“Ecological” City Novel and “Urban Pastoral” in New York literature

Teaching today on the “ecological” city novel (following Gelfant) and the “urban pastoral” (following, a.o. Alter) in New York literature – Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959), Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), and Teju Cole’s Open City (2011). Dealing with questions of belonging and alienation, authenticity and ethnicity, being in harmony with one’s surroundings – and the lack of it in urban environments.

And at the background: the importance of such ecological novels in cultural heritage – see e.g. Laura Tanenbaum’s article on Brooklyn here.

urban pastoral

“The term “urban pastoral” has been used to describe a variety of approaches to the city in literature, referring, inter alia, to Wordsworth’s poetry (Steinman 2012), to a movement of New York poetry (Gray 2010), and to the experience of London in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (Alter 2005: 103–121). […] my use of the term urban pastoral closely resembles Robert Alter’s use of the term in his reading of Mrs. Dalloway (1925), in which he notes that instances of urban pastoral appear when the “urban experience, seen quite vividly in its abundant particularities, can provide the sense of invigoration, harmony with one’s surroundings, and enrapturing aesthetic revelation that is traditionally associated with the green world of pastoral” (Alter 2005: 105).” (quoted from Ameel 2014: 142)

Ameel, Lieven 2014: Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature. Helsinki: SKS.

Gelfant, Blanche Housman 1954: The American City Novel. Norma: University of Oklahoma Press

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