Norris, Frank

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Norris, Frank

Norris, Frank (Benjamin Franklin Norris), 1870–1902, American novelist, b. Chicago. After studying in Paris, at the Univ. of California (1890–94), and at Harvard, he spent several years as a war correspondent in South Africa (1895–96) and Cuba (1898). His proletarian novel McTeague (1899) was influenced by the experimental naturalism of Zola. His most impressive works were two parts of a proposed novelistic trilogy entitled “The Epic of Wheat”—The Octopus (1901), depicting the brutal struggle between wheat farmers and the railroad, and The Pit (1903), dealing with speculation on the Chicago grain market. The trilogy and Norris's burgeoning literary career were cut short by his death from a ruptured appendix. The Responsibilities of the Novelist (1903). an essay collection, contains his idealistic views on the role of the writer.


See biography by J. R. McElrath, Jr. and J. S. Crisler (2005); study by B. Hochman (1988).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Norris, Frank


Born Mar. 5, 1870, in Chicago; died Oct. 25, 1902, in San Francisco. American author.

The son of a wealthy businessman, Norris studied art at a studio in Paris and attended the University of California and Harvard University. He contributed to newspapers. In his first novels, marked by the influence of E. Zola, Norris demonstrated how young people’s characters are warped by the conditions of American life (Vandover and the Brute, 1895; published, 1914) and condemned the corrupting passion for profit (McTeague, 1893–97; published, 1899). Norris’s masterpiece was the novel The Octopus (1901; Russian translation, 1902)—the first part of the unfinished trilogy The Epic of the Wheat. The second novel of the trilogy was The Pit (1903, Russian translation, 1903); the third novel, The Wolf, was never written. Taking an episode from the history of the armed struggle of American farmers against the railroad monopoly in California (the “octopus”), Norris reflected the essential characteristics of the cruel dictatorship of the monopolies and, simultaneously, the beginning of the anti-imperialist struggle of the American people. The symbolic character of Wheat reflected the philosophical, sociological, and moral convictions of the author and embodied Norris’s concept of the onward march of history. The novel The Pit, which exposes the big wheat speculators of Chicago, is a somewhat weaker work than The Octopus. Its theme is developed with greater realistic depth in the story A Deal in Wheat (1902; Russian translation, 1958). Norris was also the author of a collection of literary criticism published in 1903.


Complete Works, vols. 1–10. Port Washington, N. Y., 1967.


Samarin, R. M. “Problema naturalizma v literature SShA i razvitie amerikanskogo romana na rubezhe XIX-XX vv.” In the collection Problemy istorii literatury SShA. Moscow, 1964.
Hill, J. S. The Merrill Checklist of Frank Norris. Columbus, Ohio, 1970.
Lohf, K. A., and E. P. Sheehy. Frank Norris: A Bibliography. New York, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Norris, (Benjamin Franklin, Jr.) Frank

(1870–1902) writer; born in Chicago. His family moved to California (1884), and he studied art in London and Paris. His interest in art waned and he returned to study at the University of California (1890–94), and Harvard (1895). He worked as a journalist and covered the Boer War for the San Francisco Chronicle (1895–96); in 1896 he became a staff member for The Wave (1896), a San Francisco literary magazine. He moved to New York City, covered the Spanish-American War for McClure's magazine (1898), and worked for Doubleday, Page & Company beginning in 1899. He was influenced by the naturalistic work of Émile Zola, as seen in his best-known fiction, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (1899) and The Octopus (1901). He died shortly after an appendix operation.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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