Naturalism

   A further development of realism, naturalism is the use of scientific determinism in literature. According to this doctrine, human beings have no real agency but act according to their biological inheritance and the influence of their social milieu. For the naturalists, truth was to be found in nature rather than, as for the romantics, in some kind of transcendental reality, and the task of the writer was to imitate the scientist as far as possible.
   These theoretical concerns had certain consequences for both the style of the naturalist literary work and the author's choice of subject matter. The story would be told in great detail, as in the short story by the Norwegian writer Amalie Skram entitled "Karens jul" (1885; Karen's Christmas), in which an unwed teenage mother and her baby freeze to death in Christiania (now Oslo) a couple of days before Christmas. Arne Garborg similarly offers numerous details in his naturalist works, for example, the novel Hjaa ho Mor (1890; Living with Mama), which is partly based on the life of his wife, Hulda.
   While many of the realists discussed the position of women in the family and in society, the naturalists went further by examining the sexual roles of men and women, showing that people of both sexes were biologically unable to control their sexual urges. In August Strindberg's play Froken Julie (1888; tr. Miss Julie, 1912), for example, the two major characters are powerless when faced with a combination of temptation and opportunity.
   The naturalists were particularly interested in demonstrating that prostitution was a necessary counterpart to middle-class marriage and held that the daughters of the middle class were raised to become sexually dysfunctional, thus more or less compelling their future husbands to seek the company of prostitutes. Illness was also a favorite topic, and the naturalists' concern with illness ranged from portraying the ravages of pulmonary tuberculosis to discussing the etiology of syphilis, as Henrik Ibsen did in his play Gengangere (1881; Ghosts, 1885). Yet another favorite topic was crime, as in Jonas Lie's novel Livsslaven (1883; tr. One of Life's Slaves, 1895). This theme was attractive because a determinist outlook on life is not logically consistent with the idea that people should be held morally and legally responsible for their actions.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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