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At Home in the City
Urban Domesticity in American Literature and Culture, 1850-1930
Betsy Klimasmith

Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies

New Hampshire
2005 • 312 pp. 30 illus. 6 x 9"
American History - 19th Century / Literary Criticism

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“Beautifully written and illustrated...this book is a fascinating read from a promising young scholar. Anyone interested in urban studies, American historical fiction, and architecture will be delighted.” Choice

A lucidly written analysis of urban literature and evolving residential architecture.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, urban families began to inhabit apartment houses, boarding houses, tenements, and hotels. These multi-unit residences began to define American city landscapes, a shift that had enormous interpersonal and cultural repercussions. These new forms of housing altered the ways in which Americans inhabited and understood urban space. Helping to create among city dwellers a distinctively modern subjectivity were a host of writers (among them, Hawthorne, James, and Nella Larsen) who experimented in prose with the possibilities and dangers of urban space. Reformers, planners, and engineers simultaneously helped to shape urban sensibilities by experimenting with architectural form in the city’s physical landscape, often hoping to shape a particular type of citizen with their designs.

Imaginatively juxtaposing literary criticism with a history of the built environment, Klimasmith examines urban domestic fiction alongside architectural, sociological, and photographic texts of the period, pairing important American novels with developments in urban domestic architecture. Arguing that nineteenth and early-twentieth-century residential spaces were always more fluid and dynamic than traditional scholarship holds, her study allows us to witness the unfolding of modernity and to view the modernist subject at its very inception.

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Reviews / Endorsements

“Beautifully written and illustrated...this book is a fascinating read from a promising young scholar. Anyone interested in urban studies, American historical fiction, and architecture will be delighted.” Choice

Klimasmith “brings new insights into the lived experiences of urban dwellers, challenging both contemporary accounts as well as more recent scholarship.”H-Urban

"Klimasmith successfully guides readers through a literary and artistic terrain that enables us all to become more At Home in the City"Studies in American Naturalism

"Betsy Klimasmith's At Home in the City is a genuine pleasure to read. The narrative seamlessly moves from close readings of urban novels to discussions about architectural designs of tenements and boarding houses as well as of New York's Central Park. It analyzes the interiority of urban domestic fiction then literally and figuratively goes outside, to extra-literary sources. It is as if the very structure of the book confirms its central observation: the boundedness of the rural home gave way to an urban domesticity, where home is understood in terms of permeability, interconnectedness, and the fluidity of private and public spaces."Journal of American History

"At Home in the City makes 'urban literature' into a meaningful category of analysis by shrewdly situating fresh, often surprising readings of Hawthorne, James, Wharton, Larsen, and others within accounts of the city drawn from history, geography, architecture, and other disciplines. Betsy Klimasmith delivers a sophisticated, clear, far-reaching exploration of city life as an imaginative and a material artifact, and of the relationship between self and setting in the creation of modern subjects. This is first-rate interdisciplinary literary scholarship, boldly conceived yet well-grounded in a rich variety of authoritative detail."Carlo Rotella, author of October Cities: The Redevelopment of Urban Literature and Good With Their Hands: Boxers, Bluesmen, and Other Characters from the Rust Belt

"With its attention to the urban home gaining popularity as the 19th century progresses, Betsy Klimasmith's excellent At Home in the City offers a timely and provocative reconsideration of domesticity, public and private space and the gender politics of the 19th century US. Her book is required reading for anyone interested in these issues or in the history of architecture and urban space."Caroline Levander, professor of English and Director of the Center for the Study of Cultures at Rice University and author of Cradle of Liberty: The Child, Race, and National Belonging from Thomas Jefferson to WEB Du Bois


Choice Magazine's Outstanding Academic Title (2006) Commendation

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BETSY KLIMASMITH is associate professor of English, University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Thu, 2 Feb 2017 14:52:10 -0500