Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Benjamin Franklin Norris, Jr., was born in Chicago on March 5, 1870, the first of five children born to Gertrude Doggett Norris and Benjamin Franklin Norris, Sr., the wealthy owner of a wholesale jewelry business. Only two boys besides Frank survived infancy; Lester was born in 1878 (and died in 1887), and Charles was born in 1881. Because of Frank, Sr.’s, health problems, the Norrises moved to Oakland, California, in 1882 and the following year settled in San Francisco.
After attending a preparatory school and Boys’ High School, neither of which suited his limited interest in schooling, Frank was enrolled in the San Francisco Art Association, where he studied painting. Although he studied art in London and Paris, his interest in painting soon waned, and after two years he returned home.
During this time, however, he had begun to write. His first article, “Clothes of Steel,” was published in the San Francisco Chronicle shortly after his return in 1889. The following year, he entered the University of California at Berkeley as a limited-status student. By this time, Norris knew precisely what career would suit him: College was preparatory to becoming a professional writer. It was at Berkeley that Norris first read the naturalistic works of French novelist Émile Zola that greatly influenced his own developing literary philosophy.
While Norris was attending college, his parents filed for divorce. His father soon remarried; Frank, Charles, and their mother moved to Massachusetts, where Frank studied creative writing at Harvard University for one year. It was during this period that he began writing McTeague (1899) and Vandover and the Brute (1914).
When Norris left Harvard, he traveled and wrote sketches in South Africa, but he was forced to return to San Francisco when his involvement in the political aspects of the Boer War resulted in his expulsion from the country. It was a disheartening event, but it resulted in a unique opportunity: In San Francisco, he became an assistant editor on a weekly publication, The Wave. The magazine published several of his short stories and serialized his first novel, a pirate story titled Moran of the Lady Letty (1898). In spite of the poor quality of this work, it caught the attention of the editor of McClure’s Magazine in New York, who offered Norris a position.
As a writer for McClure’s Magazine,...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Norris was not consistent in his literary philosophies, sometimes advocating realism, sometimes romanticism; if he blended literary techniques, however, it was because he recognized that those techniques were vehicles for expression and not truths in themselves. He created graphic and dramatically powerful novels which addressed the issues of his day and have continued to speak to debates on human nature and social progress.
For a young man who died just as he was maturing as a writer, he left a surprisingly large body of work which influenced writers who followed him and has retained its place in American literature’s exploration of regional realism.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Although invariably associated with San Francisco and naturalism, Benjamin Franklin Norris, Jr., was actually born in Chicago, the son of a wealthy wholesale jeweler and a former actress (his parents were divorced in 1894). The family moved to Oakland in 1884 and across the bay the following year. Norris’s education was desultory, all the more so because of his unwillingness to follow in his father’s footsteps as a businessman. From 1887 to 1889 he was enrolled in the Atelier Julien in Paris but had little success as an art student and never did begin the huge painting of the Battle of Crecy he had planned. From 1890 to 1894 he pursued the literary course at the University of California but, owing to a deficiency in mathematics, did not graduate. The next year was more fruitfully spent at Harvard where, as a student in Lewis E. Gates’s writing class, he began two novels, first Vandover and the Brute and then McTeague. In the winter of 1895 to 1896, he took a Richard Harding Davis jaunt to South Africa and became involved in the abortive Uitlander Rebellion. He served on the staff of The Wave from April, 1896, to February, 1898, much of the time as its subeditor. His serialized Moran of the Lady Letty brought him to the attention of the editor and publisher S. S. McClure, for whom he worked two years, including a brief stint as a correspondent during the Spanish-American War. In 1900, Norris, with four novels already in print, became a manuscript reader at Doubleday, Page and Company, his new publisher. That same year he married Jeannette Black of San Francisco and “discovered” and championed (unsuccessfully) Theodore Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie (1900). The Octopus, published the next year, was Norris’s first financially successful book. Following the birth of a daughter in February, 1902, and the completion of The Pit in July, he began planning the sea cruise which would be part of his research for The Wolf, the projected third part of his “The Epic of the Wheat.” While in San Francisco, however, Norris was stricken with appendicitis and died on October 25.
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Frank Norris was the son of Gertrude Doggett and Benjamin Franklin Norris, a successful businessman specializing in wholesale jewelry. Born in 1870, Norris’s early years were spent in Chicago. Except for a trip to Europe when he was eight years old, Norris’s childhood was rather uneventful. At age fourteen, he moved with his family to California. They settled first in Oakland and then moved to a large house on Sacramento Street in San Francisco. His father began a real estate development business, building cheap houses for working-class people to rent, and enjoyed financial success. The young Norris would later write about these houses in his first novel.
Frank Norris found San Francisco stimulating. The family home was located only a block from fashionable Van Ness Avenue with its ongoing series of parades and pageants and only a few blocks from the business section of Polk Street with its rich variety of small shops—there was even a dental parlor with a grotesque golden tooth sign hanging from the building. The scenes and settings were memorable, and Norris captured many of them for later use as local color in his novels.
In 1885, Norris was enrolled in the Belmont Academy. This marked the beginning of a long, largely unsuccessful attempt at formal schooling. Norris had neither the temperament nor the talent in mathematics for scholarship and, after breaking his arm playing football scarcely one year after enrolling, he quit the academy for a convalescence at home. It was during this period that he made up his mind to pursue a career as an artist.
After a short stint at Boy’s High School, Norris convinced his parents to send him to the San Francisco Art Association School. His success there persuaded Benjamin Norris to send him to the finest art schools in Paris. While Norris did not learn how to paint in Paris, he did learn the fundamentals and principles of art and also the discipline that would later serve him well as a writer. Convinced that his son was not spending his time painting, Norris’s father called him home in 1889. Norris returned from France with a new interest in writing and, more important, a solid foundation on which to build his writing career.
In the fall of 1890, Norris entered the University of California, Berkeley, determined to become a writer. Almost at once he found himself at odds with the English Department faculty over proper methods of composition. His academic progress in mathematics was abysmal. Norris turned to a more social life and joined Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. There he found a perfect outlet for his frustrations and a wealth of amusements to occupy his time. Although his academic career at Berkeley was undistinguished, Norris’s fraternity pranks were memorable.
While Norris was gaining a reputation as a prankster, his family...
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Frank Norris’ creativity first showed itself in his ability to paint. His family moved from San Francisco to Europe, first London, then Paris in 1887, so that he could study art. His career as a painter was short and the family returned to San Francisco.
Travel was a significant part of Norris’ life. In addition to Europe, during his short life he made trips to South Africa and Cuba. In the United States, he lived on both coasts for long periods of time. Despite his travels, Norris is primarily a novelist of the American West. His novels and short stories are about poor, hardworking people who must struggle not only...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Frank Norris wrote in 1899: “Tell your yarn and let your style go to the devil. We don’t want literature, we want life.” However, the life he portrayed in his own novels was more naturalistic—emphasizing the brutality in humankind, the sordid in experience—than realistic.
The oldest son of a wealthy jewelry manufacturer and a doting mother, he was born in Chicago on March 5, 1870, and christened Benjamin Franklin Norris, Jr. When he was fourteen, his family moved to San Francisco. The bustling and varied life of that city, as well as his wide reading, stimulated his boyish imagination and turned him away from...
(The entire section is 958 words.)