McTeague: A Story of San Francisco

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McTeague is the story of a poor dentist scraping by in San Francisco at the end of the 19th century, and his wife Trina, whose $5,000 lottery winning sets in motion a shocking chain of events. Few works have captured the seamy side of American urban life with such graphic intensity.

Frank Norris’s 1899 novel explores the impact of jealousy and greed on an otherwise typical relationship. McTeague has been adapted twice for film, including the 1924 film Greed, directed by acclaimed auteur Erich von Stroheim.

The novelist Frank Norris is almost forgotten today, but in books like “McTeague,” published in 1899, he paved the way for a whole generation of American writers–a generation that included Theodore Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis and, less directly, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. McTeague is a dentist saddled with a grasping wife, and the book chronicles his rise and fall in awkward but powerful prose.

This type of social realism, so contrary to the uplifting entertainment of the day (and to Mark Twain’s more fanciful, comic novels), provided turn-of-the-century America a disturbing mirror in which to view itself.

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