Frank Norris. McTeague: A Story of San Francisco
(1899) 442 pp.
Avarice. In his classic of American naturalism, Frank Norris explores
how one woman’s consuming desire to accumulate wealth leads to an even
deadlier sin—murder. McTeague is a poor, inarticulate, self-taught dentist
who practices out of modest “parlors” on Polk Street. His chief goals in
life are to eat and drink well, do his job, care for his pet canary, play
his concertina, and someday have a gold sign shaped like an oversized molar
outside his office. When he meets and successfully woos the lovely Trina
Sieppe, McTeague’s life seems utterly complete. On the eve of their wedding,
Trina finds out that she has won $5,000 in the lottery. Suddenly wealthy,
Trina is hesitant to part with a single penny of her newfound treasure.
She sets about scrimping and saving to add to her hoard, setting in motion
a series of events that lead to the collapse of McTeague’s practice, the
loss of their home, the deterioration of her marriage, and ultimately her
murder at the hands of her husband. Although not traditionally considered
a crime novel (and certainly not a mystery) it is an examination of how
circumstances can drive a person to commit the ultimate crime—the taking
of another person’s life.
Baird & Greenwood 1879