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Title: The American city in literature 1820-1930
Author: Blake, L.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 1996
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American urban writing of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is characterized by a range of discursive, thematic and ideological conflicts. These generate a literature of the city which is often paradoxical, ambiguous or aporetic. Across a wide range of texts, written in different periods and in different generic forms, the American city is thus seen to resist the philosophical or narratological ordering principles employed to loan coherence and cogency to the urban spectacle. Such a resistance functions, this thesis contests, as an articulation and interrogation of the crises of individual, national and artistic identity engendered by the urbanization of America. In this thesis, such textual practices are addressed through a peristrophic engagement with American literary criticism, with theoretical debates on the relation of textual forms to the world of the text's production and with discourses of modernity drawn from social and political theory. By locating each text historically, generically and philosophically, this thesis divides into three contiguous areas of inquiry. Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville and Walt Whitman are discussed within the context of romantic idealism. The pronouncedly spiritual representations of the city which each writer produced, is here aligned to the philosophy of nature and the policies of radical individualism which pervades the texts in question. William Dean Howells and Theodore Dreiser are discussed as realists whose urban novels emerged from a self-conscious synthesis of ante-bellum idealism and machine age materialism. This synthesis, it is argued, enabled these writers to explore the effects of capitalist industrialism upon the nation, its citizens and their arts. Edith Wharton and John Dos Passos are discussed as modernists, whose verisimilitudinous representations of the city facilitated a critique both of the mythical lexicon of the ante-bellum period and of the integrated subjectivity and textual unity posited by the realist text.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available