The Octopus – extras

octopus1stThe Octopus
by Frank Norris

Frank Norris was a writer of the naturalism” school or movement – (they weren’t a “group.”) – naturalism

Frank Norris – a study

Chapter Summaries: 

And some visuals for a reading group –
Above  is a graphic of the 1st edition / 1st printing sold by G.F. Wilkinson Books.



The book was very popular as an idea as well as a story – but the octopus idea didn’t originate with Norris.   G. Frederick Keller’s “The Curse of California”, which appeared in The Wasp on August 19, 1882 is the likely origin of the depiction of the Southern Pacific Railroad
monopoly as an octopus.”  The image is widely used now.  (Norris’ book was published in 1901.)




This is probably the most appropriate cover – it’s about farmers and trains – not ocean life.  There is a great deal of “natural” phenomenon going on – Norris was indeed a “naturalist” writer.
There was a bit fold-out map inside the the 1st edition of Norris’ book.  It was removed because it made readers think the story was “historically accurate.”  It’s not.   See below:
Bonneville (upper left) has TULARE in parentheses because that’s the real name (or that’s where Bonneville is located anyway).    Guadalajara is probably either  Tipton, about 17 miles or Pixley about 11 miles in reality. My guess is Tipton because it was started in 1884 (after the time of the setting but prior to Norris’ visit).  Otoh, Guadalajara is probably entirely invented. There is no Mission here except in Norris’ mind and on the map above the Hop Fields.


Below is a map of the reality of Mussel Slough area – note Tulare Lake there – this is northwest of the map above – Hanford is northwest of Tulare (Bonneville) about 15 miles as the crow flies.  Mussel Slough is called a slough because it is the dry (at this point) remnants of Tulare Lake.  This was a huge lake before the Civil War after which a lot of farmer-type settlers moved in and dammed the contributing rivers and drained the waters into irrigation ditches, canals, etc.



Chapter 1 with illustrations – fascinating stuff but  the photos leave something to be desired:

This is probably the best photo of a Southern Pacific train I could find from the Mussel Slough era – 1880:

Below is a photo of farming in the area before steam tractors – with horses like in Chapter 3 – I think this is in Kern County – about 30 miles from the setting in the novel.

Chapter 6 has a  half-broke broncho (bronco) in it:  They buck when a saddle is first put on – and for awhile after, too – weeks.

Below are “hops” in the field and in the hand.  It’s used for beer mostly. Not much grown in Tulare County now.


PART 2 – San Francisco circa 1900:


Above is Market Street at the turn of the century – before the earthquake of 1906.

Below is the Mutual Bank building at “the corner of Market Street near its intersection with Kearney” (there’s nothing else it could be except the Chronicle Building,   but either Norris called this the Exchange Building or he invented a new building.   The Call Building wasn’t built until after The Octopus was published.  There were several “Exchange” buildings in San Fransisco – Stock Exchange (Pacific),  Merchant’s Exchange (built in 1904),


The “club” the men met at was probably modeled after the Bohemian Club of which Norris was a member – founded in 1872 – Post Street and Taylor (downtown).  It still exists today at the same location.



Book 2 – Chapter 3

A reproduction in Presley’s room at the Derrick ranch:
tumblr_mz3kfiGv3i1qb1i2wo1_1280“A Reading from Homer,” 1885, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema –



The Mussel Slough Tragedy:

Chapter summaries, etc.


4 Responses to The Octopus – extras

  1. Dagny says:

    This is great, Becky! What a cool idea. Thanks so much.


  2. Pingback: The Octopus by Frank Norris « Vauquer Boarding House

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