ABSTRACT

The world has moved into the urban century, an era in which the majority of the human population resides in cities. The centuries during which the urban condition, in all its myriad forms and varieties, has gradually become the most common mode of existence have also seen the consolidation and expansion of a vast literature of the city, evoking, scrutinizing and shaping city life in its many ramifications. The advance of the city novel as a genre has correlated with fluctuations in the urban condition, as well as in urban tastes. Similarly, the demise of the city as a dominant literary topos has been read as the equivalent, in literature, of the failure of the city to provide a focal point for radical aspirations. 1 While a vast amount of research has been conducted on the images and experiences of the city in the literary works of individual authors, and on the literatures of particular cities and literary periods, less progress has been made to articulate what distinguishes city novels from other literary texts. What kinds of generic characteristics are typical for city literature, and what are the consequences of these features for an analysis of the city novel? Given the close correlation between city literature and the interdisciplinary field of urban studies, such an enquiry could also have relevance beyond literary studies, with the potential to broaden our understanding of how city narratives are constructed in the context of education, history, urban planning and policy.