Naturalism definition literature/origin/characteristics/works


The Naturalism was a mainly literary, artistic movement emerged in France during the second half of the nineteenth century, which spread to the rest of Europe and the United States, whose most prominent representative was the writer Émile Zola (1840-1902). Naturalism definition literature

Naturalism is a deepening or radicalization of literary realism, with which it is sometimes confused, and is a reaction against romanticism, which dominated the literary scene since the 18th century.

In addition, it is a movement that arises under the growing influence of science and ideological and philosophical currents such as scientism, positivism and Marxism.

Although its area of ​​influence is above all the narrative (novels and short stories), naturalism had followers in the theater and in painting.

Naturalism in art and philosophy

At the end of the 19th century, a movement emerged in French painting that sought to emphasize realistic pictorial qualities . Often the term naturalism is interchanged with the one of realism, being confused. It is also known by other names, such as Bande Noire or Les Nubiens .

In philosophy, naturalists are called certain philosophical currents that take nature as the center and principle of everything that can be determined as real. They reject what they consider supernatural, such as God or concepts such as soul, and affirm that all behavior that could be considered “supernatural” has a natural explanation.

Origin of naturalism

Naturalism as a movement has at least two sources: a philosophical and ideological, and an artistic one.

Philosophical and ideological origins Naturalism definition literature

The nineteenth century lives in a continuous scientific revolution in fields such as mathematics, physics, biology and medicine, while the technological and industrial revolution is accelerating. This phenomenon produces a clash between social inequalities and growing progress, which will be reflected in various currents of thought.

On the one hand, positivist philosophy arises and prevails, together with a blind faith in science and a growing speculation around theories such as Darwin’s evolutionism, scientism and determinism, which will give enormous weight to the role of biology in social behavior. Naturalism definition literature

It is also in this century when the social ideas coming from the French Revolution will drift towards materialism and Marxism. All these ideas form the ideological basis of naturalism.

Artistic origins Naturalism definition literature

Naturalism is part of a reaction against romanticism, an artistic trend that dominated the scene since the late seventeenth century, and against aestheticism, which will continue to prevail in genres such as poetry.

But its true root, with which naturalism will continue to be confused, is realism, a movement that emerged during the first half of the 19th century and whose main literary representatives in France will be Honoré de Balzac, Henri Beyle (Stendhal) and Gustave Flaubert. Naturalism definition literature

Three theoretical texts played a fundamental role in the emergence and expansion of naturalism: the Philosophy of the Salon of 1857 , by Jules-Antoine Castagnary (1858), the Introduction to the study of experimental medicine , by Claude Bernard (1865), and the Experimental Novel , by Émile Zola (1880), which included his articles published in previous years.

Characteristics of naturalism Naturalism definition literature


Naturalism proposes to get rid of sentimentality and a subjective vision of reality. The text, as a social document, should be as “objective” as possible, presenting the situations without expressing opinions.

Application of the scientific method

They tried to apply the techniques of the scientific model to the work of art. In the words of Émile Zola: “If the experimental method has been able to be transferred from chemistry and physics to physiology and medicine, it can be from physiology to the novel.”Naturalism definition literature

In general terms, he was referring to the fact that the representation of reality should be objective, far from the ethical and moral values of bourgeois societies. Consequently, values ​​such as the beautiful or the ugly were not judged; it was the situation, and in an amoral way (in the sense of not giving it values ​​of good or bad).

Attachment to reality

In the descriptions, natural or social, they try to stick as closely as possible to the real, sometimes incurring the rugged and ugly (without adorning or ignoring grotesque scenes).

Interest in the lower classes and the petty bourgeoisie

Unlike romanticism, and in part of realism, they try to reflect or tell the life of the lower classes and the petty bourgeoisie: housewives, employees, prostitutes, civil servants and small merchants.

Non-subjective and lyric-free style Naturalism definition literature

Naturalist artists try to keep lyricism at bay and seek a stark style, as objective as possible. Texts are generally narrated in the third person, although some topics were addressed in the form of “autofiction” (in the first person).

Reflection of the ideology of the authors

Despite their claim to “objectivity”, the naturalist texts reflected the critical stance of their authors regarding the various evils that afflicted society.

Literary naturalism Naturalism definition literature

Literary naturalism arises in France from the realistic narrative of authors such as Stendhal, Balzac and Flaubert. The latter in a way heralds naturalism with his novel Madame Bovary , which breaks with proselytism and the “social message” present in the work of authors like Balzac.

For his part, Émile Zola inaugurates naturalism with his novel Teresa Raquin (1868), and consolidates this movement with his saga of the Rougon-Macquart family, a project of twenty novels that in the first one has as a subtitle: “Natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire ”.

The movement was strengthened in France in 1873, when Zola met with Flaubert, Alphonse Daudet, the brothers Jules and Edmond Goncourt and Guy de Maupassant, among others, with whom he published a collective volume that appeared in 1875.

The movement extends to Spain (with authors such as Emilia Pardo Bazán, Narcís Oller, Benito Pérez Galdós, Leopoldo Alas “Clarín”), England (Thomas Hardy), Ireland (George Moore), Russia (Tolstoy, in Ana Karénina , and the young Máximo Gorki), Portugal (Eça de Queiroz), United States (Frank Norris), Germany (Theodor Fontane), etc.

Literary naturalism loses strength at the beginning of the 20th century with the emergence of the literary avant-gardes, however part of its theses are still valid in literary ideological currents such as socialist realism, and in Spanish-American novels of the first half of the 20th century.

Representatives and outstanding works of naturalism

With the exception of Zola, most of the authors who published naturalistic novels were closer to realism. We mention here the texts considered representative of this school.

Émile Zola (France, 1840-1902) Naturalism definition literature

He is the main author of the naturalistic school, of which he is also considered the founder and main theorist. In her extensive work, Teresa Raquin (1868) and her novelistic project Les Rougon-Macquart stand out : twenty novels published between 1871 and 1893, among which titles such as Nana (1880) and Germinal (1885) stand out.

Zola is best remembered for his involvement in the Dreyfus case and his famous open letter to the President of the Republic J’acusse…! (1898). Naturalism definition literature

Gustave Flaubert (France, 1821-1880)

In addition to Madame Bovary , her novel La Educación Sentimental (1869) can be considered as naturalistic .

Leo Tolstoy (Russia, 1828-1910)

From the work of this extraordinary Russian narrator, his novel Ana Karénina (1877) has stood out as a naturalist .

Benito Pérez Galdós (Spain, 1843-1920)

Considered by some critics as the greatest writer in the Spanish language after Cervantes, his novels La desheredada (1881), and Fortunata y Jacinta (1887) are considered naturalists .

Emilia Pardo Bazán (Spain, 1851-1921)

Essayist, playwright, poet and storyteller, this multifaceted author was one of the main promoters of naturalism in Spain, with works such as La tribuna (1883), La question palpitante (1883) and Los pazos de Ulloa (1887).

Leopoldo Alas, “Clarín” (Spain, 1852-1901)

Writer, literary critic, jurist and university professor, Clarín was a great popularizer of naturalist theses in Spain, and is especially remembered for his novel La Regenta (1885).

George Moore (Ireland, 1852-1933)

Playwright, critic and poet, this Irish novelist became a naturalist after his contact in Paris with Émile Zola, and his work is considered to have influenced that of his best-known compatriot, James Joyce. His novel The Faker’s Woman (1885) stands out.

Thomas Hardy (England, 1840-1928) Naturalism definition literature

This English poet and novelist developed a narrative work marked by pessimism and of a naturalistic nature. Among his novels, Tess d’Ubervilles (1891) stands out and continues to be read today .

Theodor Fontane (German, 1819-1898)

Journalist, poet, playwright and storyteller, of his extensive work the novel Effi Briest (1896) stands out for its naturalistic character .

Frank Norris (United States, 1870-1902)

He is considered the first representative of naturalism in American literature , whose most outstanding novel was McTeague (1899). Naturalism definition literature

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