Descriptions of Cities in Literary Works

Each city is unique in its own way and character. Cities can communicate with people, deliver and convey their own thoughts, and plot both in real life and in literary works. In order to understand and feel the city, a high-quality presentation by the author is important, as well as the presence of features in the city that can make it different from other similar ones. Many authors use cities as a speaking element in their articles or books. In turn, each author builds communication between the city and the reader in different ways in order to convey his own idea through the use of cities, places, or streets.

One of the main criteria for uniqueness is the architecture of each individual city. Architecture can be both historical and modern. Through the architectural elements, the city seems to be talking to people, conveying its idea, story, and peculiarity. The message is expressed in the internal and external elements of the decoration of buildings, individual content and other minor details (Mi and Wang 228). However, not everyone knows how to appreciate this message and “speak” with the city in its language. Some strive to change, trying to replace all authentic elements with new trends of urbanization. Because of this, entire buildings are being destroyed, which could become architectural monuments.

With the development of the urban theme, palaces, estates, and nature began to be ousted from literature. The objects of the image are factories, roads, the public, a mass of people as a whole. The big city acts as a “chronotopic” device, and it seems to be at once in the cultural and historical past, present and future (Mi and Wang 232). The space of the city acts as a kind of mythogenic topos; therefore, even the concrete realities of the city are made synchronously with the plot-like elements of the urban myth.

The essence and elements of each city can be used both as metaphors and as part of the image of a certain work. The authors use such minimal elements in a variety of contexts: it can be blooming flowers in the garden, threatening sloping mountains, a long dead-end street, constant dampness, or, on the contrary, constant joyful sun, and much more. The task of such elements is to create an atmosphere, sensuality to convey the thoughts of the author himself, the semantic series of the work. There are many uses of such illustrative elements in the literature, with one example being “Here under the lamps are floating islands of pale light through which pass quickly bright men and women” (Woolf 20). While it is generally accepted that characters are the heroes of the works, the city can play the role of one of these characters, no less important for creating the overall image and plot of the picture than everyone else.

The word flâneur became associated with “reading” the city and performing the connection role between the modernism, individual and the city. The word is used by different authors, including Pollock, Baudelaire, and Bauman (Coates 2). If considering the surrounding landscape of the city in the context of a conversation, then its words will be plants, rivers, seas, hills, buildings and mountains. Many of them present a new and unique form which can not be found anywhere else or duplicated. At the same time, some of the objects bear the names of cities, historical figures, or events, delivering the elements of the history to the present day.

Both London and Paris were performing the roles of the cultural metropolises of the 19th and 20th centuries as they were influenced by the flow of rapid urbanization and during the age of the industrial revolution (Uscinski 82). Historically, it became natural that the description of London city in the United Kingdom repeatedly appears in literary works as a theme or background for the unfolding plot. The British capital is present not only in the traditional and modern English literature, but also in the literature of the entire English-speaking world (Uscinski 86). Hence, there are many literary works in which London is the scene for the events of the plot. Panoramas of London are traditionally immersed in darkness, rain, mud, and slush, and this creates a unique, pervading atmosphere (Uscinski 82). However, sometimes authors have a different approach such as the description of the “champagne brightness of the air” in London (Woolf 19). Certain heroes, plots, and atmospheres are associated with London, especially, not as with other cities, creating its individual role in works of literature and art.

The image of Paris in the literature of different countries and languages is closely associated with romance. Canonical love stories take place there, a unique atmosphere of coziness, sexuality, and gentle pastime for couples’ reigns. Paris, in contrast to London, has a completely different presentation, as the atmosphere, buildings, and colors described are often warm, while London presents cold shades. Paris is found in many works of Honoré de Balzac, in which he describes in his own special manner comedy in the life of people, in which aristocrats and Parisian courtesans and actresses, usurers, corrupt journalists, and many others are present at the same time (Zea 38). In the stories of Balzac, the city is the entourage, and people from different classes, dreaming of conquering Paris or living for other purposes, as well as those who dispelled their illusions in Paris but found love are the details of the story.

The images of Paris and other cities are embodied not only in literature but also in painting, music, architecture. However, in literature, one of the most common images used is cities within the works themselves. This is due to the fact that many authors have their own approach to presentation, their own vision, and their own display. In each of the works, the city is presented in a different way, in a manner characteristic of one individual author, which makes the very atmosphere and voices of the city unique.

Some authors, including Baudelaire (9), present cities as a kind of kaleidoscope of various events of emotions, people, and other elements. Thus, each city acts at once as a complex collection of multiple details and specifics, which in their diversity create this unique opportunity for literature to choose specific elements. For such authors, Paris immediately acts as a platform for the imagination and development of various plots.

At the same time, countries and cities such as Athens in Greece are associated with certain deities and antiquity. Historical periods, including those that were BC in the history of Greece, are related to the names of Pericles and Phidias, the splendor of the Parthenon, and the flourishing of ancient Greek culture (Plantzos 10). Athens has always been considered the place of origin and habitation of the gods, it has many legends and fantasies developing this theme. Thus, the presentation of this city in literature was originally designed with a completely different display, with the presence of fantastic, historical, or confessional elements. The city as a place of residence of a person has always been of interest to literary figures. For some writers, a city is a means of forming its type of person, for others, it is an independent body that lives and has equal rights with its inhabitants (Kasapi and Cela 129). The appeal of writers to the theme of the city gives rise to the emergence of the so-called “urban texts”, which include the image of the city in works of art of various genres. In literary interpretation, the idea is the result of an aesthetic rethinking by the author of any phenomenon of the surrounding world, which is inherent in all types of art. A literary work contains a system of images created by the author, which includes atmosphere, characters, landscape, time, and place of action.

In the literature, some cities also present the chaotic or calmness of city life. So, for example, some of them are quite hectic, as they are in a constant rush among people, the desire to earn more, achieve certain heights, with a feeling of lack of time, while other cities seem to have stuck in time and represent a kind of frozen image of the city. Poe (479) describes the city as “very much crowded during the whole day”. Other cities have a measured lifestyle with people never being in a rush but rather enjoying their lifetime. A number of cities are vivacious, while others seem to be lonely and devastated in terms of crowding with people and events, as well as people can both feel surrounded by care and attention, and completely alone “to be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home” (Baudelaire 9). The authors notice this in their works and make it one of the components of the plot.

There are references in the literature that made certain places very recognizable, for example, Baker Street from the works of Sherlock Holmes, including the film series. The street is recognizable precisely because of these films and books. In the same way, the Egyptian pyramids are associated by many readers, viewers, or even visitors in reality with many movies, ballads, and books that describe the burials of pharaohs, excavations, and other specifics of the ancient heritage of Egypt. Cities and countries, in turn, preserve the atmosphere of these places and increase over time without changing the authenticity. This allows them to seem to speak to book readers or personal visitors through their history and experiences.

In conclusion, there are many books and works these days that show cities through various presentation elements that allow the city to “speak” to the reader. In some books, they are used as a background for the atmosphere of the work, while in others, they play a mini role of a certain character who participates in the work and the plot. Therefore, it is the cities, their architecture, streets, buildings, and much more that allow the work to become reality for the reader. The presence of specific cities in the works of famous authors demonstrates that they are an integral part of literature and other genres of art.

Works Cited

Baudelaire, Charles. “The Painter of Modern Life: III. The Artist, Man of the World, Man of the Crowd, and Child”. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, translated and edited by Jonathan Mayne, Phaidon Press, 1970, pp. 5-12.

Coates, Jamie. “Key Figure of Mobility: The Flâneur.” Social Anthropology, vol. 25, no. 1, 2017, pp. 28-41. Web.

Kasapi, Irisi, and Ariana Cela. “Destination Branding: A review of the City Branding Literature.” Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 8, no. 4, 2017, p. 129. Web.

Mi, Fangzhou, and Yu Wang. “A Summary of the Study on the Authenticity of Traditional Village Architecture Space.” Open Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 9, no. 6, 2021, pp. 228-240. Web.

Plantzos, Dimitris. “2. Greek Sculpture in the Roman Empire: The Literary Sources.” Handbook of Greek Sculpture. De Gruyter, 2019, pp. 7-21. Web.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The man of the crowd”, The fall of the house of Usher: and other tales, Marshall Cavendish, 1986, pp. 470-487.

Uscinski, Przemysław. Landscapes and Townscapes. Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2021, pp. 79-88. Web.

Woolf, Virginia. “Street Haunting: A London Adventure.” The Death of the Moth and Other Essays, Hogarth Press, 1981, pp. 19-29.

Zea, Zahra Tavassoli. Balzac Reframed. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2019. Web.

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