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The first half of the twentieth century was a time of social and political upheaval in Britain prompted by two world wars, the decline of the empire, the consolidation of the labor movement, the growth of mass literacy, changes in gender roles, and shifts in sexual morality. The literature of the period often presents these changes as a pervasive and immanent crisis that is variously coded as apocalyptic, degenerative, or dangerously revolutionary. Our exploration of these developments will be focalized through contrasting representations of the city and the country. Is the city a place of sophistication or alienation? Do urban crowds threaten the autonomy of the individual or do they accentuate it? What are the pleasures and dangers experienced by women, foreigners, and the working class as they wander through the cityscape? Does the English countryside offer a viable alternative through an established and knowable community? Such questions, in turn, will take us to the aesthetic strategies developed in these texts as they graft together cosmopolitan and nativist sensibilities, draw upon styles of representation developed by new technologies of film and photography, discover the compensatory pleasures of myth, and seek refuge from the contingencies of history in form and symbol. We will also read an example of the period’s detective fiction, that ultimate urban genre, to see how these political and aesthetic issues get worked into popular writing.
Provisional Reading List:
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”, “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”, the Sweeney Poems
E.M. Forster, Howards End
James Joyce, Dubliners
D.H. Lawrence, “England, My England,” “The Odour of Chrysanthemums,” “Fanny and Annie”
Dorothy Sayers, Strong Poison
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
H.G. Wells, Tono-Bungay
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
Supplementary material will include selections from: Georg Simmel’s Metropolis and Modern Life, Thornstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, Charles Baudelaire’s, “The Painter of Modern Life,” Gustave Le Bon’s The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontent,
Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, and Raymond William’s The Country and the City.
Two short essays (5-7 pages); a long essay (12-15 pages); and active participation in class discussion.