Chapter 4: Gothic Cities
As a cornerstone in the history of mainstream popular fiction, the traditional Gothic novel of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century set the precedent for a genre of writing which assumed a less fashionable stature in the refined Victorian age. An epoch such as the nineteenth-century, populated by authors striving towards moralistic and intellectual works of literature, disregarded the subversively grotesque literature of shock and horror. However, Victorian novels often assimilated features which are indicative of the Gothic genre. The representation of the city in nineteenth-century literature is a fine example of how seemingly contemporary settings can be transformed into a Gothicised location; a space of transgression, where norms of society are perverted and asserted in various spaces, and where ominous and awe inspiring architectural landscapes are inhabited by monstrous figures derived from hideous strands of society. The composition of the Gothic genre, ideally location, transgression and character, as discussed in this chapter, are evidently key features that are employed in the realisation of the city in the Victorian novel.
Chapter 3: Industrial Bodies
The structural composition of the city can be seen as a consequence of industrial expansion in the nineteenth-century. The revolutionising of methods of production, the incentive to improve technologically and to increase commercial productivity, was at the heart of Victorian industry. The core of this industry can be located within the city itself; a veritable model of productivity where capitalism and consumerism act as the sustenance for the working populous, the lifeblood of the city mechanism. In 1848, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx collaborated on The Communist Manifesto, waxing lyrically on the virtues of communist social strategies by targeting the malignancy of exploitative industrial growth and capitalism. Composed in the same epoch as the literary texts studied in this investigation, there are intriguing parallels and conflictions between these historical political works and the novels of Dickens and Eliot, regarding their reasoning for the existence of cities as industrial and commercial centres, and the political agendas that arise as a consequence. For Marx and Engels, industrial growth gave way to the expansion of the city as a productive device:
It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.
(Marx, Engels, 1848, p.6)
Chapter 2: Space and Place
Unlike the country with its idyllic broad vistas of greenery, broad landscapes and ‘huge conical masses of hill’ (Eliot, 1859, p.19), the generic city is proportionally smaller compared to the population that inhabits it. It could be considered overly obvious when stated that the city is smaller than the surrounding country and that the density of habitation is greater in the confines of a city. However, it is the act of confining and restricting space that provides a far richer snapshot of human civilization, encapsulated in the industrial prison of the city structure. The city, an almost independent world of its own engineering, encompasses a range of cultural diversity within its maze of streets, alleys, and walkways. Like the convoluted package of a human brain, the network of passages and locations build upon and behind each other in such an intensely folded pattern, that the city is impacted within itself, and is a veritable hub for the differentiation of lifestyle. It is perhaps ironic that the structurally introverted nature of the city gives rise to the explicitly extrovert natures of Victorian society which will be discussed in this chapter.
I have discovered my dissertation for my BA Honours English Literature degree, written over a decade ago. I present it here in four instalments.
The dissertation is a socio-historical investigation regarding the importance of the city in terms of its representation and structure in Victorian literature by Dickens and Eliot. Initially studying the convergence and contrast of the city and the country, a relationship of binaries between the two presents the placement of an effeminised country subordinated to the masculine, overpowering city. The relevance of the author’s gender identities and the possible relevance of Victorian genders to affinities with country or city life are subsequently revealed from this method. The introduction of the importance of theological representations and church practices in city and country societies displays the vast contrast of difference between authors and also industrial and pastoral viewpoints, which are again related back to Victorian gender identities and the importance of religion in the industrious city lifestyle.
The division of Victorian city space within the novels reveals a regulated region of gender and class zones. A Foucauldian reading implies a regulation of sexual segmentation of genders and a repression of gender identities for women who are stowed in domestic spheres for masculine usage. The dual roles of public spaces for commerce in the day and sexual subversions in nocturnal periods are examined within the texts, leading to discussion of how permeable the barriers are between the disciplinary spaces and the consideration of how gender oscillates between them.
The industrial aspects of city life are examined through literary representations, noting the importance of transportation via rail as a factor in breaking down the rigidity of gender entrapping spaces as well as the impenetrability of the country and city relationships. Marxist readings in the texts regarding the city as a productive capitalist device to abuse the inhabitant proletariat, reveals the city to be a large factory mechanism with smaller bodies maintaining the system within.
The Gothic revival of city architecture in the Victorian city is assimilated in the representation of literary cities for particularly gothic modes of writing. The Gothicised city represents a subversive version of society, harking back to an anarchic past. The city is presented as a panoptic region of observation and the Victorian representations of domesticated horror intimates the birth of the Urban Gothic genre, where the familiar becomes the foe.
There's no black and no white...
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