The City and Literature

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(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

The City and Literature

Literary depictions of urban areas range from the painstakingly detailed descriptions of Dublin in James Joyce's Ulysses to the bleak cityscapes of the post-apocalyptic futurist scenarios of H. G. Wells, Philip K. Dick, and Samuel Delany. As humanity increasingly became more urbanized, the image writers portrayed of its cities became more diverse. A contemporary of King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More created Utopia, an idealized, fictional island country that is centered around the capital of Amaurote, with fifty-four cities of equal size each containing approximately six thousand homes. Samuel Pepys's diary details London during the plague years and the Great Fire of 1666. The English Romantic movement began a literary tradition of disparaging the city. Such poets as William Blake wrote that the increased industrialization of the cities served to degrade its inhabitants. The Industrial Revolution in England, France, and the United States spurred writers to write of the inhumane living conditions in the countries' capitals. In Waiden American Transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau wrote of how the effects of urban living crush the spirit. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such writers as Theodore Dreiser and Stephen Crane wrote about the city as a malevolent force toward their protagonists. Modernist, existentialist, and postmodernist writers of the twentieth century continued to depict the city as an usurper of the human spirit that inherently destroys humanity's essence.