Master of Arts (MA)


Comparative Literature (Interdepartmental Program)

Document Type



The primary goal of this thesis is to examine how the city is read in the works of four nineteenth-century authors: Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1860), Honoré de Balzac’s Le Père Goriot (1834), Fernán Caballero’s La Gaviota (1849), and Madame de Staël’s Corinne ou l’Italie (1807). They show the city not just as a setting, but as a character. At times, nineteenth-century urban life becomes so overwhelming to urban newcomers, that the geographical space and its society imprison residents. The nineteenth-century city was marked by change: industrialization, population shift from rural areas to urban capitals, and changes in political regime. Therefore, a character’s journey through the city presents him or her with challenges. The first chapter traces how the author maps out the city for the reader. It examines the forces working against the characters as they undergo their urban journey. The reader discovers the city’s geography and society along with the characters. The second chapter examines the criminal nature of the city in Le Père Goriot and Great Expectations. The third chapter examines women’s position in urban society in all four works. As women could not negotiate the geographical space of the city, they must negotiate its interior society, its salons. Marriage is seen as an imprisoning institution for women and even talented independent women face difficulties. Money and love/lust complicate women’s negotiation and often lead to social destruction. The fourth chapter examines how characters are able partially to surmount the urban space through successful negotiation, by incorporating themselves in the urban social world or by escaping the city altogether to find a better life abroad. Negotiating the urban space and its society can prove both destructive and empowering. For some of the characters examined, the city proves to be overwhelming; others have more relative success in surmounting the difficulties they face. The nineteenth-century city proves to be a mythic place whose truth must be discovered through exploration of its society and spaces.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Russo, Adelaide