City wilderness: The pastoral topographies of literary Marxism in the United States, 1893-1950

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John W. Crowley


radicalism, proletarian slum, leftist

Subject Categories

American Literature


City Wilderness: The Pastoral Topographies of Literary Marxism in the United States proposes a new assessment of the history and contemporary relevance of literary radicalism in the U.S. Contesting the critical assumptions underlying both the exclusion and the recent "recovery" of the radical literary heritage of the U.S., the project elucidates the literary Left's unexpectedly deep affinity for a pastoral mode of expression, one which builds the radical's vision of capitalist oppression and the exigency of social change around a distinctive topos that has never been adequately explored: the "city wilderness" as a metaphor for the proletarian slum.

After sketching a political and literary-historical rationale for critical attention to the Left's emphasis on topographical metaphor as a current resource for Left/Green politics, the author sketches an expanded range of cultural and historical contexts for radical literatures. Rereading a variety of texts within this matrix in later chapters (including texts by Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Mike Gold, William Attaway, Agnes Smedley, Jack Conroy, Robert Cantwell, Granville Hicks, and Mary McCarthy), the author contests the entrenched view of many radical novels as aesthetically disfigured by their radical agendas, arguing that critical attention to the scenic metaphors in many radical texts can yield a more positive and incisive assessment of their literary structure and political connotations. City Wilderness demonstrates that a critical approach sensitive to the topographical dimension of radical texts can contribute to a broader reassessment of the political and literary contributions and relevance of U.S. literary Marxism in the twentieth-century, and the project should be understood as a study of the historical, rhetorical resources for Left/Green politics in our own time.


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