French naturalism  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

From the 1860s ("Preface to the second edition of Thérèse Raquin," 1867) on, French critics increasingly speak of literary "Naturalism" instead of Realism. The expression was frequently used disparagingly to characterize authors whose chosen subject matter was taken from the working classes and who portrayed the misery and harsh conditions of real life, but Emile Zola the father of the movement, used the term to refer to his own writings. Many of the "naturalist" writers took a radical position against the excesses of romanticism and strove to use scientific and encyclopedic precision in their novels (Zola spent months visiting coal mines for his Germinal and Flaubert was famous for his years of research for historical details). Hippolyte Taine supplied much of the philosophy of naturalism: he believed that every human being was determined by the forces of heredity and environment and by the time in which he lived. The influence of certain Norwegian, Swedish and Russian writers gave an added impulse to the naturalistic movement.

Naturalism is most often associated with the novels of Emile Zola in particular his Les Rougon-Macquart novel cycle, which includes Germinal, L'Assommoir, Nana, Le Ventre de Paris, La Bête humaine, and L'Œuvre (The Masterpiece), in which the social success or failure of two branches of a family is explained by physical, social and hereditary laws. Other writers who have been labeled naturalists include: Alphonse Daudet, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Edmond de Goncourt and his brother Jules de Goncourt, and Paul Bourget.

Gustave Flaubert's novels Madame Bovary (1857) -- which reveals the tragic consequences of romanticism on the wife of a provincial doctor -- and Sentimental Education, and the short stories of Guy de Maupassant are often tagged with the label "naturalist", although neither author was devoid of comic irony or certain romantic tendencies.

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