Utopia and Cosmopolis

Globalization in the Era of American Literary Realism

Utopia and Cosmopolis

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: Published: September 1998

Author: Thomas Peyser

American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

When did Americans first believe they were at the center of a truly global culture? How did they envision that culture and how much do recent attitudes toward globalization owe to their often utopian dreams? In Utopia and Cosmopolis Thomas Peyser asks these and other questions, offers a reevaluation of American literature and culture at the dawn of the twentieth century, and provides a new context for understanding contemporary debates about America’s relation to the rest of the world.
Applying current theoretical work on globalization to the writing of authors as diverse as Edward Bellamy, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, William Dean Howells, and Henry James, Peyser reveals the ways in which turn-of-the-century American writers struggled to understand the future in a newly emerging global community. Because the pressures of globalization at once fostered the formation of an American national culture and made national culture less viable as a source of identity, authors grappled to find a form of fiction that could accommodate the contradictions of their condition. Utopia and Cosmopolis unites utopian and realist narratives in subtle, startling ways through an examination of these writers’ aspirations and anxieties. Whether exploring the first vision of a world brought together by the power of consumer culture, or showing how different cultures could be managed when reconceived as specimens in a museum, this book steadily extends the horizons within which late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature and culture can be understood.
Ranging widely over history, politics, philosophy, and literature, Utopia and Cosmopolis is an important contribution to debates about utopian thought, globalization, and American literature.


“[L]ucid. . . .[I]t would be hard to find a critic more attentive to both the nuances of fictionality and the subtle interconnections of contemporaneous historical phenomena than Thomas Peyser.” — Nancy Glazener , American Literature

“[Peyser is] a creative reader and an inspired critic.” — William Morgan, Modern Fiction Studies

“[S]harp and provocative . . . . [A]n engaging and interesting piece of work, which offers us an alternative framework for reading American naturalism at the same time as making a timely intervention within current debates about national and transnational cultures.” — Paul Giles , Journal of American Studies

“[T]his is a well-researched, scholarly, and judicious study that demonstrates how well both realism and utopianism reflect a significant period in American, and world, history. It also reminds us that utopias are not simply literary artifacts and that we cannot truly understand them without careful consideration of the social, economic, and political milieu from which they arise.” — Arthur O. Lewis Jr. , Utopian Studies

“Peyser constructs an argument that is convincing in its controlled execution and careful symmetry. The subtlety of the re-readings is such that this work has the tone of an established, seminal study rather than the new critical approach to the period that it is.” — Saranne Weller , European Journal of American Culture

“Thomas Peyser has given us a well-written, intelligent, and timely study of the emergence of globalism and cosmopolitan universalism in turn-of-the-century American literature and culture. . . . [A] lively book with the signal virtue of thinking beyond the pieties of contemporary critical practice.” — Ross Posnock , Modern Philology

“Thomas Peyser has made a valuable contribution to the study of late-nineteenth-and-early-twentieth-century American literature with Utopia and Cosmopolis. . . . His readings are as provocative as they are innovative, and his study provides the basis for a much broader understanding of the relationships between key turn-of-the-century American texts.” — Joseph Csicsila , American Literary Realism

“Peyser’s readings are nuanced and sensitive to both historical context and the specificity of individual works. These readings let us see, without pretentiously announcing it, how an understanding of four authors provides a provocative perspective on current reflections about the effects of globalization on national cultures.” — Brook Thomas, University of California, Irvine

“Specialists in the field will need to engage with this work. . . . Utopia and Cosmopolis wonderfully modifies the basic context in which late nineteenth century American literature must be read.” — Paul Bové, University of Pittsburgh


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Thomas Peyser is Assistant Professor of English at Randolph-Macon College.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2247-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2230-6
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