Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The city inside: Intimacy and urbanity in Henry James, Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf
by Walker, Casey M., Ph.D., Princeton University, 2010, 279; 3435975
Abstract (Summary)

The City Inside repositions the psychological acuity and formal innovation of Henry James, Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf by reframing these writers as city writers. I argue that the dexterous language in the novels of these authors is the product of their extended tangling with the vast, global cities of New York, Paris and London in the tumultuous years of metropolitan growth between 1880 and 1940, a time when cities filled with unprecedented crowds, rapid architectural change, and harrowing technological dangers, from instruments of war to speeding cars and subway trains. Though the city in the modernist novel has often been read as a space of anomie and estrangement, The City Inside reads cities as potential spaces of community and intimacy. As these novelists expand the possibilities of the novel form, they also create novels better suited to a changed, and changing, urban world.

Each chapter links a writer to the urban spaces he or she inhabited in both life and fiction. I use the novels of James, Proust and Woolf to push back against, as well as lend color to, theories of city space drawn by urban theorists and philosophers such as Henri Lefebvre, Gaston Bachelard, and Michel de Certeau. “Henry James’s Lost Cities” reads James’s work as a crucial precursor to the modernism of Proust and Woolf and confronts James’s immense difficulty writing about New York City. When compared to the work James set in London, Venice or Rome, his New York fiction causes James singular frustration, a frustration tied to the city’s narrow grid and palimpsestic growth. “Marcel Proust’s Invisible Cities” demonstrates Proust’s imaginative sense of city space, where Paris and Venice are as much remembered or desired places as real places. Proust’s blend of realism and fantasy in his city writing forms a template for modernist approaches to the city—not just for Virginia Woolf, but even for late-century writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino. “Virginia Woolf’s Imagined London” expands on Benedict Anderson’s notion of “imagined communities” and explicates Mrs. Dalloway as a new version of the bildungsroman, a novel about the development of Clarissa Dalloway’s cosmopolitan sympathies. The Introduction and Epilogue, “The Urban Container” and “The Flaw in the Urban Container,” expand into contemporary literature—from Joan Didion to W.G. Sebald—to demonstrate the continuing influence of the modernist novel on representations of urban life.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wood, Michael, Fuss, Diana, Gleason, Bill
Commitee:
School: Princeton University
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 72/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Modern literature, Romance literature, American literature, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Critics, France, Intimacy, James, Henry, Modernism, Novel, Proust, Marcel, Urbanity, Woolf, Virginia
Publication Number: 3435975
ISBN: 978-1-124-35105-6
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