Considered one of the leading pioneers in American Naturalism, Frank Norris is read and studied for his vivid and honest depiction of life at the beginning of a lusty and developing new century. Born in Chicago, he moved to San Francisco with his well-to-do family when he was 14 and went on to attend the University of California and Harvard University before becoming a war correspondent in South Africa and Cuba. His early apprentice work consisted mostly of rather unremarkable adventure stories, but with the long-gestating McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (1899), he struck a new note. That powerful study of avarice in a seedy section of the Bay Area may well be Norris's masterpiece. The Octopus (1901), the first of Norris's projected Epic of the Wheat series, deals with the raising of wheat in California and the struggle of ranchers against the railroads, while The Pit (1903) is a novel about speculation on the Chicago wheat exchange. Unfortunately, Norris died suddenly after an operation for appendicitis. Like Stephen Crane, a writer with whom Norris is frequently compared, Norris died too young to fulfill his considerable promise, but he has more than held his own ground among turn-of-the-century writers whose works have lived. One reason may be that he took his craft as a writer seriously, as is shown by his posthumously published Responsibilities of the Novelist and Other Literary Essays (1903) and The Literary Criticism of Frank Norris, edited by Donald Pizer.
Donald Pizer, Pierce Butler Professor of English Emeritus at Tulane University, has published widely on late 19th- and early 20th-century American literature. His books include The Novels of Theodore Dreiser: A Critical Study (1976) and The Theory and Practice of American Literary Naturalism (1993).