Mechanical Monsters in England and America
DOI link for Mechanical Monsters in England and America
Mechanical Monsters in England and America book
In England and America, naturalism appears somewhat belatedly, initially suppressed in the UK by social factors and delayed in the US by a lag in industrial development. Eventually, however, it materializes where it should, from a historical point of view, have started: In the backward-looking works of Thomas Hardy, especially The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the mechanical monster appears in works explicitly about the industrial demolition of agrarian England, and the novels resort to outrageously overdetermined “devices”—mechanical plots, grotesquely flat characters—to expose the deforming consequences of the real machines with which these devices are aligned. Indicting the process of mechanization where it started, Hardy thus fills in the English backstory of a genre pioneered by Zola in France—and extended, after an interval, in America. In the novels of Frank Norris, the self-styled “Boy Zola,” narrative realism collapses dramatically in the rendering of a series of American machines: In McTeague and The Octopus, the insatiable gold mine and the cyclopean railroad engine drive overt deformations of plot and character, deliberately straining the limits of narrative plausibility to document the monstrous effects of a technological revolution that began in England but grips the world.