The City as Landscape

The City as Landscape
2004/2005 Semester 1.
Margaret Kinsman, Room 244b Borough Road, London South Bank University, email:
[email protected]
Overview of Content
"If the pattern of 19th century fiction forms a spiral to and away from the city, it is the sharpest
contrast to later novels in which the city becomes a maze beyond escape." (Irving Howe, 1971)
This unit examines imaginative configurations of the city, with a particular focus on
representations of 19th and 20th century London and Chicago. From Morrison's depiction of
London's late Victorian East End to Sara Paretsky's detective in 1990s Chicago, students will
consider representations of the city and urban experience in a selection of works of fiction by a
range of British and American writers whose fictional urban landscapes form the physical and
moral backdrops against which individual and community identities and destinies are mapped.
Students will examine the vocabularies (geographical, cultural, political, historical, sociological,
psychological) the city novelist invokes. Students will consider how the ambiguous nature of the
industrialising and modern city is evoked by writers working in different periods and with
different genres. Themes of migration and settlement, of autonomy and community, of
transformation and achievement, of adventure and danger all reverberate in the novels studied on
this unit. Examples of the novel of naturalism, the modernist novel, the detective novel, the
memoir, the essay, and the post-modern are studied.
The first half of the unit gives students an opportunity to compare and contrast a selection of
20th century fictions of London, and selected 19th century representations of the industrialising
city. The second half of the unit focuses closely on a selection of fictions of Chicago, giving
students an opportunity to explore in some detail the idea and experience of the city as treated by
a range of writers working in a variety of genres.
• To study a particular motif in literature.
• To compare and contrast a range of writers' configurations of the city from different historical,
geographical and cultural locations.
• To investigate representations of one particular city from different writers' perspectives using
various genres
• To acquaint students with theoretical perspectives on the central place of the city in literary
texts and modern sensibility
Learning Outcomes
On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:
• identify, describe and analyse, in discussion and in writing, the motif of the city in works of
• compare and contrast representations of the city from a range of writers;
• demonstrate an ability, both orally and in written form, to engage with theoretical and critical
• evaluate and assess, in a formal essay presentation, the significance of aspects of the writers,
texts, and literary concepts studied on the unit.
Transferable Skills:
The unit develops students' skills in:
• leading seminar discussions
• relating literary texts to historical periods and critical and theoretical debates
• creative writing
Teaching and Learning Pattern
The unit will be taught in three-hour sessions, consisting of interactive lectures and student-led
seminar discussions. Lectures and seminars may include video and cassette material where
appropriate. Students are expected to read and think about the primary texts listed below in
advance of the lecture, and to come to seminars prepared to engage in discussion about those
texts. Seminars will include small group discussion. Seminar discussion will be supported and
guided by study questions made available in advance. It is the student's responsibility to collect
the study questions from the unit co-ordinator if they are not in class. Study time outside of class
should be spent reading the primary texts and secondary literature; student work is assessed not
only in relation to an understanding of, and insight into, the primary texts, but also an ability to
demonstrate a grasp of secondary critical and theoretical issues.
Week 1
Lecture: Introduction to unit; overview of texts and authors. Discussion of assessments.
Seminar: In-class reading and discussion of 3 short extracts: Burton Pike's "The City as Image";
Lewis Mumford's "What Is a City?"; Virginia Woolf's essay "Street Haunting."
Week 2: Charles Dickens, selected Boz sketches (on handouts)
Lecture: Introduces students to Baudelaire's and Benjamin's notions of the 19th-century flaneur/
flaneuse as the collector and chronicler of urban experience, with specific reference to Dickens's
Boz sketches and Woolf's essay (see Week 1). Discussion of how Woolf's essay, like Dickens's
sketches, suggest the possibility of an aesthetic exploitation of the city through narrative, and
how the 2 writers connect to a long tradition of writers who celebrate the pleasure of taking a
walk on a busy street and watching strangers.
Seminar: close reading of 3 Boz sketches and Woolf's essay with a focus on how the writers
construct typologies of people, places, institutions, commercial establishments, and urban time.
Week 3: Arthur Morrison, A Child of the Jago
Lecture: This session introduces Arthur Morrison's articulation of social deprivation, neighbourhood and community in late 19th century London. Discussion of novel's relationship to social
and political anxieties of the period; its engagement with historical actuality; its relationship to
the literary label "naturalism"; its relationship to voyeuristic journalistic traditions, documentary
stylistics, and sociologists' concerns. Reference to the way in which crime and the urban poor
become dominant discourses for writing about the city and urban life. Mapping of the East End,
Empire, the Other and fear.
Seminar: A close reading of chapter 28 with a focus on summarising the positions expressed by
the doctor and Father Sturt re eugenics and slum clearance; consideration of the extent to which
Morrison seems to agree with/subvert those positions?
Week 4: Virginia Woolf and the Role of London in Her Work
Lecture: A discussion of the role of London in Virginia Woolf's fiction and nonfiction, focusing
on Woolf's use of urban locations and architecture as furnishing not only the setting for narrative,
but, as well, serving as metaphors for changing constructs of gender and patriarchal institutions
such as the family. Reference to the ongoing debate about the possibility of the "flaneuse" and
what form she might take, as discussed by Deborah L. Parsons, Deborah Epstein Nord, and Janet
Wolff (see background reading); and with reference to Woolf's essay "Street Haunting" studied
earlier in the unit.
Seminar: Close reading of 2 extracts from Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway: Clarissa Dalloway’s
walk up Bond Street (pp. 4-18) and Elizabeth Dalloway's visionary bus ride from Victora Street
up the Strand and Fleet Street and back (pp.147-52) with a focus on how street scenes reveal
Woolf's reliance on the urban scene to raise and interrogate significant gender-related issues such
as the public-private dichotomy and sexual oppression. Comparison of the construction of female
selfhood in the fictional extracts and the essay, Extracts provided on handouts.
Week 5: Preparation for Assessment A
Lecture: This session prepares students for the first assessment - an oral presentation based on a
city map, supported by a 1,000-word piece of creative writing.
Week 6: Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners
Lecture: Introduction to the work of Sam Selvon and his chronicle of immigrant life in London
in the 1950s. Relationship of Selvon's work to the development of West Indian fiction in 1950s
and 1960s, and relationship to other Caribbean writers. Discussion of ways in which Selvon
focuses the reader's view of the city in particular ways, with a focus on the linguistically diverse
and agile narrative voice. Suggestion of links between Morrison's text and Selvon's, as texts with
the dual functions of documents of social history and as expressions of artistic excellence; and as
texts which confront a number of questions and issues about literary language, register, and
Seminar: analysis of Selvon's linguistic strategies and his typologies of e.g., people, places,
institutions, commercial establishments, and urban time in comparison to those considered in
Week 2.
Week 7: Margery Allingham, The Tiger in the Smoke
Lecture: Introduction to Margery Allingham as a writer associated with the Golden Age of
British mystery writing. Discussion of her 1952 novel The Tiger in the Smoke as exemplary of a
text which transgresses boundaries between mainstream fiction and genre fiction. Allingham's
depiction of urban decay, "organised" crime, and loss of community shares motifs and concerns
with e.g., Dickens and Morrison, as well as being central to what are the concerns and motifs of
crime and mystery fiction. Discussion of Allingham’s use of London's back streets and the
"smoke" of the title to add to the uncertainty of the atmosphere as her detective protagonists
(Campion and Luke) grope their way both geographically and psychologically.
Seminar: analysis of Allingham's construction of the criminal (Havoc) and his killing spree
through the streets of London; analysis of Allingham's construction of an epic battle between
good (Canon Avril) and evil (Havoc) in the urban setting.
Seminar questions:
1. Both Allingham's and Selvon's opening chapters establish a strong sense of atmosphere, time
and place, and character. Compare and contrast the ways in which the 2 writers make use of e.g.
the railway station setting, the figure of the policeman, the crowd motif, the weather, modes of
transportation, images of circulation and stasis, characters' thoughts and feelings, and anything
else you notice.
2. What is the condition and character of 1950s postwar London as depicted in these 2 novels?
What features do the 2 depictions share, and where do they differ?
3. In what ways does Allingham's treatment of London in this novel seem to conform to generic
conventions of the crime and mystery novel?
Allingham regarded the mystery novel as a box with 4 sides: "a Killing, a Mystery, an Enquiry
and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it." (Allingham quoted in Pike in "Margery
Allingham." British Mystery Writers 1920-1939.Vol 77 of the Dictionary of Literary Biography.
Ed. Bernard Benstock and Thomas F. Staley. Detroit: Gale, 1989)
"The Tiger in the Smoke has frequently been described as Allingham's finest novel and as a book
that transcends the genre of detective or mystery fiction. It is clearly exploring territory whose
moral and emotional compass extends far beyond the domain of a conventional detective puzzle
novel, in which clues are laid for the adroit reader, who usually solves the mystery at the same
pace as the hero ..... The Tiger in the Smoke does not so much transcend the criminous genre as
push against its boundaries, showing how flexible and expansive the detective novel can be."
(Wyllie, Andrew "Presences and Absences in Margery Allingham's The Tiger in the Smoke",
CLUES: A Journal of Detection, Vol 23, No.1, Fall 2004, pp. 73-79.)
"London is a multifaceted personality in the book." (Wyllie, as above).
"Postwar London retained key elements of continuity with the culture and society of the pre-war
city .... Yet the tensions with elements of modernity, of the limits to postwar consensus despite
the leap forward into a welfare state, of a new generation coming to grips with a post war nuclear
age, were evident. To confront this new world Allingham invented a new character. Deputy
Detective Inspector and later Chief Superintendent Charles Luke . . . " (Shani D'Cruze, “‘Dad’s
Back’: Mapping Masculinities, Moralities and the Law in the Novels of Margery Allingham” in
Cultural and Social History, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2004, pp.256-79)
Week 8: Theodore Dreiser, James Farrell, and Nelson Algren
Lecture: Introduction to early 20th-century examples of a developing Chicago literary vernacular
with a focus on the realist and naturalist works of Dreiser, Farrell and Algren as they articulate
social development in the city. Relationship of emerging literary traditions to, e.g., the Hull
House memoirs of Jane Addams and the Chicago School of Sociology.
Seminar: Students will locate and analyse motifs of demography, architecture, cultural hybridity
and the country/city binary in the 3 extracts noted above; and will relate the analysis to the
Raymond Williams essay "The Metropolis and the Emergence of Modernism" in Brooker, Peter
(ed) Modernism/Postmodernism (see background reading list).
Week 9 Elia Peattie, The Precipice
Lecture: Continues a discussion of the Chicago literary vernacular in relation to Sidney H.
Bremer's work (in Squier, Susan (ed) Women Writers and the City—see background reading) on
what she describes as "lost continuities,” a tradition of Chicago women’s writing which
foregrounds "communal, organic, and experiential urban images.” Location of Peattie’s novel in
this female literary counter-tradition which offers alternative urban visions to the dominant
masculinist literary depictions of Chicago. Discussion of Peattie's text as echo of Jane Addams
Hull House memoir and Addams's notion of the civic family.
Seminar: Analysis of novel's representation of constructs of the family - the family of
descent as well as the "family" of affiliation. Analysis of extent of Peattie's use of “communal,
organic, and experiential urban images." Discussion on links between Jane Jacobs extract on
safety on the sidewalks and the novel.
Week 10 Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street
Lecture: Introduction to Sandra Cisneros's contemporary Chicago novel and its relationship to
Chicago literary traditions; its deceptive generic features (is it a coming of age novel? A book of
short stories? A collection of vignettes?); and its relationship to the term “Chicano literature."
Discussion of the text as located in various counter-traditions with its dual focus on the
socialisation process of the female in Chicano culture and on racism in the dominant culture as
well as in the Latino community.
Seminar: Analysis of the image of the house as a linking and structuring motif across the text.
Week 11: Sara Paretsky, Indemnity Only
Lecture: Introduction to a final contemporary example of the Chicago literary vernacular,
Paretsky's debut novel in the series featuring the feminist private-eye V.1. Warshawski. Location
of the Paretsky novel in the Bremer counter-tradition identified in Week 9, as well as in the hardboiled mean streets conventions of the crime and mystery fiction genre. Discussion of the
significance of the urban detective as a figure who can penetrate the intricacies of the street"
(Raymond Williams in The Country and the City); discussion of Willett's claim that "the
demolished city as hell [has] become a fixture in hard-boiled crime fiction" and the extent to
which the Paretsky text exemplifies or rejects this claim.
Seminar: Analysis of representations of a sense of personal belonging and social cohesiveness in
the text, relating these representations to the extract by Jane Jacobs and her notions of what
makes a neighbourhood a community and what makes a city liveable.
Week 12: Oral Presentations for Assessment 1
Week 13: Tutorials, revision, assessment preparation as appropriate.
1. A short oral presentation, based on a city map, supported by a 1,000-word paper. This forms
30% of the final assessment. Guidelines will be made available early in the unit.
2. One essay of 3,000 words which forms 70% of final assessment. Suggested essay titles will be
made available early in the unit.
These are the criteria that we consider in arriving at the assessment of your work:
A. Knowledge of the topic of the essay question or task. Ability to refer to the texts under
discussion with accuracy and clarity.
B. Analysis of the issues in relation to the primary and secondary material.
C. Evidence of a critical framework and a coherent and developing argument.
D. Appropriate and accurate use of background material and secondary reading.
E. Presentation of work in line with academic conventions of spelling, punctuation,
paragraphing, sentence structure, referencing.
With these in mind, the following model can be used as a guide:
0-35% Badly misunderstood question. Contains factual errors and a preponderance
of irrelevant material. Major incoherence in organization of material. Scant evidence
of reading. Extensive use of unacknowledged quotation.
35-39% Otherwise pass standard answer spoilt by serious inaccuracies. Inclusion
of irrelevant material. Some evidence of relevant and appropriate reading.
Third 40-49% An essentially descriptive answer to pass standard. Some significant
omissions and/or mistakes. Lack of clarity or coherence in organisation.
Evidence of appropriate reading, but inadequately used. Attempts at
evaluation with limited success.
50-59% A comprehensive answer showing a reasonable appreciation of the
relative importance of the material and the discussion presented. Appropriate
use of reading. Reasonable attempt to evaluate material and structure an argument.
60-69% Good comprehensive answer, presented in a clear style and
organisation, showing grasp of relevant material with an appreciation of the
relative examples. Evidence of originality and analytical abilities, critical
appraisal with application of appropriate reading.
First 70-79% Relevant material (discussion, analysis, response) presented in a clear
and coherent discussion and subjected to a logically argued critical appraisal.
Evidence of original thought and analytical ability. Imaginative use of
relevant reading, fully and accurately acknowledged.
80-89% Adds a deeper understanding and evaluation of the issues.
Allingham, Margery. The Tiger in the Smoke
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street
Morrison, Arthur. A Child of the Jago (Everyman, pb)
Paretsky, Sara. Indemnity Only (Penguin pb)
Peattie, Elia. The Precipice ( University of Illinois Press pb)
Selvon, Sam. The Lonely Londoners (Longman pb)
Woolf, Virginia . "Street Haunting" essay (in various collections of essays)
Ackroyd, Peter. London: The Biography (Vintage, 2000)
Bradbury & McFarlane (eds). Modernism 1890-1930 (Penguin, 1991)
Brand, Dana. The Spectator and the City in 19th Century America. (Cambridge University Press,
Bremer, Sidney H. Urban Intersections (University of Illinois Press, 1992)
Brooker, Peter (ed). Modernism/Postmodernism (Longman, 1992).
Cappetti, Carla. Writing Chicago: Modernism, Ethnography and the Novel (Columbia University
Press, 1993)
Lehan, Richard. The City in Literature: An Intellectual and Cultural History (University of
California Press, 1998)
Nord, Deborah Epstein. Walking the Victorian Streets: Women, Representation and the City
(Cornell University Press, 1995)
Parsons, Deborah L. Streetwalking the Metropolis: Women, the City and Modernity, (Oxford
University Press, 2000)
Pike, Burton. The Image of the City in Modern Literature. (Princeton University Press, 1982)
Rotella, Carlo. October Cities: The Redevelopment of Urban Literature (University of California
Press, 1998)
Scruggs, Charles. Sweet Home: Invisible Cities in the Afro-American Novel (Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1993)
Simpson-Housley & Preston. Writing the City (Routledge, 1994).
Smith, Carl S. Chicago and the American Literary Imagination (University of Chicago Press,
Squier, Susan. Virginia Woolf and the City of London (University of North Carolina Press,
Squier, Susan (ed.). Women Writers and the City: Essays in Feminist Literary Criticism
(University of Tennessee Press, 1984)
Strauss, Anselm. Images of the American City (Transaction, 1961; repr. 1976)
Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City (Oxford University Press, 1973)
Wirth-Nesher, Hana. City Codes: Reading the Modern Urban Novel (Cambridge University
Press, 1996)
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