Urban Romanticism

In keeping with a number of recent contributions and against the long-standing notion of Romanticism as primarily a rural phenomenon, this chapter highlights the centrality of urban and metropolitan environments to Romantic writing. After outlining the role of London and Edinburgh as hubs of literary production, distribution, and reception in the Romantic period, it turns to the city as a key subject of Romantic writing. As is illustrated here by means of the Prelude, central texts of the period can be understood as responses to the challenge of representing new, specifically urban environments and their impact on the individual and on society. Central insights from twentieth- and twenty-first-century urban sociology and urban anthropology – notions introduced by Simmel, Benjamin, Debord, de Certeau, Augé, and others – can thus be shown to shed light on central Romantic texts. Conversely, some of the central concerns of contemporary urban studies can be historicized by tracing them to Romantic-period discourses. Moreover, the chapter briefly discusses the emergence of new genres as responses to urban environments, here the urban essay of Lamb, Hunt, and others. Finally, specifically urban forms of self-reflexive performance are shown to be central to the formation of urban readerships and audiences. The chapter thus argues for the centrality of urban environments to Romantic literary and cultural production.


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