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Town or Country: Warring Ideologies on Living the Good Life

ENGL 429.960
instructor(s):
TR 5:30-8:30

From ancient times to the present, Western literary texts have engaged in a central cultural debate: where can we live the best life- in the city, in the country, or in some space in between? This debate continues into the present as we grapple with issues such as urban decay, contaminated industrial sites, and suburban/exurban sprawl. In this course, we will examine what social, moral, and political values we attach to these locations - country purity, city sophistication, suburban safety? Naturally, writers engaged in this debate not only define themselves and their choices as ideal, they also create an opposite other, e.g. the country bumpkin, the urban degenerate, the suburban conformist. We will begin our discussion of city versus country by looking at such classical authors as Aristotle, Virgil, and Juvenal. We will trace the debate into the early modern era by reading the city comedies of Johnson and Middleton, as well as Jonson and Marvelle's great house poems, looking also at Wycherley's urbane comedy, The Country Wife. We will discuss the late nineteenth/early twentieth-century city beautiful movement after examining works by major Romantic poets who find salvation in the English countryside. Finally, we will conclude the course with 20th-centruy utopian/dystopian fantasy literature that reveals modern anxieties about the environments technology has enabled our societies to construct.