What is literary naturalism?
When we talk about naturalism we cannot ignore that it was an artistic movement that moved different spheres of art, but its main development took place within literature, especially because of its closeness to literary realism, which we have already talked about in another section. Many critics refer to naturalism as the continuation of realism, classifying it as a current that exaggerates portraits much more.
Thus, the literary naturalism to which we focus on this occasion, consisted of a movement related to realism in which the creation is based on the imitation of reality while maintaining complete objectivity on the aspects captured by the eye. The work that is taken as the starting point of this movement is the novel Therése Raquin, written by Émile Zola, showing features that will be determinant of this movement and that are opposed to romanticism.
Now, the central difference between realism and naturalism lies in the fact that the latter would be a consequence and end of the evolution of realism. While realism will focus especially on the description of the bourgeois class, naturalism will bring attention to the middle class and the lower class, in particular, doing so in a pessimistic way. These movements coincide, among many other things, in the total rejection of romanticism, pointing it out as conformist.
How did naturalism emerge in literature?
To talk about the birth of naturalism we must start from literary realism, as this movement is understood as a continuation of realism in which physiological contexts are integrated, in addition to putting in the texts that the environment in which the protagonists live, will be the cause of the behaviors they take in their development. It arises at the end of the XIX century and at the beginning of the XX century as well, as a reaction to the literary Romanticism.
After the collapse of systems such as social Darwinism, positivism and utilitarianism, the tradition of alternative philosophy, particularly pessimistic, was born. Added to this were the ideals and values of the bourgeois class that were synchronized with progress in areas such as science and technology, which led to the displacement of religion and the superimposition of knowledge. Later, the new forces of the economy would eliminate religion from the institution. During the transformations, interest is attributed to experience and observation, central axes of the birth of realism and later naturalism.
Thus, the term was first used by Charles Augustin Sainte Beuve and Hippolyte Taine, positivist critics, who pointed out, from their interpretation, how the social, political, time, race, among other aspects, define the features of the beings who are the protagonists of the stories.
Thus, the direction that naturalism will take in literature, will be none other than to expose issues of the human being, this time taken to the dark and abandoned aspects, such as diseases, poverty, racism, among others. It is through these resources and situations that he achieves the criticism of society with strong defenses and expositions, which do not deny his concern for improving the human condition they describe.
Development of literary naturalism
One of the most important aspects that will be reflected in the literary development has to do with objectivity and subjectivity. In their texts, the naturalist authors will lean towards objectivity and leave aside the subjectivity that had been so much present in the texts of the romantic authors.
In short, we are talking about a movement whose characteristics became photographs of different issues of society in its context, particularly issues such as social injustices, diseases, among other problems that are absent from hope. Thus, its distinction lies in the look it gives to reality from the pessimistic subjective look towards the misery of the human being.
In this current it is very important to emphasize the philosophy that determines its development as a literary movement, since it embraces the philosophical doctrine called -determinism-. The doctrine establishes that human problems come from the origins in their genetics, as well as their material and social environment in literature. The texts go through the marginalized social strata allowing him to unleash criticism of injustices and denunciations of society.
Ultimately, the doctrine explains that the behavior of the human being has as its center of origin a series of situations and social conditions, in addition to biological inheritance. Thus, in literary works, the protagonists are defined by their own nature, but also by the social context from which they emerge.
Characteristics of naturalism in literature
Now, after having reviewed in detail how it emerged and the fundamental issues that allowed its development in literature, it is time to go into reviewing the ragos that characterized this movement in the process. These are:
Distant tone of writing.
One of the most important features focused mainly on how their texts were written, has to do with the objective and also distant tone used by naturalistic authors. Many critics liken the literary texts of naturalism to the scientific notes elaborated by a biologist, for example, where this tone will mark their texts.
Description of the environment
Undoubtedly one of the most important characteristics of naturalism has to do with the descriptions made of the environments in which the cruel side of society is exposed and with it, of the human being from complex and miserable situations where the environments often embody dark and unpleasant landscapes. This contributes to the general construction of the pessimism of his works and the look towards the characters they seek. Such is the search that the observation leads to contemplate the same boredom of the reality of the time that allows to highlight the deplorable society.
The novels will be the seat of naturalistic literature in which the language used is the popular language. Thus, jargons and vulgarities will often appear in the texts as present elements that leave aside any form of lyricism. This is because naturalistic authors considered lyricism to be a way of poetically distorting the reality of the marginalized classes they were trying to represent.
Focus on the underclass
As we have mentioned, the crucial point of naturalism is the protagonism taken by the lower and marginalized social classes within society. In this sense, the authors of naturalist literature look at the impoverished classes in order to find a materialistic reason that allows them to justify the origin of social problems and not in the criticism of the bourgeois class as the realists did.
Among its most important authors we can find personalities from different parts of the world, such as Arno Holz, Johannes Schlaf, Carl Hauptmann and Gernhard Hauptmann from Germany, Theodore Dreiser, Truman Capote from the United States, Giovanni Verga, Luigi Capuana, Matilde Serao from Italy, Émile Zolá, Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, Gustave Flaubert from France, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Luis Coloma, Enrique Sánchez Seña, José María de Pereda, the Marquis of Figueroa, Benito Pérez Galdós from Spain, Antón Chéjov, among others.
In Latin America, a region where the movement did not take long to arrive, we find authors such as Eugenio Cambaceres (Argentina), Rómulo Gallegos (Venezuela), Manuel Zeno Gandía (Puerto Rico), Clorinda Matto de Turner (Peru), Augusto D’Halmar (Chile), among others.
Among the most important works are the following: The Rougon Macquart by Émile Zola, The Three Sisters (1901), The Seagull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1897) by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, The Inspector General by Nikolai Gogol, Far from the madding crowd by Far from the madding crowd, The Financier by Theodore Herman Albert Dreise, La cuestión palpitante by Emilia Pardo Bazán, Los cuatro jinetes del apocalipsis, Mare nostrum, El papa del mar by Vicente Blasco Ibánez, Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte, Cuentos de la selva and El crimen del otro by Horacio Quiroga, among others.
To learn more about the literary world as its currents, writers, genres and more, do not forget to keep checking our section dedicated to this artistic expression in Types of art, where you will find much more information about this manifestation of art.