An Introduction to Edith Wharton the great American Realist: A Glimpse at the Literary Movements of Realism & Naturalism Eleventh Grade American Literature Brookwood High School Ms. Pennell What is the literary movement known as Naturalism? The term naturalism describes a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings. Unlike realism, which focuses on literary technique, naturalism implies a philosophical position. Naturalism: The Study of the Natural Habitat and Hereditary Forces of the “Human Beast” For naturalistic writers, since human beings are "human beasts," characters can be studied through their relationships to their surroundings. Naturalism Continued “Virtue and vice are products like vitriol (of glass) and sugar"--that is, that human beings as "products" should be studied impartially, without moralizing about their natures. Other influences on American naturalists include Herbert Spencer and Joseph LeConte. A Bit More on Naturalism Through this objective study of human beings, naturalistic writers believed that the laws behind the forces that govern human lives might be studied and understood. It is important to note … Naturalistic writers thus used a version of the scientific method to write their novels. They studied human beings governed by their instincts and passions as well as the ways in which the characters' lives were governed by forces of heredity and environment. A Contrast Between Realism and Naturalism Although they used the techniques of accumulating detail pioneered by the realists, the naturalists thus had a specific object in mind when they chose the segment of reality that they wished to convey. Naturalism or “Pessimistic Materialistic Determinism” George Becker Godzilla versus Bambi A naturalistic cartoon A Definition of Naturalism by Donald Pizer The naturalistic novel usually contains two tensions or contradictions, and . . . the two in conjunction comprise both an interpretation of experience and a particular aesthetic recreation of experience. In other words, the two constitute the theme and form of the naturalistic novel. The First Tension The first tension is that between the subject matter of the naturalistic novel and the concept of man which emerges from this subject matter. This tension is very similar to the conflicts and themes we studied while reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Readers typically see a conflict between man versus society, and/or man versus nature. The Naturalistic Setting The naturalist populates her or his novel primarily from the lower middle class or the lower class. . . . His or her fictional world is that of the commonplace and unheroic in which life would seem to be chiefly the dull round of daily existence, as we ourselves usually conceive of our lives. The Naturalistic Protagonist … But the naturalist discovers in this world those qualities of man usually associated with the heroic or adventurous, such as acts of violence and passion which involve adventure or bodily strength and which culminate in desperate moments and violent injury or death (either spiritually or emotionally as well as physically). Another Contrast Between Realism and Naturalism … A naturalistic novel is thus an extension of realism only in the sense that both modes often deal with the local and contemporary. The naturalist, however, discovers in this material the extraordinary and excessive in human nature. The Second Tension The second tension involves the theme of the naturalistic novel. The naturalist often describes his characters as though they are conditioned and controlled by environment, heredity, instinct, or chance. More on the Second Tension But s/he also suggests a compensating humanistic value in her or his characters or their fates which affirms the significance of the individual and of his or her life. The tension here is that between the naturalist's desire to represent in fiction the new, discomfiting truths which s/he has found in the ideas and life of his or her late nineteenth-century world, and also her or his desire to find some meaning in experience which reasserts the validity of the human enterprise. Naturalistic Characters Characters in naturalist novels are frequently but not invariably illeducated or lower-class characters whose lives are governed by the forces of heredity, instinct, and passion. More on Naturalist Characters Their attempts at exercising free will or choice are hamstrung by forces beyond their control; social Darwinism and other theories help to explain their fates to the reader. Naturalistic Settings Frequently, naturalistic novels and short stories take place in squalid urban settings The novel Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and the short stories “An Episode of War” by Stephen Crane, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce, and “To Build a Fire” by Jack London are set in rural America and the Alaskan Yukon. Naturalistic Techniques and Plots The naturalistic novel offers "clinical, panoramic, slice-of-life" drama that is often a "chronicle of despair" The novel Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton is representative of this idea of a “chronicle of despair” The novel tells the story of the destruction of the happiness and the lives of three human beings Themes Present in Naturalism The "brute within" each individual, composed of strong and often warring emotions: passions, such as lust, greed, or the desire for dominance or pleasure; and the fight for survival in an amoral, indifferent universe. The conflict in naturalistic novels is often "man against nature" or "man against himself" as characters struggle to retain a "veneer of civilization" despite external pressures that threaten to release the "brute within." Themes Present in Naturalism Nature as an indifferent force acting on the lives of human beings. The romantic vision of Wordsworth--that "nature never did betray the heart that loved her"--here becomes Stephen Crane's view in "The Open Boat": "This tower was a giant, standing with its back to the plight of the ants. It represented in a degree, to the correspondent, the serenity of nature amid the struggles of the individual--nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men. She did not seem cruel to him then, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent." Themes Present in Naturalism The forces of heredity and environment as they affect--and afflict--individual lives. Ethan Frome, Wharton’s protagonist, is afflicted by personal tragedy and limiting social and economic circumstances in his life. His father passes away at an early age. Ethan is then forced to care for his elderly mother in almost total isolation. Ultimately, Ethan is taken advantage of by an older cousin. The bleak setting of Starkville is the perfect backdrop for this “chronicle of despair.” Themes Present in Naturalism An indifferent, deterministic universe. Naturalistic texts often describe the futile attempts of human beings to exercise free will, often ironically presented, in this universe that reveals free will as an illusion. Edith at Eighteen This picture shows Edith Wharton at the age of eighteen when she was still Edith Newbold Jones, the daughter of a wealthy New York family of impeccable social background. A serious, studious girl, she had already mastered several languages and had written her first novel. It was called Fast and Loose, and she even wrote a series of mock reviews criticizing it. Forbidden to read novels as a child, she studied the classics. A Young Edith Wharton Her mother paid to have a book of Edith Wharton's poems published anonymously (Verses, 1878), and William Dean Howells published five of them in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly. Her family, however, worried that such an intellectual daughter might not marry and tried to discourage further artistic efforts. Edith Jones thus made her debut into New York society a year early, in 1879. By 1880 she was engaged, though not to her future husband Edward Wharton, whom she would marry in 1885. Wharton's first published story is "Mrs. Manstey's View," which appeared in Scribner's Magazine in 1891. Early works include The Greater Inclination (1899), a collection of short stories; The Touchstone (1900); Crucial Instances (stories; 1901); and a novel set in Italy, The Valley of Decision (1902). Edith Wharton's New York This picture of the interior of her mother's house at 28 West 25th Street in New York City in 1884 shows the wealth and sophistication of Edith Wharton's milieu. Wharton, who preferred a more restrained and classically elegant style of decoration than this, would later write The Decoration of Houses (1897), a best-selling book on interior design, with interior designer Ogden Codman. An avid gardener all her life, she designed elaborate gardens for her houses, first at The Mount and later at her houses in France. A niece, Beatrix Farrand, later became a famous landscape architect. Edith Wharton at 45 This picture of Edith Wharton in 1907 shows her at about 45 years of age. She had published several works, including one of the best-selling books of 1905, The House of Mirth. Other important works of this period include Madame de Treymes (1907) and The Fruit of the Tree (1907), a novel that addressed issues such as euthanasia and labor conditions. Wharton's success at depicting New York society led some readers to believe that she was simply a society novelist. A keen social critic and reader of Darwin, Hegel, and other theorists, however, Wharton applied what we would today term an almost scientific detachment to her study of the world that she knew so well. Wharton's New York novels are often called novels of manners, a term that describes works depicting a particular social class and way of life, the action of which revolves around social situations and their resolution. Her novels have also been called naturalistic. Later in her life, she met F. Scott Fitzgerald. Jack London, author of The Call of the Wild, admired her work, as did Sinclair Lewis, who dedicated a book to her. The Mount This picture shows The Mount, the house that Edith and Teddy Wharton built near Lenox, Massachusetts. Lenox is in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts; not far away is the home where Hawthorne wrote Tanglewood Tales. Built in 1901, this house was the Whartons' summer home for about ten years. Henry James and other authors were frequent visitors, and the house still stands today. While spending time in Massachusetts, she came to know the conditions and people of the poor and remote villages, experiences that she would later write about in Ethan Frome (1911) and Summer (1917). In the mornings, Edith Wharton would stay in bed and write; she joined her guests at luncheon and was a famously thoughtful hostess. Edith Wharton This is the last formal portrait of Wharton; it was taken in about 1921. She used it as the picture for her 1934 autobiography, A Backward Glance. During World War I, Wharton organized hospital committees and raised a great deal of money for the relief of refugees. She received the medal of the Legion of Honor for her work during the war. In 1921, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1920 novel of Old New York, The Age of Innocence. Other works of this period include several novels: The Glimpses of the Moon (1922) A Son at the Front (1921), The Mother's Recompense (1925), Twilight Sleep (1927), The Children (1928), and Hudson River Bracketed (1929). She also wrote stories and a set of four novellas published in 1924 as Old New York: "The 'Forties'" (False Dawn), "The 'Fifties'" (The Old Maid), "The 'Sixties' (The Spark), and "The 'Seventies'" (New Year's Day). "Roman Fever," a much later work, was published in Liberty Magazine in November 1934. She received $3,000 for its publication.. At Yale in 1923 In 1923, Edith Wharton received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Yale University, the first woman to be honored in this way at Yale. Many of her papers, letters, and manuscripts are now at Yale University’s Beinecke Library. Wharton continued to travel as well as write during this decade, taking a two-month Aegean and Mediterranean cruise in 1926 and visiting Rome in 1931, 1932, and 1934. After a long residence in France, Edith Wharton died on August 11, 1937. Her last novel, The Buccaneers, was unfinished, but it has recently been republished and made into a miniseries. Other Wharton works made into movies include The Old Maid, The Age of Innocence (1934 and 1993), Ethan Frome, and The Children.A film version of The House of Mirth starring Gillian Anderson was released in 2000.