the city v the country in literature

Citycountry-02Tristram Hunt at The Guardian:

“Policy, polity, politeness, urbanity, civility, derive their names as well as their nature from city life, while the terms rustic, savage, heathen, pagan, indicate the rougher and more backward tendencies of the herdsmen and cultivators of the ground,” was the considered view of the Liverpool architect and Victorian city booster Sir James Picton. By contrast, in his lurid 1844 pamphlet, “On the Need of Christianity to Cities”, the Paddington curate James Shergold Boone struck a different tone: “Cities are the centres and theatres of human ambition, human cupidity and human pleasure … the appetites, the passions, the carnal corruptions of man are forced, as in a hotbed, into a rank and foul luxuriance.”

Raymond Williams’s 1973 book The Country and the City is an ambitious attempt to unpick the historical, cultural and imaginative context behind such sentiments, as expressed through centuries of English literature. In its remarkable range of literary sources and historical sweep, this deeply confident work reveals Williams’s powers as fiction critic, cultural theorist, Marxist ideologue and urban thinker. Above all, it is a beautifully written account of one of the abiding themes of European culture: the construction of the virtue of the rural and the vice of the urban. Rural idiocy versus urban civility. Or as the poetJuvenal put it: “What can I do in Rome? I never learned how to lie.”

Central to Williams’s intellectual project – evident in Culture and Society (1958), The Long Revolution (1961) and Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976) – was a sustained attempt to overturn a conservative cultural consensus, handed down by what he regarded as a hegemonic ruling class. “My primary motivation in writing [Culture and Society] was oppositional,” he explained, “to counter the appropriation of a long line of thinking about culture to what were by now decisively reactionary positions … It allowed me to refute the increasing contemporary use of the concept of culture against democracy, socialism, the working class or popular education, in terms of the tradition itself.”

more here.