Confronting modernity: urbanization and American fiction, 1880-1930
This dissertation examines both "realism" and "modernism" in U.S. fiction between 1880 and 1930 as reactions to the capitalist, industrial city, which serves as the site of the changes and the subject of the fiction. Urbanization made modernity manifest in three ways: the close proximity and racial diversity of city life, the (limited) mobility urbanization offered women, and the growth of consumer culture. Drawing on debates from turn of the century urban planning and sociology, as well as current history and urban studies, I examine literary representations of the crisis of "modernity" as a broad cultural phenomenon, rooted in material historical changes. While studies of "realism" and "modernism" have been reinvigorated by attention to the relationship between historical change and narrative form, the disciplinary division between these categories has obscured the central concerns they share. Recognizing the formal complexities of realism and the political engagements of modernism enables an understanding of this relationship which is neither reductively formalist nor simplistically historicized.Chapter one, "Utopian Modernity," examines the modern urban spaces of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward and the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in terms of the conflicts they elide and the return of those elisions in sublimated forms. Chapter two, "Modernity Begins at Home," examines modernity and domesticity in Jane Addams's Hull-House writings and William Dean Howells's A Hazard of New Fortunes . In chapter three, "Women on the Verge," I examine Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie and Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, which articulate a gendered modernity, offering women access to the public sphere yet severely restricting female agency. Chapter four, "Metropolitan Modernity," examines John Dos Passos's Manhattan Transfer and Mary Borden's Flamingo: Both are formally experimental yet evince the same contradictory impulses evident in "realist" texts. In chapter five, "At the Heart of the Metropolis/At the Margins of Modernism," I examine the formal disruptions of Nella Larsen's novels in relation to the contradictions urban modernity held for biracial women. Finally, the conclusion considers Michael Gold's Jews Without Money as an example of the challenges of urban modernity continuing into the depression era.
- English