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The City in Literature An Intellectual and Cultural History

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'The City in Literature" charts the origin and the evolution of the city from ancient to modern times. It is concerned with the rise of the city as an Enlightenment construct and the various literary responses to the new secular city from Defoe to Pynchon and his contemporaries. The transition from the eighteenth to the twentieth century involves the move from an agrarian to an urban realm and the rise of commercial andindustrial institutions. These changes resulted in the loss of the modernist self, no longer the product of memory in a world aesthetically or otherwise centered, and the loss of mythic meaning as it gave way to the uncanny and a maze of mystery. In Europe, a commentator like Spengler tried to hold on to an exhuasted past, and in America the literary imagination gave consent to Jeffersonian values long after they were unrealizable. Both the city and the literature are textualized here: the literature is read in terms of urban modes, and the city in terms of literary modes, one paradigm informing and illuminating the other. Comic and romantic realism give us responses to the commercial city, naturalism and modernism to the industrial city, and postmodernism to the postindustrial city. Subgenres--the utopian novel, the gothic novel, the detective story, the young-man-from-the-provinces novel, the novel of imperial adventure, Western, science fiction, and dystopian narratives--inform the historical moment, depicting the rise and transformation of the city. The book treats the city as abstracted from the works of Defoe, Dickens, and the Gothic novel; Hugo, Balzac, and Zola; Baudelaire and decadent literature; the popular expressions of Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard, Stoker, and Wells as well as the high modernism of Eliot and Auden, Joyce and Beckett. Two other chapters read the city against the rise of imperialism and totalitarianism. The book also reads the American city against the wilderness and the rise of the frontier; treats the novels of Norris, Dreiser, and F. Scott Fitzgerald; and focuses on depictions of New York and Los Angeles. Two concluding chapters treat both the movement of the city west and the rise of postmodern paradigms. An epilogue looks at the city's "future."