naturalism, in literature, an approach that proceeds from an analysis of reality in terms of natural forces, e.g., heredity, environment, physical drives. The chief literary theorist on naturalism was Émile Zola, who said in his essay Le Roman expérimental (1880) that the novelist should be like the scientist, examining dispassionately various phenomena in life and drawing indisputable conclusions. The naturalists tended to concern themselves with the harsh, often sordid, aspects of life. Notable naturalists include the Goncourt brothers, J. K. Huysmans, Maupassant, the English authors George Moore and George Gissing, and the American writers Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, James T. Farrell, and James Jones. In the drama, naturalism developed in the late 19th cent. By stressing photographic detail in scene design, costume, and acting technique, it attempted to abolish the artificial theatricality prominent in 19th-century theater. The movement was most closely associated with the Théâtre Libre (founded 1887) of André Antoine, with the Freie Bühne (founded 1889) of Otto Brahm, and with the Moscow Art Theatre (founded 1898) under the direction of Stanislavsky. Notable naturalistic dramatists include Becque, Brieux, Hauptmann, and Gorky.
See studies by J. Howard (1985) and W. B. Michaels (1988).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.