Frank Norris

Benjamin Franklin Norris, Jr

  • American


Benjamin Franklin Norris has been called "the most stimulating and militant" of the early American naturalist writers. An intellectual child 'of the 1890s Frank Norris's art reflects that sober period of American disillusionment and portrays the individual' s loss of freedom and dignity in his struggle with complex forces of modern society. Two of his novels, McTeague (1899) and The Octopus (1901), still stand as great and distinguished landmarks in history of American literature. - NRHP Registration

Notable Position Organization From To
Reader Doubleday
Reporter in South America San Francisco Chronical 1895 1896
Themes with Frank Norris

Timeline

Y/M/D Description Association Composition Place Locale Food Event
Y/M/D Description Association Composition Place Locale Food Event
1898/00/00 Moran of the "Lady Letty": A Story of Adventure Off the California Coast - published Author Moran of the "Lady Letty": A Story of Adventure Off the California Coast
1899/00/00 McTeague: A Story of San Francisco - published Author McTeague: A Story of San Francisco
1899/03/22 Frank Norris completes A Man's Woman, published in 1900 Author A Man's Woman
1900/00/00 Sister Carrie - published Doubleday reader Sister Carrie
1901/00/00 The Octopus: A Story of California - published Author The Octopus: A Story of California
1902/00/00 Frank Norris buys a farm in the hills near Gilroy where he could raise fruit and write novels. He never wrote here. Owner Frank Norris Cabin Gilroy
1902/10/25 Frank Norris dies in San Francisco after an operation for appendicitis Died
1903/00/00 The Pit: A Story of Chicago - published Author The Pit: A Story of Chicago
1903/00/00 A Deal in Wheat and Other Stories of the New and Old West - published Author A Deal in Wheat and Other Stories of the New and Old West
1914/00/00 Vandover and the Brute - published Author Vandover and the Brute

History

Benjamin Franklin Norris (5 March 1870 - 25 October 1902), journalist and novelist, known both in private life and in the literary world as Frank Norris, was born in Chicago, IL, the son of Benjamin Franklin Norris and Gertrude (Doggett) Norris. His father, lame because of hip disease and consequently unfitted for the severe toil of a Michigan farm, became at the age of fourteen unpaid assistant to a village watchmaker, learned the trade, saw something of the world as itinerant clock-mender and peddler, prospered, and ultimately founded his own jewelry firm in Chicago. Frank's mother, born of mixed New England and Virginia ancestry on a Massachusetts farm, was before her marriage a teacher in the public schools of Chicago and an actress who had enjoyed considerable success on the professional stage. Of their five children, but two, Frank and a brother, Charles, eleven years his junior, also destined to win distinction as a writer, survived the perils of infancy and childhood.

In 1884, largely on account of the health of the elder Norris, the family moved to California, residing first at Oakland and a year later in San Francisco. Frank was sent to a school for boys at Belmont, some twenty miles south of the city. In 1886 he was kept out of school for a time by a fracture of the left arm, and to relieve the tedium of its convalescence he went to a local artist for lessons in drawing. He showed such aptitude that his father resolved to give him the best opportunities for its development. In 1887 the parents took their two sons first to London and then to Paris where Frank enrolled in the Atelier Julian. The family remained in Paris for more than a year and then returned to California, leaving the young artist to peruse his studies. But these studies came to an abrupt end in 1889 when the elder Norris, convinced, it is said, by the discovery of a serial romance with which Frank was entertaining his younger brother by mail, that his time in Paris was not being profitably employed, cabled him instructions to return home. The next year he definitely committed himself to literature rather than art by entering the University of California. In college he exercised his talents on student plays and class books, with an occasional story or poem. Having come under the influence of Zola, whom he read with the devotion of a disciple, he adopted realism as a creed and began the first chapters of a story of San Francisco to be later completed and published as McTeague. Prevented by unfulfilled requirements in mathematics from graduating with his class in 1894, he spent the next year at Harvard, as a special student in English, electing among others a course in English composition with Lewis E. Gates, who recognized and encouraged his literary ambition. Parts of Vandover and the Brute were written under this stimulus.

In the autumn of 1895 Norris went to South Africa with credentials from the San Francisco Chronicle, arriving just in time to become involved in Dr Leander Starr Jameson 's disastrous raid on Johannesburg. He was captured by the Boers and ordered to leave the country. A severe attack of African fever prevented him from doing so at once, and he was not able to return to San Francisco until the spring of 1896. There has was taken on the staff of a literary weekly known as the Wave and wrote diligently for its columns. "Moran of the Lady Letty," a tale of love and adventure at sea, based, it is said, upon material secured from a sailor in the coast guard, was written at this time. Within two years he was in New York City, where he was associated with McClure 's Magazine. As correspondent for the same periodical he was in Cuba during the Santiago campaign and suffered there a severe recurrence of the African fever. Upon his recovery he returned to New York and in 1899 entered the service of Doubleday, Page & Company. He resumed his literary work, the quality of which speedily won him recognition as a novelist of unusual vigor and originality. Moran of the Lady Letty appeared in book form in 1898 and McTeague and Blix in 1899. McTeague, which some regard as his strongest work, is a tale of passion and violence, beginning in the office of a charlatan dentist in the older section of San Francisco and ending in the scorched distances of Death Valley. It is the stuff of romance realistically set forth in scenes new to most readers.

A less successful novel, A Man 's Woman, a story of love and arctic exploration, followed in 1900, and then began a more ambitious undertaking, his "Epic of the Wheat." This was to consist of "The Octopus," a story of California and the growing of the wheat, "The Pit," a Chicago tale of wheat in the commerce of the world, and "The Wolf," which should show the wheat consumed as bread in some famine-stricken village of the old world. The Octopus appeared in 1901. It was a novel with a purpose, an ardent defense of the wheat-growers in their struggle against the dominating greed of the railroad trust, and through it ran the epic story of the life-giving wheat, impersonal and irresistible, in the end engulfing the odious figure of the railway agent. The Pit was posthumously issued in 1903 and as a novel and as a play enjoyed a great success. A collection of essays, The Responsibilities of the Novelist, was published in the same year and Vandover and the Brute in 1914.

Norris was married Jan. 12, 1900, to Jeanette Black of California, and one child, a daughter, was born to them. Blix is said to be in some degree the story of his own wooing and of his struggle for literary recognition. He died in a hospital in San Francisco of peritonitis following an operation for appendicitis. He had returned to California in 1902 and had purchased a ranch near Gilroy, intending to make it his home. A projected trip to India for material for "The Wolf" and a second trilogy, to deal with the battle of Gettysburg, were frustrated by his death, which brought to a close a life of real literary promise. His works were published in collected editions in 1903 and 1928. - NRHP Registration

7 Creative Works by Frank Norris »

Title Type Association Y/M/D Moniker
Title Type Association Y/M/D Moniker
Moran of the "Lady Letty": A Story of Adventure Off the California Coast Author Book 1898/00/00
McTeague: A Story of San Francisco Author Book 1899/00/00
A Man's Woman Author Book 1899/03/22
The Octopus: A Story of California Author Book 1901/00/00
A Deal in Wheat and Other Stories of the New and Old West Author Short Stories 1903/00/00
The Pit: A Story of Chicago Author Book 1903/00/00
Vandover and the Brute Author Book 1914/00/00

Benjamin Franklin Norris (5 March 1870 - 25 October 1902), journalist and novelist, known both in private life and in the literary world as Frank Norris, was born in Chicago, IL, the son of Benjamin Franklin Norris and Gertrude (Doggett) Norris. His father, lame because of hip disease and consequently unfitted for the severe toil of a Michigan farm, became at the age of fourteen unpaid assistant to a village watchmaker, learned the trade, saw something of the world as itinerant clock-mender and peddler, prospered, and ultimately founded his own jewelry firm in Chicago. Frank's mother, born of mixed New England and Virginia ancestry on a Massachusetts farm, was before her marriage a teacher in the public schools of Chicago and an actress who had enjoyed considerable success on the professional stage. Of their five children, but two, Frank and a brother, Charles, eleven years his junior, also destined to win distinction as a writer, survived the perils of infancy and childhood.

In 1884, largely on account of the health of the elder Norris, the family moved to California, residing first at Oakland and a year later in San Francisco. Frank was sent to a school for boys at Belmont, some twenty miles south of the city. In 1886 he was kept out of school for a time by a fracture of the left arm, and to relieve the tedium of its convalescence he went to a local artist for lessons in drawing. He showed such aptitude that his father resolved to give him the best opportunities for its development. In 1887 the parents took their two sons first to London and then to Paris where Frank enrolled in the Atelier Julian. The family remained in Paris for more than a year and then returned to California, leaving the young artist to peruse his studies. But these studies came to an abrupt end in 1889 when the elder Norris, convinced, it is said, by the discovery of a serial romance with which Frank was entertaining his younger brother by mail, that his time in Paris was not being profitably employed, cabled him instructions to return home. The next year he definitely committed himself to literature rather than art by entering the University of California. In college he exercised his talents on student plays and class books, with an occasional story or poem. Having come under the influence of Zola, whom he read with the devotion of a disciple, he adopted realism as a creed and began the first chapters of a story of San Francisco to be later completed and published as McTeague. Prevented by unfulfilled requirements in mathematics from graduating with his class in 1894, he spent the next year at Harvard, as a special student in English, electing among others a course in English composition with Lewis E. Gates, who recognized and encouraged his literary ambition. Parts of Vandover and the Brute were written under this stimulus.

In the autumn of 1895 Norris went to South Africa with credentials from the San Francisco Chronicle, arriving just in time to become involved in Dr Leander Starr Jameson 's disastrous raid on Johannesburg. He was captured by the Boers and ordered to leave the country. A severe attack of African fever prevented him from doing so at once, and he was not able to return to San Francisco until the spring of 1896. There has was taken on the staff of a literary weekly known as the Wave and wrote diligently for its columns. "Moran of the Lady Letty," a tale of love and adventure at sea, based, it is said, upon material secured from a sailor in the coast guard, was written at this time. Within two years he was in New York City, where he was associated with McClure 's Magazine. As correspondent for the same periodical he was in Cuba during the Santiago campaign and suffered there a severe recurrence of the African fever. Upon his recovery he returned to New York and in 1899 entered the service of Doubleday, Page & Company. He resumed his literary work, the quality of which speedily won him recognition as a novelist of unusual vigor and originality. Moran of the Lady Letty appeared in book form in 1898 and McTeague and Blix in 1899. McTeague, which some regard as his strongest work, is a tale of passion and violence, beginning in the office of a charlatan dentist in the older section of San Francisco and ending in the scorched distances of Death Valley. It is the stuff of romance realistically set forth in scenes new to most readers.

A less successful novel, A Man 's Woman, a story of love and arctic exploration, followed in 1900, and then began a more ambitious undertaking, his "Epic of the Wheat." This was to consist of "The Octopus," a story of California and the growing of the wheat, "The Pit," a Chicago tale of wheat in the commerce of the world, and "The Wolf," which should show the wheat consumed as bread in some famine-stricken village of the old world. The Octopus appeared in 1901. It was a novel with a purpose, an ardent defense of the wheat-growers in their struggle against the dominating greed of the railroad trust, and through it ran the epic story of the life-giving wheat, impersonal and irresistible, in the end engulfing the odious figure of the railway agent. The Pit was posthumously issued in 1903 and as a novel and as a play enjoyed a great success. A collection of essays, The Responsibilities of the Novelist, was published in the same year and Vandover and the Brute in 1914.

Norris was married Jan. 12, 1900, to Jeanette Black of California, and one child, a daughter, was born to them. Blix is said to be in some degree the story of his own wooing and of his struggle for literary recognition. He died in a hospital in San Francisco of peritonitis following an operation for appendicitis. He had returned to California in 1902 and had purchased a ranch near Gilroy, intending to make it his home. A projected trip to India for material for "The Wolf" and a second trilogy, to deal with the battle of Gettysburg, were frustrated by his death, which brought to a close a life of real literary promise. His works were published in collected editions in 1903 and 1928. - NRHP Registration

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