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Urban Spaces in Literature

20.40 Urban Spaces in Literature

Edited by: Petr Chalupský and Anna Grmelová

Volume: 20
Issue: 40
December 2010


Petr Chalupský , Anna Grmelová
Introduction: Urban Spaces in Literature
Soňa Nováková
"Her Yielding Shape": Eighteenth-century Fiction and the Ambivalence of Women's Urban Experience
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In their representation of the city eighteenth-century male writers deploy figures of urban women (criminals and prostitutes) not merely as part of city life but rather as symbols of the city's condition. This article draws attention to one aspect of such figuring - the prostitute is presented as a commodity, to be gazed at, bought and sold, punished. She enjoys liberty, but she is also vulnerable and exploitable. The interpretations of John Gay's poem Trivia (1716) and John Dunton's The Nightwalker (1696) focus on the strategy of control by uniting the city with the figure of the ‘fallen woman.' Women writers also drew on this image but used it in more ambiguous ways. Novelists such as Behn or Manley appropriated the city space to ‘expose' their heroines to adventures. Aphra Behn's The Adventure of the Black Lady (1684) and The Unfortunate Happy Lady (1696) present heroines who exploit the economic and sexual potentials of city life. The scandal chronicles of Delarivier Manley, The New Atalantis (1709) and Memoirs of Europe (1710), are voyeuristic texts displaying the pornotopic city. Manley redirects the gaze and ironizes the codes of the scopophilic text. During the eighteenth century, femininity and urbanity come to be defined in contradiction. Women writers move from satirizing the pattern of using women's bodies (Behn, Manley) to the repudiation of city culture. Masculine and feminine visions of city are compared in Jane Barker's A Patchwork-Screen for the Ladies (1723) and the restricted scenario of urban experience is followed through the texts of Eliza Haywood (The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, 1751), Sarah Fielding (The Countess of Dellwyn, 1759) and Fanny Burney (Evelina, 1778). Urban culture always brings with it the spectre of desire, either towards the female as object or in the female subject. The transgressive spaces depicted in earlier London-centred texts remain the sole property of the male gaze while women writers embark on a policy of non-representation.

Zdeněk Beran
"Allied to the Bottom of the River": Stratification of the Urban Space in Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend
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While most of Charles Dickens's novels follow the structural principle of binary oppositions in the construction of their space, developing a technique used by Sir Walter Scott and adopted by many Victorian novels, it is not possible to find such a principle applied in his last finished novel, Our Mutual Friend. Here the various localities are not polarized according to the opposite value systems to which they adhere. The horizontal arrangement of space gives way to vertical stratification, introducing a semantic interplay between layers of surface and depth, as some motifs used in key passages suggest. This new principle, arguably prompted by Dickens's growing familiarity with the novel of sensation, should be taken into account in critical assessment of the novel: the prevailing view that the novel is about money and its negative, destructive role in modern urban society, seems to be confronted with and finally superseded by a more universal meaning, the lethal character of blind passions for which a modern metropolis is a fitting scene. The theme of death is particularly emphasized in the ironic passages in which semantic reversion is used as a ruling rhetoric strategy.
Petr Chalupský
The Urban Pastoral: Hybridizations in Jim Crace's Arcadia
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In the early 1990s a new tendency in the British urban novel appeared which resulted in the transformation of the genre's perception of its central subject. The atmosphere of dereliction and inner-city decay typical of the urban novels of the 1980s gave way to more optimistic points of view. This shift is particularly seen in Penelope Lively's City of the Mind (1991), Angela Carter's Wise Children (1991) and Jim Crace's Arcadia (1992). The novels of both Lively and Carter have strong elements representing a paean to London's immortal greatness, and therefore could be seen, to a certain extent, as fictionally anticipating Peter Ackroyd's London, The Biography (2000). Both the novels also touch on the theme of the vanishing city and can be seen to reflect a very popular narrative strategy of 1990s British fiction - psychogeography. Crace's Arcadia is a much more complex work as far as the theme of the city is concerned as it brings to bear a wide range of perspectives, such as the ambivalent symbiosis of the rural and the urban, the archetypes of modern city dwellers and the importance of the agora for a functioning urban social life. Moreover, it integrates a new, celebratory narrative voice with a bitterly satirical one, more typical of the previous decade's works. Arcadia does not take place in London but in an unnamed, universal English city, which allows its author to employ a skilful mixture of various genres, namely the psychological novel, sociological and urban studies and the quasi or mock-pastoral. The aim of this article is to show how Crace's Arcadia contributed to the transformation of the British urban novel and, consequently, to the overall process of the hybridisation of the genre of the novel in general.
Rudolf Weiss
"Hell Is a City Much Like London": Postmodern Urban Gothic in Charles Higson's Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen
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Charles (Charlie) Higson, writer, actor, and comedian, produced four black humour novels in the 1990s, Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen of 1996 being the last and arguably the best of them. The unnamed narrator-protagonist, a comfortably-off designer obsessed with right-wing notions and addicted to drugs, appears to live outside moral and physical human norms. He kills Mr Kitchen during an argument and spends the rest of the day and the ensuing night trying to get rid of the body. His repeated and unsuccessful attempts to dispose of the corpse take him on a desperate journey through London, from St John's Wood to Battersea, crisscrossing the metropolis several times. This essay suggests a reading of the text as a postmodern urban Gothic novel. The Gothic features of the novel are analysed from various perspectives. From a narratological vantage point, the narrator/protagonist is perceived as a "mad monologist," whose unreliability derives from his prodigious consumption of narcotics, from cognitive deficiencies as well as from deviations from parameters of normality. Generic properties of the urban Gothic, as for example the function of historical associations, of psychogeographical elements as well as the postmodern sublime (Lyotard), are related to the narrative agent's ontological status and his schemata of perception. Such structural components as nightmare patterns and katabatic ingredients substantiate and amplify the Gothicity of Higson's novel.
Anna Grmelová
From Loneliness to Encounter: London in the Windrush Generation Novels of Sam Selvon and Andrea Levy
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This article explores the ways in which Sam Selvon in his pioneering The Lonely Londoners (1956) and Andrea Levy in her Small Island (2004) negotiate London spaces. Although the novels were created half a century apart they both feature the Windrush generation imaginatively reinventing the city through their hybrid language. The London of The Lonely Londoners (in contrast to the novels by George Lamming or, later, V.S. Naipaul) is not only a city of solitude but also a site of possibility, shaped by the Creole language and featuring a specific Caribbean flâneur. Like Selvon, Andrea Levy, who is a second-generation writer, also employs humour when mediating and shaping historical urban spaces. However, whilst acknowledging all the hardships of immigrant experience, her early twenty-first-century sensibility makes her transcend the loneliness and also the sexism of Selvon's vision in favour of an anticipatory transculturalism.

Anton Pokrivčák
Being in the City: Anxieties of Existence in Herman Melville's and Paul Auster's New York
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The beginnings of American literature have traditionally been associated with a closer exploration of the contact between man and nature than is found in European literatures. In Puritan times, the deep and dark forest was a place of danger and sin, while the city was understood as a symbol of new life and prosperity. This symbolic approach towards the city occurred in several works of nineteenth and twentieth century writers. This article discusses the representation of the city in several works of American literature. It begins with a brief reference to the role of Boston in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, then concentrates on Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener," and ends with an analysis of Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy. The author argues that, while in Hawthorne's work Boston is only latently present, in the distance, reminding us of the contradiction of values between Hester and the Puritan society, Melville's New York prevents Bartleby from achieving a plenitude of sense by erecting walls around him, and in Auster's The New York Trilogy the city engulfs characters, being a site of the mechanical materiality of immanent things and images, highlighting a growing alienation and loss of sense.
Fiona Becket
"New Art on Old Ground": The Poetics of Place in the Poetry of Eavan Boland
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Critics, often directed by Eavan Boland's statements about Ireland's poetic traditions and the figure of the woman poet, have tended to concentrate on Boland's rejection of a masculinist tradition and the attempt, in her work, to restore to poetry women's voices and lived experience. The result is poetry that deals highly self-consciously with the intersections of gender and nation. This article acknowledges the importance and the centrality of this perspective but further seeks to examine the significance of Dublin, the suburbs and the landmarks, in Boland's work - as a specific location, as emblematic, and as informing a complex sense of alienation and belonging. Does a particular vision of place endow the poet with the authority to speak? The article examines the development and validity of a poetics of place which has, at its heart, a debate about poetic authority.
Ivan Callus
Enigmas of Arrival: Re-imagining (Non-)Urban Space in Contemporary American Narrative
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Despite, or because of, the fact that only 20.78% of the population of the United States lives in rural areas (US Census, 2000), the American cultural imaginary remains drawn to the idea that self-discovery and a sense of authenticity are more naturally locatable in the emptier vastness of non-urban spaces. In American literature, this idea has recognizable foundations in the Western tradition, in the early histories of American letters, and in the nineteenth-century writing of figures like Thoreau and Twain, and it remains current in a number of contemporary examples of what has been termed "nature writing". Recent literary fiction set in the United States, however, appears to be ambivalent about the assumption that open country is the natural site for self-renewal and a more authentic existence. Accordingly, this article analyzes Joseph O'Neill's acclaimed Netherland (2008) and Don DeLillo's Point Omega (2010) as particularly incisive fictional representations of the oppositions between the urban and non-urban, and as texts through which the relation between landscape and cityscape, as well as that between the scope of open country and the scope of the city, might be reimagined. Netherland becomes crucial here because of the astute use it makes of cricket (with all that the sport stands for) as a metaphor for contrary senses of affiliation and dislocation in New York, while Point Omega can read almost like a farewell to the idea that the desert is redemptive. Reference is also made to other contemporary narratives, notably Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2006), and to observations by Giorgio Agamben, Jean Baudrillard and Jacques Derrida that throw light on the ongoing rethinking of the distinctions between the urban and whatever the urban might or might not still be in opposition to.
Zdeněk Beran
Bibliography of doc. PhDr. Jaroslav Hornát, CSc. (1929-1990)
Review of Petr Chalupský
The Postmodern City of Dreadful Night: The Image of the City in the Works of Martin Amis and Ian McEwan
Saarbrücken: Verlag Dr. Müller, 2009. 133 pp.
→ Anna Grmelová, The Grotesque and the Moral: Two Contemporary Representations of Urban Space
Review of Betina Entzminger
The Belle Gone Bad. White Southern Women Writers and the Dark Seductress
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002. 201 pp.
→ Dagmar Pegues, Removing the Pedestal: The Bad Belle as the Vessel of Veiled Critique of Southern Patriarchy


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