Literary Birthday: Frank Norris

Like many 19th century American novelists, Frank Norris (born today in 1870) led a full life outside of his bibliography. He studied painting in Paris, worked as a foreign correspondent in South Africa, and covered the Spanish-American war in Cuba. Inspired by the naturalist style of Emile Zola, drawing on his journalistic background, and fueled by a powerful fury against the corrupting nature of corporate monopolies, Norris published overwrought but vividly detailed novels of the often-bloody struggles for power and wealth in America.

While less-read today than those of his like-minded contemporary Upton Sinclair, Norris’s books like McTeague (1899), a melodramatic fable about money lust that was the basis for Erich von Stroheim’s silent film classic Greed (1924), are artifacts of their time but thrumming with still-relevant themes.

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