Naturalism, a transatlantic genre first theorized by the French writer Émile Zola, is supposed to extend and improve upon narrative realism; in practice, however, it confronts the limitations of realism in its attempt to represent the modern, mechanized world. Facing the brute force and overwhelming power of the developing industrial complex—the vast system of railways, mines, farms, and factories that radically altered the landscape and transformed the social and economic life of the period—the naturalist novel routinely renders the machine as a mythic monster. In Zola’s L’Assommoir, a demonic distilling apparatus unleashes a flood of alcohol that threatens to inundate Paris; in Germinal, the coal mine is represented as a “squatting god” feeding on the miners it is supposed to support; and in La Bête humaine, the cyclopean railroad engine runs wild. In each of these novels, the monster machine represents an acute modern reality: Humanity, in its attempt to master its material conditions, produces a force that inevitably exceeds its control. Yet the mythic rendering of the machine also compromises the documentary objectives of the naturalist novel—a compromise that determines the features of the narrative at virtually every level.