SAMPLE READING LIST: The Nineteenth-Century Novel in France and England and the Discourses of Urbanism


Taking Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (1845) as a provisional point of departure, this field will provide a framework for an examination of selected 19th-century European novels, with a focus on texts of the latter half of the century. For my purposes, Engels' text inaugurates an incipient discourse of "urbanism," by which I mean a broad set of concerns that cohere primarily through a common attempt to subject the city to relentless representation in spite of, or perhaps because of, perceptions of the city as a site of uncontrolled growth, increasingly illegible boundaries, and unprecedented mixing of all kinds. Engels account of the effects of rapid industrialization, capital centralization, and population densification in England's "Great Towns," is not only an attempt to denaturalize capithlism's "inevitability" and to expose its structural contradictions, but a textual struggle against what Steven Marcus, in his reading of Engels' section on England's "Great Towns," has called the city's apparent "illegibility." 1

Engels' emphasis on urban topography as: a) a text of dissolution; b) both a threat and a challenging spur to "realistic" representation; and c) a multi-layered labyrinth that unfolds to point to the degenerative effects of capitalism as urban "development" -- all of these figurations of the city are important for me in part because they productively crystallize some of the questions that arise within the discourse of urbanism over the course of the 19th-century. With Idelfonso Cerdà's "General Theory of Urbanization" (Theoria general de Urbanización , Madrid, 1867) 2, "urbanism" will become increasingly recognized and codified as a discipline with its own set of questions. Cerdà's text will be crucial for me in part because he is interested in developing a "general" model for understanding urbanism, one that can be transported out of any particular urban fabric. He considers urbanism as "scientific" discipline that can serve the "civilized" cause of progress by mastering knowledge about the city-form in historical, structural, and ultimately universal terms.

Cerdà and Engels, along with other "urbanist" texts, including the utopian literature of Fourier and Owen, and the guides to the World's Fairs/Universal Exhibitions of London and Paris (for my purposes these are "urbanist" texts because they symbolically bring the "globe" to the metropolis and in doing so thematize the imagined relations between center and periphery) raise the following questions for me: How is the city positioned in relation to the projects of Empire? How is the city imagined as a space in which to unify domestic and global/imperialist projects? What models of universal progress are embedded in the notion of an ideal(ized) metropolis? What are the relationships between "scientific" and "utopian" urbanisms? How, especially in regards to the World's Fairs, is the notion of a "model" or of a miniaturized, representative image naturalized in relation to its supposed referent? How does this naturalization help to erase the ideological projects inherent in building a coherent image of a global topography dominated by an urban, imperial center?

With these questions in mind, I wish to examine the way in which the novel form takes up the urban center, in particular Paris and London. Although my choice of texts suggests a "comparative" approach, I do not intend to reduce all of the texts I read to instances of a singular theme. Nor do I wish to use them as literary "proof' of the urban problems posed in the "non-literary" tracts I have mentioned above. Rather, my aim is to read selected novels of France and Britain, roughly between the period of 1848 to 1900, alongside each other, and alongside the discourse of urbanism, in order to raise questions that include, rather than take for granted, the methodological: What does it mean to delimit"realist" as opposed to "utopian" fiction? What counts as "urban" and what does it mean to distinguish it from "peripheral" spaces, genres, and classes? How is the notion of an "outside" or non-central space imagined and contained by the project of representing the "totality" and "universality" of the metropolis? What epistemoplogical and political projects are at stake in, for example, Zola's desire to chronicle, via "naturalism," the entirety of the Second Empire? What is the relationship between naturalism's attempt to be "scientific" and the discourse of the French "civilizing" mission? What is the relationship between the novel as genre(s) and an ideology of universal progress that often inscribes an imaginary "global" terrain as its scope?

Finally, given that "historical" and "literary" figurations of the metropolis are often considered distinct entities, how might these categories be productively problematized? How does fiction take up historical data, thematize historical events and personages? How do supposedly non-fictional accounts of the urban draw on and partake of literary devices? How, for example, does the British literature of the "lower classes" in London (Dickens, Gaskell, Disraeli, etc.) attempt to be "true" to its object of representation and simulataneously re-invent the project of fiction and the responsibility of authorship? How is this project similar to Engels' effort to symbolically disinter the urban working class from its subterranean, displaced position in the urban fabric?

1 Steven Marcus, "Reading the illegible," in Dyos and Wolff, eds. The Victorian City: Images and Realities (London: Routledge, 1973), Vol. 1, pp. 257-276.

2 Ildefonso Cerdà, Theoria general de Urbanización, trans. Antonio Lopez de Aberasturi as La Theorie generale de l'urbanisation (Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1979). I have been unable to find an English translation of Cerdà's text.



Balzac, Honoré de (1799-1850)
— Illusions perdues (1837-1843
— Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes (1838-1847)
Butler, Samuel (1835-1902)
— Erewhon (1872)
Collins, Wilkie (1824-1889)
— The Woman in White (1860)
Dickens, Charles (1812-1870)
— Dombey and Son (1846-48)
— Bleak House (1853)
— Hard Times (1854)
— Little Dorrit (1857)
— A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
— Our Mutual Friend (1865-65)
Disraeli, Benjamin 1804-81)
— Coningsby, or the New Generation (1844)
— Sybil (1845)
Eliot, George (1819-80)
— Felix Holt (1866)
— Middlemarch (1871-2)
Gaskell, Elizabeth (1810-65)
— Mary Barton (1848)
— North and South (1855)
Gissing, George (1857-1903)
— The Nether World (1889)
— New Grub Street (1891)
Hugo, Victor (1802-85)
— Notre-Dame de Paris (1831)
— Les Misérables (1862)
James, Henry (1843-1916)
— The Princess Casamassima (1886)
Morris, William (1834-1896)
— News From Nowhere (1891)
Sue, Eugene (1804-57)
— Les Mystères de Paris (1842-43)
Thackeray, William Makepeace (1811-63)
— Vanity Fair (1847-8)
Vemes, Jules (1828-1905)
— Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingt jours (1873)
Wells, H.G. (1866-1946)
— The Time Machine (1895)
— The War of the Worlds (1898)
Zola, Emile (1840-1902)
— Thérèse Raquin (1867)
— La Curée (1869-72)
— Le Ventre de Paris (1873)
— L'Assommoir (1877)
— Nana (1880)
— Le Roman expérimental (1880)
— Germinal (1885)



Carlysle, Thomas (1795-1881)
— Chartism (1839)
— Past and Present (1843)
Cerda, Idelfonso (1815-1876)
— General Theory of Urbanization (1867)
Chadwick, Edwin (1800-90)
— Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain (1842)
Curmer, Leon. Ed.
— Les Français peints par eux-mêmes: encyclopédie morale du dixneuvième siècle (1840-42)--selections
Engels, Friedrich (1820-1895)
— The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (1845)
Fourier, Charles (1772-1837)
— Le nouveau monde industrielle (1829-30)
Mayhew, Henry (1812-87)
— London Labour and the London Poor (1851)
Marx, Karl (1818-83)
— The Class Struggle in France: 1848 to 1850 (1850)
— The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852)
Owen, Robert (1771-1858)
— A New View of Society (1813)
Simmel, Georg (1858–1918)
— "The Metropolis and Mental Life" (1903)
Sitte, Camillo (1843-1903)
— City Planning According to Artistic Principles. Vienna, 1889


Paris Guide par les principaux ecrivains et artistes de la France, Paris, 1867 (published for the Exposition Universelle de 1867); Hugo's introductory text, " Paris" (1867) will be especially important.
The Crystal Palace Exhibition, illustrated Catalogue, London, 1851 (Dover Publications, reprint, 1970). Selected essays.