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Mobility in the Metropolis: Responses to the Changing City in Gabriele Tergit’s Käsebier erobert den Kurfürstendamm and J.B. Priestley’s Angel Pavement

Littlejohn, Fiona 2000. Mobility in the Metropolis: Responses to the Changing City in Gabriele Tergit’s Käsebier erobert den Kurfürstendamm and J.B. Priestley’s Angel Pavement. New Readings 5 , pp. 49-65. 10.18573/newreadings.39

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Abstract

Fiona Littlejohn’s paper undertakes a comparative reading of two city novels set in London and Berlin in times of economic depression in the late 1920s. In both novels, Gabriele Tergit’s Käsebier erobert den Kurfürstendamm(Cheesebeer Conquers the Kurfürstendamm) and J.B. Priestley’s Angel Pavement, female and male characters respond differently to a changing urban environment: the paper shows striking similarities in the perception of the city under the aspect of gender and generation. In both texts women’s experiences of the living city contrast starkly with men’s views of a lifeless city. While the two middle-aged male characters perceive the effects of modernisation as an alienating threat to traditional patriarchal values, the very same phenomena provide the younger female characters with spaces for mobility and liberation. Both men project their fears, as Littlejohn argues, on the urban landscape; they respond to its threats by retreating into ‘non urban spaces’, as the interior of the private home, or by clinging to rural niches within the city. The two professional women, on the other hand, are travelling through the city on their own, which helps them to break free from the constraints of the domestic interior. However, these liberating journeys are not independent of their economic situation. In Priestley’s novel the horizon of the female protagonist’s urban journeys is restricted by her income. This leaves her dependent on the financial resources of a male companion, whose company is also crucial for gaining access to places which are normally no-go areas for women. This paper explores questions of class, as well as gender, and serves to challenge notions of the City and its images in literature, such as those which exclusively identify urban modernism with universalising tendencies, when the dominant discourse in modernist literature identifies experiences of isolation and strangeness as "the reality of all human life" (Raymond Williams). In the texts by Priestley and Tergit the two female characters, both of whom are from middle class backgrounds, differ in their perceptions of the harsh economic realities of city life in the late 1920s. Priestley’s protagonist responds to her negative perceptions of commercialisation by taking imaginary flights of fantasy into sheltered scenes of bourgeois family life or into travel literature, where women visit exotic places as companions to adventurous men. This heroine leans towards romanticised perceptions of her surroundings which also mirror the contemporary imperialist values. Tergit’s text, on the other hand, provides a female protagonist with a more realistic perspective, one which also contrasts with the escapist fantasies of her male counterpart. Here the woman is shown as being more at home in the city. Walking about freely without ‘any particular purpose’, she is not dependent on a male companion. This construction of a female city dweller challenges, according to Littlejohn, the gendered concept of the flâneur, which is prevalent in literary perceptions of the City. However, the different perspectives on gender relations employed by Priestley and Tergit do not, in the end, prevent either woman from being deserted by their male lovers - who leave the city on their own in order to explore other spaces.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Modern Languages
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PT Germanic literature
Publisher: Cardiff University Press
ISSN: 1359-7485
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 17 January 2020
Last Modified: 17 Jan 2020 15:08
URI: http://orca-mwe.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/128756

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