. American Literary Naturalism, a Divided Stream, University of Minnesota Press, 1956.
  3. ^ Chase, Richard Volney. "Norris and Naturalism." In The American Novel and its Tradition, Doubleday, 1957.
  4. ^ Pehowski, Marian Frances. Darwinism and the Naturalistic Novel: J. P. Jacobsen, Frank Norris and Shimazaki Tōson, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1973.
  5. ^ Civello, Paul. American Literary Naturalism and Its Twentieth-Century Transformations: Frank Norris, Ernest Hemingway, Don DeLillo, University of Georgia Press, 1994.
  6. ^ Cowley, Malcolm. "Naturalism's Terrible McTeague," New Republic, Vol. CXVI, May 1947.
  7. ^ Johnson, George W. "The Frontier behind Frank Norris' McTeague," Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 1, Nov., 1962.
  8. ^ Ware, Thomas C. "'Gold to Airy Thinness Beat': The Midas Touch in Frank Norris's McTeague," Interpretations, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1981.
  9. ^ Campbell, Donna M. "Frank Norris' 'Drama of a Broken Teacup': The Old Grannis-Miss Baker Plot in McTeague," American Literary Realism, 1870–1910, Vol. 26, No. 1, Fall, 1993.
  10. ^ Meyer, George Wilbur. "A New Interpretation of The Octopus," College English, Vol. IV, March 1943.
  11. ^ Pizer, Donald. "The Concept of Nature in Frank Norris' The Octopus," American Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring, 1962.
  12. ^ Berte, Leigh Ann Litwiller. "Mapping The Octopus: Frank Norris' Naturalist Geography," American Literary Realism, Vol. 37, No. 3, Spring, 2005.
  13. ^ Wister, Owen. The Pit — A Story of Chicago, The World's Work, Vol. V, November 1902/April 1903.
  14. ^ Davison, Richard Allan. "A Reading of Frank Norris's The Pit." In The Stoic Strain in American Literature, University of Toronto Press, 1979.
  15. ^ Åhnebrink, Lars. The Influence of Émile Zola on Frank Norris, Lundequistska Bokhandeln, 1947.
  16. ^ Hunt, Jonathan P. Naturalist Democracy: Literary and Political Representation in the Works of Frank Norris and Émile Zola, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1996.
  17. ^ Wood, William Allen. "A Golden Bowl Broken," Phi Gamma Delta Magazine, Vol. XXV, December 1902.
  18. ^ Chamberlin, William Fosdick. The History of Phi Gamma Delta, The Fraternity, 1926.
  19. ^ Everett, Wallace W. "Frank Norris in his Chapter," Phi Gamma Delta Magazine, Vol. LII, April 1930.
  20. ^ "Death of Frank Norris". New York Times. October 26, 1902. Retrieved 2008-06-27. "Frank Norris, the novelist, died to-day as the result of an operation for appendicitis performed three days ago." 
  21. ^ Cooper, Frederic Taber. "Frank Norris," The Bookman, December 1902.
  22. ^ "Now it makes no difference when or where or how a writer stumbles upon the idea which is to serve as his central purpose. It may spring from his head at a moment's notice like Athena, full armored — as was the case with the late Frank Norris, who, as has often been told, came one morning to his publisher's office, pale and trembling all over with excitement, and gasping out, almost inarticulately, "I've got a big idea! A great big idea! The biggest idea ever!" It was the outlined scheme for his trilogy of the Epic of the Wheat — the trilogy which began with The Octopus and The Pit, and which poor Norris did not live to round out with The Wolf." — Cooper, Frederic Taber. "The Author's Purpose." In The Craftsmanship of Writing, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1920.
  23. ^ Rothstein, Morton. "Frank Norris and Popular Perceptions of the Market," Agricultural History, Vol. 56, No. 1, 1982.
  24. ^ Zayani, Mohamed. Reading the Symptom: Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, and the Dynamics of Capitalism, Peter Lang (1999).
  25. ^ Joseph R. McElrath, Jr. and Gwendolyn Jones, "Introduction" to The Pit, Penguin Books, 1994.
  26. ^ Levy, Richard S. Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, Vol. I, pp. 511–512. ISBN 978-1-85109-439-4
  27. ^ Lebowich, Joseph. "The Jew of Frank Norris," The Menorah, Vol. XXXVI, January/June 1904.
  28. ^ Greed (1924) at the Internet Movie Database
  29. ^ Frank Norris, "Hunting Human Game," The Wave, January 23, 1897.
  30. ^ Wyatt, Edith. "Vandover and the Brute." In Great Companions, D. Appleton & Company, 1917.

Further reading[edit]

  • Åhnebrink, Lars. The Beginnings of Naturalism in American Fiction: A Study of the Works of Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, and Frank Norris, Russell & Russell (1961).
  • Altenbernd, August Lynn. The Intellectual Currents in The Octopus: A Study of the Naturalism of Frank Norris, Ohio State University (1949).
  • Anderson, Grace E. A Dictionary of Characters in the Novels of Frank Norris, University of Kansas (1933).
  • Armes, William Dallam. "Concerning the Work of the Late Frank Norris," Sunset, Vol. X, December 1902.
  • Bechter, Leslie G. Frank Norris: his Place in the Development of the American Novel, State University of Iowa (1939).
  • Bender, Bert. "Frank Norris on the Evolution and Repression of the Sexual Instinct," Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 54, No. 1, Jun., 1999.
  • Benét, William Rose. "Rereading The Pit," Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XXV, July 1942.
  • Bixler, Paul H. "Frank Norris's Literary Reputation," American Literature, Vol. 6, No. 2, May, 1934.
  • Borus, Daniel H. Writing Realism: Howells, James, and Norris in the Mass Market, University of North Carolina Press (1989).
  • Boyd, Jennifer. Frank Norris: Spatial Form and Narrative Time, Peter Lang Pub Incorporated (1993).
  • Brooks, Van Wyck. "Frank Norris and Jack London." In The Confident Years: 1885–1915, E. P. Dutton & Co. (1952).
  • Brown, Deming Bronson. The Development of the Use of Symbolism in the Novels of Frank Norris, (M.A. Thesis), University of Washington (1942).
  • Cargill, Oscar. Intellectual America, Macmillan Company (1941).
  • Clarke, Robert Montgomery. Contemporary American Novelists: Frank Norris, (M. A. Thesis), Stanford University (1932).
  • Clift, Denison Hailey. "The Artist in Frank Norris," Pacific Monthly, Vol. XVI, March 1907.
  • Cooper, Frederic Taber. "Frank Norris, Realist," The Bookman, November 1899.
  • Cooper, Frederic Taber. "Frank Norris." In Some American Story Tellers, Henry Holt & Company (1911).
  • Cowley, Malcolm. "'Not Men': A Natural History of American Nauralism," Kenyon Review, Vol. IX, Summer 1947.
  • Crane, Warren Eugene. The Life and Works of Frank Norris as a Reflection of Historical and Literary Trends between 1890 and 1902, (M.A. Thesis), University of Washington (1939).
  • Davison, Richard Allan. "Frank Norris and the Arts of Social Criticism," American Literary Realism, 1870–1910, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring, 1981.
  • Dawson, Jon Falsarella. "Transforming History: The Economic Context of Frank Norris's 'A Deal in Wheat'," Studies in American Naturalism, Vol. 4, Number 2, Winter 2009.
  • Dillingham, William B. Frank Norris: Instinct and Art, University of Nebraska Press (1969).
  • Dobie, Charles Caldwell. "Frank Norris, or, up from Culture," The American Mercury, April 1928.
  • Frohock, Wilbur Merrill. Frank Norris, University of Minnesota Press (1968).
  • Frye, Steven. "Presley's Pretense: Irony and Epic Convention in Frank Norris' The Octopus," American Literary Realism, Vol. 39, No. 3, Spring, 2007.
  • Garland, Hamlin. "The Work of Frank Norris," Critic, Vol. XLII, March 1903.
  • Geismar, Maxwell. "Frank Norris and the Brute." In Rebels and Ancestors: A Critical Study of Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, Jack London, Ellen Glasgow & Theodore Dreiser, W. H. Allen (1954).
  • Ghodes, Clarence Louis Frank. "Facts of Life versus Pleasant Reading." In The Literature of the American People, Appleton-Century-Crofts (1951).
  • Goodrich, Arthur. "Frank Norris," Current Literature, Vol. XXXIII, December 1902.
  • Goodrich, Arthur. "Frank Norris, the Man," Current Literature, Vol. XXXIV, January 1903.
  • Goldsmith, Arnold Smith. Free Will, Determinism and Social Responsibility in the Writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Frank Norris and Henry James (Ph.D. Dissertation), University of Wisconsin (1953).
  • Goldsmith, Arnold Smith. "The Development of Frank Norris's Philosophy." In Studies in Honor of John Wilcox, Wayne State University Press (1958).
  • Graham, Don. The Fiction of Frank Norris: The Aesthetic Context, University of Missouri Press (1976).
  • Grattan, C. Hartley. "Frank Norris," The Bookman, July 1929.
  • Harrison, Robert. The Writings of Frank Norris as Viewed by his Contemporaries (M.A. Thesis), Ohio University (1941).
  • Hart, James D. (ed.) A Novelist in the Making: Frank Norris, Harvard University Press (1970).
  • Hartwick, Harry. "Norris and the Brute." In The Foreground of American Fiction, American Book Company (1934).
  • Hill, Marion V. A Study of Thematic Forces in the Novels of Frank Norris (M.A. Thesis), Bownling Green State University (1954).
  • Hill, John Stanley. Frank Norris's Heroines, University of Wisconsin (1960).
  • Hochman, Barbara. The Art of Frank Norris, Storyteller, University of Missouri Press (1988) ISBN 0-8262-0663-8
  • Houston, Margaret Dorothy. Frank Norris's Theory of Romanticism and Its Application in The Octopus, University of Washington (1939).
  • Howells, William Dean. "Frank Norris (1870–1902)." In Criticism and Fiction, New York University Press (1965).
  • Hussman, Lawrence E. Harbingers of a Century: The Novels of Frank Norris, Peter Lang Pub Inc, (1998).
  • Johnson, George W. "Frank Norris and Romance," American Literature, Vol. 33, No. 1, Mar., 1961.
  • Kaplan, Charles. Frank Norris and the Craft of Fiction (Ph.D. Dissertation), Northwestern University (1952).
  • Kaplan, Charles. "Norris's Use of Sources in The Pit," American Literature, Vol. XXV, March 1953.
  • Kaplan, Charles. "Fact into Fiction in McTeague," Harvard Library Bulletin, Vol. VIII, 1954.
  • Kusler, Gerald E. The Evolution of Frank Norris (M.A. Thesis), State University of Iowa (1950).
  • Kwiat, Joseph J. "The Newspaper Experience: Crane, Norris and Dreiser," Nineteenth Century Fiction, Vol. VIII, September 1953.
  • Letizia, Louise M. Frank Norris: A Study in Contrasts and Contradictions (M.A. Thesis), University of Pittsburgh (1950).
  • Logue, Charles William. Frank Norris: A Study in Romantic Realism (M.A. Thesis), St. John University (1949).
  • Lundy, Robert Donald. The Making of McTeague and The Octopus (Ph.D. Dissertation), University of California, Berkeley (1956).
  • Lye, Coleen. "American Naturalism and Asiatic Racial Form: Frank Norris's The Octopus and Moran of the 'Lady Letty'," Representations, Vol. 84, No. 1, November 2003.
  • Mahin, Sarah Jane. Formative Influences on Frank Norris's Novel McTeague (M.A. Thesis), University of Iowa (1944).
  • Marchand, Ernest. Frank Norris: A Study, Oxford University Press (1942).
  • Matthews, Margaret Moore. Frank Norris: Pioneer Realist (M.A. Thesis), University of South Carolina (1937).
  • McCormick, Paul S. Frank Norris and the American Epic (M.A. Thesis), Columbia University (1931).
  • McElrath, Joseph R. "Frank Norris: A Biographical Essay," American Literary Realism, 1870–1910, Vol. 11, No. 2, Autumn, 1978.
  • McElrath, Joseph R., Jr. and Knight, Katherine. Frank Norris, the Critical Reception, Ben Franklin & Co. (1981).
  • McElrath, Joseph R., Jr. Frank Norris and the Wave: A Bibliography, Garland Pub. (1988).
  • McElrath, Joseph R. "Frank Norris' 'The Puppets and the Puppy': LeContean Idealism or Naturalistic Skepticism?," American Literary Realism, 1870–1910, Vol. 26, No. 1, Fall, 1993.
  • McElrath, Joseph R., Jr. and Crisler, Jesse S. Frank Norris: A Life, University of Illinois Press (2006) ISBN 0-252-03016-8 (the definitive biography of Norris)
  • McElrath, Joseph R., Jr. and Crisler, Jesse S. Frank Norris Remembered, University of Alabama Press (2013).
  • McGinn, Richard Joseph. The Characterization of Women in the Novels of Frank Norris (M.A Thesis), Columbia University (1954).
  • Mitchell, Marvin O'Neill. A Study of Realistic and Romantic Elements in the Fiction of E. W. Howe, Joseph Kirkland, Hamlin Garland and Harold Frederic and Frank Norris (1882–1902), Ph.D. Dissertation, University of North Carolina (1953).
  • Morris, Ethiel Virginia. Frank Norris' Trilogy on American Life (M.A. Thesis), University of Kansas (1928).
  • Musich, Gerald Donald. Frank Norris' Character Types, University of Wisconsin–Madison (1973).
  • Norris, Charles G. Frank Norris, 1870–1902, Doubleday, Page & Co. (1914).
  • Pallette, Drew B. The Theories and Practice of Frank Norris as Related to his California Background (M.A. Thesis), University of Southern California (1934).
  • Parrington, Vernon Louis. "The Development of Realism." In The Reinterpretation of American Literature, Harcourt Brace (1928).
  • Patee, Fred Lewis. The New American Literature, 1890–1930, Century Co. (1930).
  • Phillips, Marion B. Aspects of the Naturalistic Novel in America (M.A. Thesis), University of California (1922).
  • Piper, Henry Dan. "Frank Norris and Scott Fitzgerald," Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 4, Aug., 1956.
  • Pizer, Donald. "Romantic Individualism in Garland, Norris and Crane," American Quarterly, Vol. X, Winter 1958.
  • Pizer, Donald. "Evolutionary Ethical Dualism in Frank Norris' Vandover and the Brute and McTeague," PMLA, Vol. 76, No. 5, Dec., 1961.
  • Pizer, Donald. The Novels of Frank Norris, Indiana University Press (1966).
  • Preston, Harriet Waters. "The Novels of Mr. Norris," Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XCI, May 1903.
  • Ramsay, Orrington Cozzens. Frank Norris and Environment (Ph.D. Dissertation), University of Wisconsin (1950).
  • Rosa, Matthew Whiting. Frank Norris (M.A. Thesis), Columbia University (1929).
  • Smith, Allan Lloyd. "Frank Norris: The Crisis of Representation," American Literary Realism, 1870–1910, Vol. 27, No. 2, Winter, 1995.
  • Spector, Michael Jay. Frank Norris and Human Nature, University of Wisconsin–Madison (1962).
  • Stegner, Wallace. The American Novel: from James Fenimore Cooper to William Faulkner, Basic Books (1965).
  • Thorp, Willard. American Writing in the Twentieth Century, Harvard University Press (1960).
  • Todd, Frank M. "Frank Norris, Student, Author and Man," University of California Magazine, Vol. VIII, November 1902.
  • Toher, Martha Dimes. "'The Music of the Spheres': The Diapason in Frank Norris's Works," American Literary Realism, 1870–1910, Vol. 15, No. 2, Autumn, 1982.
  • Underwood, John Curtis. "Frank Norris." In Literature and Insurgency, Chap. IV, Mitchell Kennerley (1914).
  • Walker, Franklin. Frank Norris: A Biography, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc. (1932).
  • Wertheim, Stanley. "Frank Norris and Stephen Crane: Conviction and Uncertainty," American Literary Realism, 1870–1910, Vol. 24, No. 1, Fall, 1991.

External links[edit]