The Country, the City, and the Suburb (Panel)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
56th NeMLA Convention
contact email: 

Sterile, tedious, vulgar: suburban stereotypes abound. H. G. Wells thought “the Modern City looks like something that has burst an intolerable envelope and splashed.” John Ruskin found “no existing terms of language … to describe the forms of filth, and modes of ruin,” of suburban development. Yet these supposedly repulsive spaces were extraordinarily attractive. What do the suburbs offer our understanding of the novel’s social horizons? The nineteenth-century novel's realism has been primarily understood as a metropolitan phenomenon. How does literature from the Victorian era to the present, within and beyond realism and the British tradition, confirm or challenge assumptions about suburban spaces?

For Raymond Williams, the opposition between country and city was a rubric for understanding modernity. As cities swelled, the countryside's organic community and cyclical rhythms became nostalgic foils for the increasing spatial and temporal homogenization of everyday life. Urban space offered the novel new content and new forms, from Balzac's panoramic sociological studies to the "autoethnographic" work of Dickens and Eliot (Buzard). Meanwhile, as heightened social stratification collided with the unruly energies of metropolitan sprawl, suburbs—marginalized as semi-criminal purlieus, praised as salubrious retreats from city life, idealized (and mocked) as sites of middle-class aspiration—integrated Victorian ideals of pastoral scenery and domesticity with new forms of speculative capital and privatization.

This panel seeks papers exploring literature and culture in relation to rural, urban, and suburban settings. Is the novel central to the cultural meaning of the suburbs? How do other forms of media (nineteenth-century journalism and illustration, the literary sketch, essay, and prose poem, travel writing and natural history) imagine the relationship between metropolitan infrastructure and social life? Topics might include: urban planning, architecture, and real estate; London's suburbs and slums; social criticism, mobility, class struggle; the stagecoach, the railway; The Cockney School; realism; sensation fiction; the middlebrow.

Please submit your 200-300 word abstract and a brief bio via the NeMLA portal ( by September 30, 2024. 

Contact co-chairs Hannah LeClair ( and Alex Millen ( with any questions.