Naturalism

I have always cringed when Jessica Fletcher explains how she discovered the killer and the entire solution keyed on a visual clue that the viewer didn’t have a chance to see—maybe from a scene that was edited out to make room for an extra commercial selling lard products or artificial human odors.

When I was in college I learned something about Naturalism in literature. My over simplified recollection of the definition was that the Naturalist author took a character, gave him certain attributes, and placed that character in a controlled environment. Much like a laboratory experiment, the actions and responses of the character were predictable and inevitable. You can see that much of the new science developing at the end of the 19th century was important to this view of Naturalism.

I’ll have to look up a better definition of Naturalism, but I bring these two experiences of mine together to make a small comment about Émile Zola and his novel La Bête humane. On more than one occasion Zola’s “murder she wrote” tossed in a clue or an attribute at the last-minute presumably to plug any holes in the story. It’s one thing to describe a pistol on the mantel early in the novel and have the reader expecting its  use before the end of the story, but it’s another to have the murderer grab a pistol just as the narrator explains that gun was inadvertently dropped behind the potted palm earlier that day when the local officer was adjusting his Sam Browne.

For example:  Roubaud flips out and has a tantrum; then we learn that he is quick to anger. Shouldn’t Zola have set up that character trait and then when the situation arrived, it would be natural for Roubaud to respond as he did?

What are your thoughts on this?

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