The politics of necessity: Negotiating the future in American literary naturalism
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This dissertation explores the representation of time as an inscrutable force in turn-of-the-century American literary naturalism. It addresses how naturalist authors manipulate the tropes of fate, accident and the machine to express the turn of the century as a dis-jointed moment of transition, which necessitates the negotiation between the unpredictability of the future and the familiar structures of the past. Each chapter examines this negotiation in different contexts: the balance between Romanesque and Gothic architecture in Henry Adams's pilgrimage to European cathedrals, the decision between intentions and impulses in Edith Wharton's account of gender and class roles, the equilibrium between the rationalization of production and the unfettered pace of change in Theodore Dreiser's vision of modernity, and the management between the accuracy of realism and the truth of naturalism in Frank Norris's theory of fiction. By showing how naturalist tropes express the rhetoric of mourning as the impossibility of predicting the future, I redefine the determinism of the naturalist genre as the constant negotiation between the old and the new in order to demonstrate the implications for our understanding of authorship as social critique.