At home in the city: networked space and urban domesticity in American literature, 1850-1920

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At home in the city: networked space and urban domesticity in American literature, 1850-1920

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Title: At home in the city: networked space and urban domesticity in American literature, 1850-1920
Author: Klimasmith, Elizabeth, 1969-
Abstract: This dissertation explores the changing conceptions and uses of the notion of environment in nineteenth-century America. I argue that in this period of rapid urbanization, the novel became a testing ground for examining the relationship between urban spaces and the development of a new, modern subjectivity. As the "separate" spaces of public and private, urban and rural, masculine and feminine gave way to a paradigm of interconnected, networked cities, urban literature from the 1850's on became a realm where authors could explore networked spaces more quickly and on a wider scale than even the rapidly transforming landscape would allow. I examine literary treatments of urban domesticity such as The Blithedale Romance, Ruth Hall, The Bostonians , and The Custom of the Country alongside more prescriptive (and more thoroughly-studied) architectural, urban planning, and domestic advice texts of the period. This juxtaposition shows how the modern urban landscape's networked spaces, such as apartments, tenements, hotels, and parks disrupted and forced revisions of the notions of public and private space foundational to early nation-building in the United States. My work challenges the notion that urban spaces and their literatures were characterized by separate, gendered spheres and contests the naturalization of gender and class in the urban landscape.Though the dissertation draws on the extensive literature on domesticity, as well as literary, historical, and geographical approaches to the urban landscape, I move beyond offering connections between these bodies of work. Instead, I reconstruct the sociological and literary contexts of nineteenth-century U.S. cities in order to uncover the ways in which Americans grappled imaginatively and physically with the ever-evolving urban landscape. By attending to literary presentations of urban domestic spaces, I make visible theories of the modern subject's relationship to environment that are inaccessible through other approaches. My exploration of the resonances between physical, sociological and literary constructions of the urban landscape demonstrates that both concrete and fictive forces helped to shape a modern American subjectivity. I argue that to understand modernity we must begin to examine our modern notions of environment.
Description: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Washington, 2000

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