McTeague: A Story of San Francisco

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Frank Norris

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One of the great works of the modern American imagination. The novel glows in a light that makes it the first great tragic portrait in America of an acquisitive society. McTeagues San Francisco is the underworld of that society, and the darkness of its tragedy, its pitilessness, its grotesque humor, is like the rumbling of hell. Nothing is more remarkable in the book than the detachment with which Norris saw ita tragedy almost literally classic in the Greek sense of the debasement of a powerful manand nothing gives it so much power. -Alfred Kazin

Strong, virile pictures of San Franciscos underworldThe story of the sinister degeneration of a Polk Street couple brought about by the sudden possession of money.Unadulterated truth. -Neale's Monthly, Volume 3, January, 1914

Frank Norris is a realist by instinct and by creedIt has often been pointed out how each of Zolas novels is dominated by a central symbol, some vast personification, which is constantly kept before the reader. Similarly, to take but one of Mr. Norris novels, the symbol is McTeague is the spirit of greed represented by gold. -The Bookman, November, 1899

The central figure is the heavy, sluggish dentist, McTeague, immensely strong, docile and stupid. Into his vegetating existence comes Marcus Schouler, the excitable, loud-talking political heeler, with his pretty blue-eyed little cousin Trina. Upon this tiny young girl, with the marvelous heaped coils of black hair, the dentist bestows an animal love. With chivalrous rococo Marcus gives up Trina, the dentist marries her; and then, in an overwhelming presentation of the modern curse of money, the theme of the book begins to work itself outEven the minor characters of the story are haunted by the desire for money: the language of the slums is in terms of money. One by one the great curse drags them down to destruction. -G. H. Montague, The Harvard Monthly, July 1901

A mine of inexhaustible riches of observation. -Hamlin Garland

First published in 1899, this graphic depiction of urban American life centers around McTeague, a dentist practicing in San Francisco at the turn of the century. While at first content with his life and friendship with an ambitious man named Marcus, McTeague eventually courts and marries Trina, a parsimonious young woman who wins a large sum of money in a lottery. The greed of the majority of the characters in the novel creates a chain of events that lead to many painful, gruesome deaths. Norris' work, so strikingly different from that of his contemporaries, is an admirable example of social realism, which provided America with a shocking reflection of its sordid sense of survival. From the opening description of San Francisco to McTeague's final desperate flight far from his 'Dental Parlors,' this novel examines human greed in a way that still causes readers to pause and reflect over one hundred years later.


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