Bely, Joyce, and Döblin:
Peripatetics in the City Novel

Peter I. Barta

Foreword by Zack Bowen
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"A study of the three most significant urban-scene novels of the 20th century, with important cross-references to many others, in terms of the city observer of the social scene--sociological as well as aesthetic."--Bernard Benstock

Peter Barta offers a new perspective on the narrative apparatus in three prominent modernist European city novels. He argues that the narrative combination of rambling, thinking, observing, and talking creates a "peripatetic" perspective, a manner of facing oneself and the world.
The book examines Andrei Bely's Petersburg, James Joyce's Dublin, and Alfred Döblin's Berlin with special attention to the juxtaposition of details of the city with details of the characters' mental wanderings. Barta sees that the city forces upon its characters psychic displacement, tensions, and oppositions--the fragmentation characterizing much of contemporary fiction. None of the three works resolves the conflicts responsible for the restless narrative peregrinations. The city text (a maze without a center) dispossesses its characters, though they retain the desire to come to terms with their environment.
In showing how three novels--Bely's Petersburg, Joyce's Ulysses, and Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz--illustrate idiosyncratic features of the modernist European city, Peter Barta adds a fresh dimension to our reading of urban fiction, its characters, types, and general themes.

Peter Barta is a lecturer in Russian studies at the University of Surrey in Guildford, England, associate professor of modern languages at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, and editor of several volumes, including The European Foundations of Russian Modernism and Russian Literature and the Classics.

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"Erudite and unpretentious, intelligent as well as intelligible, it presents a multitude of perpsectives on the portraits of three twentieth-century Eurpean cities, each of which 'was to undergo the greatest crisis of identity in its history.'" James Joyce Literary Supplement

"not the least interest of Barta's book is that, as a Slavicist, he is able to draw attention both to the primacy of Bely's Petersburg in the twentieth-century urban novel and to Bely's debt to a nineteenth-century tradition, that of "Petersburg writing" in Pushkin, Gogol, and Dostoievsky. . . . what survives is a sense of insoluble tensions, of "mobility, colors, and constructive and destructive technology," and of an existence pursued without real hope of significant achievement in a "maze of signs" that constitutes urban experience." Modern Fiction Studies

"Peter Barta's book is a welcome addition to the individual study of the three novels themselves, as well as to that of the city novel and the modernist novel." International Review of Modernism

"Barta's study has opened a promising face on a rich seam." -- Neil Cornwell, James Joyce Quarterly James Joyce Quarterly

"An accessible and enlightening, if somewhat limited, introduction to the modern novel of the city -- in particular, to the device of the peripatetic, or 'wandering hero' as a window on the heart of the city. . . . [A] model of intellectual dexterity. . . highly recommended for all levels of Joyce scholarship and. . . especially helpful for Finnegans Wake." -- News Stead: A Journal of History and Literature News Stead: A Journal of History and Literature

"Barta's nuanced, well-researched arguments certainly enrich our understanding and appreciation of these three most prominent modernist city novels in European literature." -- Slavonic Review Slavonic Review

"Barta's study is a good introduction to these three very important novels."-- Journal of the James Joyce Society Journal of the James Joyce Society

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