Naturalism was a literary movement taking place from 1880s to 1940s that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character. It was depicted as a literary movement that seeks to replicate a believable everyday reality, as opposed to such movements as Romanticism or Surrealism, in which subjects may receive highly symbolic, idealistic, or even supernatural treatment. Naturalism is the outgrowth of literary realism, a prominent literary movement in mid-19th-century France and elsewhere. Naturalistic writers were influenced by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.[1] They believed that one's heredity and social environment determine one's character. Whereas realism seeks only to describe subjects as they really are, naturalism also attempts to determine "scientifically" the underlying forces (e.g. the environment or heredity) influencing the actions of its subjects. Naturalistic works often include uncouth or sordid subject matter; for example, Émile Zola's works had a frankness about sexuality along with a pervasive pessimism. Naturalistic works exposed the dark harshness of life, including poverty, racism, sex, violence, prejudice, disease, corruption, prostitution, and filth. As a result, naturalistic writers were frequently criticized for focusing too much on human vice and misery.

Defining characteristicsEdit

There are defining characteristics of literary naturalism. One of these is pessimism. Very often, one or more characters will continue to repeat one line or phrase that tends to have a pessimistic connotation, sometimes emphasizing the inevitability of death.

For example Bernard Bonnejean quotes this passage of Huysmans where the symbolism of death is visible, such an allegory, in a portrait of old woman:

[...] une vieille bique de cinquante ans, une longue efflanquée qui bêlait à la lune, campée sur ses maigres tibias [...] crevant les draps de ses os en pointeTemplate:Translate quote[2]

Another characteristic of literary naturalism is detachment from the story. The author often tries to maintain a tone that will be experienced as 'objective.' Also, an author will sometimes achieve detachment by creating nameless characters (though, strictly speaking, this is more common among modernists such as Ernest Hemingway). This puts the focus on the plot and what happens to the character, rather than the characters themselves. Another characteristic of naturalism is determinism. Determinism is basically the opposite of the notion of free will. For determinism, the idea that individual characters have a direct influence on the course of their lives is supplanted by a focus on nature or fate. Often, a naturalist author will lead the reader to believe a character's fate has been pre-determined, usually by environmental factors, and that he/she can do nothing about it. Another common characteristic is a surprising twist at the end of the story. Equally, there tends to be in naturalist novels and stories a strong sense that nature is indifferent to human struggle. These are only a few of the defining characteristics of naturalism, however.

Naturalism is an extension of realism, and may be better understood by study of the basic precepts of that literary movement. The term naturalism itself may have been used in this sense for the first time by Émile Zola. It is believed that he sought a new idea to convince the reading public of something new and more modern in his fiction. He argued that his innovation in fiction-writing was the creation of characters and plots based on the scientific method.

See alsoEdit


  1. Williams (1976, 217).
  2. Huysmans, Les Soeurs Vatard, Union générale, 1975,175 and 234,quoted in Bernard Bonnejean "Huysmans avant À Rebours : les fondements nécessaires d'une quête en devenir", in Le Mal dans l'imaginaire français (1850-1950), éd. David et L'Harmattan, 1998 (ISBN 2-7384-6198-0) ; "Huysmans before A Rebours: The necessary foundation for a quest to become", The evil in the French imaginary (1850-1950), Ed. David and L'Harmattan, 1998 (ISBN 2-7384-6198-0)


External linksEdit

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