Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jim Springer Borck


Though most Frank Norris scholars dismiss the author's early gothic works as insignificant elements of the Norris canon, I argue that this frequently ignored juvenilia is essential to understanding Norris's unique development as an American Naturalist. Norris, like other authors of his generation, was caught up in a boyhood enthusiasm for the Middle Ages which was initiated and nurtured by a similar nostalgia for the period among the American elite in the late nineteenth-century. This post-medieval nostalgia for medieval convention came to be known as medievalism and its enthusiasts were called medievalists. Norris's early naturalistic writings, including a number of poems and the short stories "Le Jongleur de Taillebois" and "Lauth," are rooted in his interest in medieval culture and custom and are combined with his enthusiasm for popular Darwinism that was fashionable in late nineteenth-century America. This unlikely combination of interests formed an odd hybrid genre of medievally-inspired naturalism that was especially dark and brutal, and foreshadowed the bleak naturalism in his early novels Vandover and the Brute and McTeague. This medievalist/naturalist motif is uniquely Norrisian and I show, through a collection of Norris's essays, the direct relationship in Norris's mind between the medieval and natural worlds as he understood them. Norris's mature application of medievalism is most obvious in his last two novels, The Octopus and The Pit. I example medievalism in The Pit extensively, citing the courtly love structure of the Jadwin/Laura/Corthell triangle, with a special focus on Jadwin, who Norris characterizes throughout the novel as a warring feudal lord whose modern battleground is the Chicago Trading Pit for Future Exchanges. I dissert that Frank Norris never abandoned his enthusiasm for the culture and custom of the Middle Ages, as is often suggested by Norris critics. I show that as his writing matured, his boyhood interest in the medieval period was ameliorated into a sophisticated application of contemporary medievalism through which he could voice social commentary that condemned existing Old World traditions, such as courtly love conventions and feudal power structures, as impediments to the modernization of the New World.