Imagined Cities

Robert Alter

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December 10, 2010
208 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
14 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300175547
Paper

Also Available in:
Cloth

In Imagined Cities, Robert Alter traces the arc of literary development triggered by the runaway growth of urban centers from the early nineteenth century through the first two decades of the twentieth. As new technologies and arrangements of public and private space changed the ways people experienced time and space, the urban panorama became less coherent—a metropolis defying traditional representation and definition, a vast jumble of shifting fragments and glimpses—and writers were compelled to create new methods for conveying the experience of the city.
In a series of subtle and convincing interpretations of novels by Flaubert, Dickens, Bely, Woolf, Joyce, and Kafka, Alter reveals the ways the city entered the literary imagination. He shows how writers of diverse imaginative temperaments developed innovative techniques to represent shifts in modern consciousness. Writers sought more than a journalistic representation of city living, he argues, and to convey meaningfully the reality of the metropolis, the city had to be re-created or reimagined. His book probes the literary response to changing realities of the period and contributes significantly to our understanding of the history of the Western imagination.

Robert Alter is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He has published widely on the modern European and American novel, on modern Hebrew literature, and on literary aspects of the Bible. He is the author of Canon and Creativity: Modern Writing and the Authority of Scripture, published by Yale University Press.

“Those who think Mumford and LeCorbusier are our great urban visionaries have another think coming. As Robert Alter’s Imagined Cities demonstrates so compellingly, the great 19th century novelists—Flaubert, Dickens, Joyce—saw and imagined our cities with a brilliance few others can approach.”—Douglas Rae, author of City: Urbanism and its End

“The topic of the city remains one of the most enduring and important ones for literary study. Robert Alter’s Imagined Cities makes a fresh and always interesting contribution to this topic.”—Philip Fisher, Harvard University

"A fascinating tour of the 19th century’s major cities. . . . It offers excellent analyses of narrative technique and key stylistic attributes, and convincingly proposes cross-national currents of literary influence."—Olga Stein, Books in Canada

“Without the modern city, there would be no modern novel: The two were born together in the 18th century, and perhaps they are now being superseded together. In Imagined Cities, Robert Alter–one of the best literary scholars alive–charts the history of that symbiosis, showing how fictional style evolved to meet the challenge of describing the modern metropolis.”—Adam Kirsch, New York Sun
 

“A critic sees the novel as a response to the disordering urban scene.”—New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

"[Alter] brings an easygoing feeling for the quickening importance of the metropolitan pageant. . . His approach to great literary works [including those by Flaubert, Dickens, Bely, Woolf, Joyce, and Kafka] is pleasurably familiar. . . . The essays . . . have some of the informality of conversations between friends."—Jed Perl, New York Times Book Review

“Alter’s illumination of the techniques employed in the novels he surveys makes for fascinating reading.”—Robert Gutman, Village Voice

"...[a] succinct, elegantly written and immensely readable study of the modern literary urban landscape...utterly convincing...[a] finely gauged and unfailingly interesting book..." - Elizabeth Lowry, Times Literary Supplement

"Imagined Cities [is] clearly written. . . . A pleasure to read."—Jack Trotter, Magill's Literary Annual

"Alter writes clearly and succinctly."—Richard Maxwell, Victorian Studies

"A subtly learned defense of classic realism."—Elizabeth Helsinger, Studies in English Literature