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Essay Example on Science

There is perhaps less need to discuss the scientific background of French naturalistic fiction, chiefly because the relationship is well known and very simple. Novelists of this school, mostly followers of Emile Zola, adopted the techniques of natural history, the careful observation of individuals and groups, extending the method as the human material required so as to include not only the instincts, passions, physical and physiological conditions responsible for much human behavior, but also traditions, sentiments, loyalties, and ideals, whether praiseworthy or not. Such a descriptive technique implies a serious effort to classify the various factors that govern human conduct. Etienne Lantier, hero of Zola's Germinal, is shown systematically on several different levels of interest; the plot is not significant in comparison with the picture of a human being, his drunkenness, his hunger, his control over the mob, his love for Catherine, his social ideals, and so forth. In Joris-Karl Huysmans' complex novel, A Rebours, another hero, unheroic Des Esseintes, with equally conscious purpose, is composed of traits selected from every level of human character; his thirst, his unscrupulousness, his acute sense of pain, his vices minor and major are presented in the same scale and structure with his endless pursuit of an elusive, aesthetic ideal. The emphasis in each case is on the human being as a whole, and not on the resolution of a subtle moral problem, as it is in classical literature. Huysmans remarked, in a preface written twenty years after A Rebours, that the great service rendered by naturalism had been to situate real persons in exact surroundings; he added that this vivifying influence had made it impossible, in theory at least, to avoid the average, which in the long run made for dullness and mediocrity as the technique came to be imitated.

The ultimate model of these writers was the scientific monograph. Raw material, the evidence of the author's own experience, carefully supplemented by the use of scientific documentation, treated with a minimum of subjective interference, in series of events corresponding as closely as possible to the known sequences recorded in the daily newspapers, with a general view of working out the probable results of combining selected forces operating in ordinary life--this was what was meant by the phrase "experimental novel." There is thus, in theory, no relationship between the personality of the author and the meaning of his book, as the Romantics had held. The sense that there is an inevitable individuality of style in thought itself, in the choice and arrangement of materials, in method, seems rarely to have occurred to these authors; for them a physicist is not involved in his work, and regularity of result, the formulation of law, bears no relationship to morality or even temperament.

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