While Aristotle posited as self-evident that people come to the city to live but stay in the city to live the good life, the city as exemplar of civilization came under suspicion when civilization itself came under suspicion in nineteenth century Britain. The city in all of its vastness, strangeness, danger, beauty, and glory takes its modern shape in the nineteenth century, and Wordsworth was not alone in criticizing these developments and his concern that the overstimulation of the city has and will degrade human life should not be dismissed as pastoral nostalgia. Many modern environmental critics (or "ecocritics" as they are sometimes called) repeat Wordsworth's assertion uncritically, maintaining a sharp distinction between the "natural" environment and the urban environment, and making claims such as this one by Neil Evernden: "The environmental repertoire is vastly diminished in urban life, perhaps to the point of making genuine attachment to place very difficult."
Nineteenth century writers confronted the huge social and cultural shifts with more than nostalgia. In this course we will study the historical foundations of Britainís rapid and for some nearly catastrophic industrialization and urbanization through poetry, novels, and contemporary reportage and criticism. We will look at the beginnings of industrialization through George Eliot's historical novel Silas Marner, and then study the "condition of England" question through the emergence of the northern industrial city as described by Thomas Carlyle and Friedrich Engels and fictionalized by Elizabeth Gaskell. Second, we will turn to London and consider some of its many representations focusing specifically on novels by Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde. We will conclude with a trip across the pond and some transatlantic connections between Britain and America at the end of the nineteenth century through an examination of Frank Norris' The Pit, A Story of Chicago.