Titles by the Author
Frank Norris (1870-1902), American novleist, was born Benjamin Franklin Norris, Jr., his mother being Gertrude (Doggett) Norris. His birthplace was Chicago, where his father...was a wholesale jeweler. His mother...had been an actress before her marriage, and it was undoubtedly from her that Frank Norris and his younger brother, the novelist Charles G. Norris, inherited their talent. When Frank was fourteen the family moved to California for the benefit of the father's health, settling first in Oakland and a year later in San Francisco. In the latter city they lived in the Polk Street district, then a semi-slum region of small stores, which is the scene of McTeague. Frank went to a private school in Belmont, Calif., but while he was laid up by a fracture of his left arm, it was discovered that he had some gift for drawing, and in 1887 the whole family went abroad to settle him in art school, first in London and then...in Paris. There they left him for two years. He wasted much of his time in the art school, and his mind steeped in Froissart's arthurian romances, spent many hours in writing a long fantastic story centering about his own adventures, and illustrated by himself, which he sent in sections to his much younger brother. When his father discovered how his money was being used, he peremptorily ordered his son home.
Back in San Francisco, he determined to be a writer rather than an artist. He entered the University of California, but "flunked out" in mathematics and was obliged to leave. It was at the university that he discovered Zola, and became fired iwth the ambition to be the first American realist, and to treat in minute detail of the life he actually saw about him. He went to Harvard for a year...and then in 1895 sailed for South Africa as correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle, which had already published several of his stories. In Africa, Norris became associated with Sir (Dr.) Leander Starr Jameson in his raid n the Transvaal, and was captured and expelled by the Boers. Before this occurred, he had suffered a severe attack of tropical fever, which was to weaken his constitution permanently. He went back to San Francisco and became associated with the magazine, the Wave, which attracted most of the local literati. By 1898, however, he had left again for New York, where he was on the staff of McClure's Magazine in its great muckraking days. McClure's sent him to Cuba to cover the war there, and he suffered another attack of the African fever. On his return to New York he became a reader for Doubleday, Page & Co., where his most notable achievement was to insist on the publication of Dreiser's Sister Carrie, though the publishers withdrew the book almost as soon as it appeared...The Octopus, in its picture of the California farmers struggling with the encroachments of the railroad, is a far better piece of work than its sequel, The Pit. But Frank Norris' masterpiece is McTeague. It is the most purely Zolaesque novel in English, with its cold, careful study of the growing devastation wrought by miserliness on the lives of the Polk Street advertising dentist and his wife. As a motion picture, under the name of Greed, it was almost equally effective...though he was apparently on his way to greater and greater conventionality in his work. Frank Norris remains one of our great pioneer realists...He himself wrote just before he died:
"I never truckled. I never took off the hat to Fashion and held it out for pennies. I told them the truth. They liked it or they didn't like it. What had that to do with me? I told them the truth."
from Twentieth Century Authors, The H.W. Wilson Company