The Hotel


The early part of the century saw an explosion of literature with the hotel at its heart, reflecting a period of enormous social change on both sides of the Atlantic. At the same time that the work that Matthias explores was being written—Kafka, Stefan Zweig Franz Werfel, Joseph Roth, Thomas Mann—American writers such as Edith Wharton, Henry James and Sinclair Lewis too wrote about hotels. And British writers like Rosamond Lehmann, Jean Rhys, Evelyn Waugh and Elizabeth Bowen all made use of the literary hotel in their fiction, at a time when travelogues (JB Priestly, George Orwell) also abounded. The hotel as an institution is a product of the transnational industrialisation and development that took place at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, and thus an important vantage point from which to observe that change. The emergence of a bourgeois leisure class and the shift from a sedentary to a travelling society was reflected in literature with a focus on newly created modern spaces. These began to prise apart the strict boundaries between public and private that had hitherto been so important in the consolidation of a bourgeois identity. Ironically, one of the novels that best captures this moment was published in 1997. Steven Millhauser’s Pulitzer prize-winning Martin Dressler is a fairytale-like invocation of fin-de-siècle New York. Dressler, a flâneur who spends his life in semi-public spaces, watching and speculating, neither at home nor dislocated from home, neither alone nor part of a group, rises from humble beginnings to own a chain of hotels.

more from Monica Ali at Prospect here.