Cover image for The city in literature : an intellectual and cultural history
Title:
The city in literature : an intellectual and cultural history
Author:
Lehan, Richard Daniel, 1930-
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [1998]

©1998
Physical Description:
xvi, 330 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780520210424

9780520212565
Format :
Book

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Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library PN56.C55 L44 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

This sweeping literary encounter with the Western idea of the city moves from the early novel in England to the apocalyptic cityscapes of Thomas Pynchon. Along the way, Richard Lehan gathers a rich entourage that includes Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens, Emile Zola, Bram Stoker, Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Raymond Chandler. The European city is read against the decline of feudalism and the rise of empire and totalitarianism; the American city against the phenomenon of the wilderness, the frontier, and the rise of the megalopolis and the decentered, discontinuous city that followed.

Throughout this book, Lehan pursues a dialectic of order and disorder, of cities seeking to impose their presence on the surrounding chaos. Rooted in Enlightenment yearnings for reason, his journey goes from east to west, from Europe to America. In the United States, the movement is also westward and terminates in Los Angeles, a kind of land's end of the imagination, in Lehan's words. He charts a narrative continuum full of constructs that "represent" a cycle of hope and despair, of historical optimism and pessimism.

Lehan presents sharply etched portrayals of the correlation between rationalism and capitalism; of the rise of the city, the decline of the landed estate, and the formation of the gothic; and of the emergence of the city and the appearance of other genres such as detective narrative and fantasy literature. He also mines disciplines such as urban studies, architecture, economics, and philosophy, uncovering material that makes his study a lively read not only for those interested in literature, but for anyone intrigued by the meanings and mysteries of urban life.


Summary

This sweeping literary encounter with the Western idea of the city moves from the early novel in England to the apocalyptic cityscapes of Thomas Pynchon. Along the way, Richard Lehan gathers a rich entourage that includes Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens, Emile Zola, Bram Stoker, Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Raymond Chandler. The European city is read against the decline of feudalism and the rise of empire and totalitarianism; the American city against the phenomenon of the wilderness, the frontier, and the rise of the megalopolis and the decentered, discontinuous city that followed.

Throughout this book, Lehan pursues a dialectic of order and disorder, of cities seeking to impose their presence on the surrounding chaos. Rooted in Enlightenment yearnings for reason, his journey goes from east to west, from Europe to America. In the United States, the movement is also westward and terminates in Los Angeles, a kind of land's end of the imagination, in Lehan's words. He charts a narrative continuum full of constructs that "represent" a cycle of hope and despair, of historical optimism and pessimism.

Lehan presents sharply etched portrayals of the correlation between rationalism and capitalism; of the rise of the city, the decline of the landed estate, and the formation of the gothic; and of the emergence of the city and the appearance of other genres such as detective narrative and fantasy literature. He also mines disciplines such as urban studies, architecture, economics, and philosophy, uncovering material that makes his study a lively read not only for those interested in literature, but for anyone intrigued by the meanings and mysteries of urban life.


Author Notes

Richard Lehan is Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. His books include The Great Gatsby: The Limits of Wonder (1990).


Richard Lehan is Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. His books include The Great Gatsby: The Limits of Wonder (1990).


Reviews 2

Choice Review

Lehan (UCLA) sees the city as an evolving construct in Western literature, philosophy, urban history, and modernist art. In terms of cities themselves, she reaches back to Wren's plan for rebuilding London after the fire of 1666, which envisioned the spiritual aspects of the city giving way to the material; she concludes with images of the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, a visual symbol of postmodernism. Regarding literary movements, Lehan traces the city's evolution from the development of the novel to subsequent narrative modes--realism, naturalism, modernism, and postmodernism--each with a radically different view of reality and of the city. The author divides the volume into five parts: "Reading the City/Reading the Text," "Enlightenment Legacy," "Modernism/Urbanism," "American Re-Presentations," and "After The Waste Land." She also includes ten illustrations, an epilogue, an extensive bibliography, and an author/title/subject index. This volume joins such other books on the literary city as Raymond Williams' The Country and the City (CH, Oct'73); Burton Pike's The Image of the City in Modern Literature (CH, Feb'82); and William Sharpe's Unreal Cities (1990) and Hana Wirth-Nesher's City Codes (CH, Oct'96), both of which treat the city as dichotomy. Lehan's study defines the city in terms of its functions--as a commercial, industrial, or postindustrial entity. A good acquisition for readers at all levels. S. M. Nuernberg; University of Wisconsin--Oshkosh


Choice Review

Lehan (UCLA) sees the city as an evolving construct in Western literature, philosophy, urban history, and modernist art. In terms of cities themselves, she reaches back to Wren's plan for rebuilding London after the fire of 1666, which envisioned the spiritual aspects of the city giving way to the material; she concludes with images of the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, a visual symbol of postmodernism. Regarding literary movements, Lehan traces the city's evolution from the development of the novel to subsequent narrative modes--realism, naturalism, modernism, and postmodernism--each with a radically different view of reality and of the city. The author divides the volume into five parts: "Reading the City/Reading the Text," "Enlightenment Legacy," "Modernism/Urbanism," "American Re-Presentations," and "After The Waste Land." She also includes ten illustrations, an epilogue, an extensive bibliography, and an author/title/subject index. This volume joins such other books on the literary city as Raymond Williams' The Country and the City (CH, Oct'73); Burton Pike's The Image of the City in Modern Literature (CH, Feb'82); and William Sharpe's Unreal Cities (1990) and Hana Wirth-Nesher's City Codes (CH, Oct'96), both of which treat the city as dichotomy. Lehan's study defines the city in terms of its functions--as a commercial, industrial, or postindustrial entity. A good acquisition for readers at all levels.


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