Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Although the opposition between the rural and urban environments has played a prominent role in the way Americans have responded to their cities, an equally powerful component of our culture has been the belief that the New World could be the sight of a synthesis of this dialectic. Convinced that native geography has offered repeated opportunities for fresh beginnings, Americans since the age of settlement have attempted to define and build cities combining the best of nature and civilization, inspired by what may be called an urban-pastoral ideal of society. Because of its laudable, humane goals, this belief has gone largely unchallenged in native ideology except for the more sophisticated response to the ideal found in the writings of some of America's most eminent literary artists.
Since the ideal first developed from the prophetic vision of the New Jerusalem, it possesses Old World origins that deny American uniqueness. Yet the discovery of the New World infused the vision of a redeemed city with special relevance and credibility as some European intellectuals, explorers, and clergymen associated the settlement of America with the dawning of the millennium. It was this commitment to an ahistorical, millennialist version of urban pastoralism which characterized the Puritan response to the ideal in seventeenth-century New England. But under the aegis of the Enlightenment, the ideal slowly was transformed into a secular, historical goal predicated on American environmental conditions. From Beverley's History and Present State of Virginia, through Freneau's &quot;Rising Glory of America,&quot; to Franklin's Autobiography, we repeatedly find urban development linked to the pastoral idea of America and the promise of the open landscape. This fusion of urban and rural values, however, was not limited to verbal presentations. It was present as well in urban design, including William Penn's plan of Philadelphia as a &quot;green country town,&quot; Pierre L'Enfants's spacious design for Washington, D.C., and Frederick Law Olmsted's work in urban park-planning in the next century. Indeed, by the nineteenth century the progressive version of urban pastoralism became firmly entrenched in American culture as indigenous spokesmen continually yoked the garden image of the West to city growth, arguing that this partnership would lead the United States to a healthier, more abundant, and more virtuous urban society than humankind had ever known. From urban reform based on Jeffersonian tenets to the national park-planning movement of the 1870s and 1880s, the nineteenth century revealed an unqualified commitment to the goal of creating pastoral cities.
Nor were literary artists oblivious to these developments. While popular novelists and poets made the urban-pastoral ideal a recurrent feature of their works, on a more sophisticated plane Emerson urged his countrymen to effect a union of city and country, nature and civilization, in a milieu that would offer a chance for full participation in society yet allow individual freedom. But if Emerson could pay unequivocal tribute to the ideal, other major writers who broached the subject in the nineteenth century enveloped it in irony. Either by testing it against the pulse of history or limiting it to the realm of imagination, artists such as Whitman, Hawthorne, Dreiser, and James displayed the inadequacy of urban pastoralism as a social goal. Because they recognized the inspirational value of the ideal even as they undermined its credibility, however, their works evince a complicated, tragic, and balanced attitude rarely found in twentieth-century literature, which tends to deny any significance to urban pastoralism.