City Mystery Novels and Urban Development in Nineteenth Century US and Europe

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date



College of Arts and Sciences


English Department

Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Tara Penry


I am looking at early and late nineteenth century novels that fall into the category of “city mystery”, in the sense that they focused on the tight living conditions and underworld corruption of the large cities in Europe (like Paris) and the quickly growing cities of America (like Boston). I am looking to understand how these stories influenced people's relationship to cities, and how closely they mimicked their European counterparts in content and consequence. Also, to understand how these city mysteries related to the reality of urban conditions. The serial publication that spawned this genre was The Mysteries of Paris by Eugene Sue in 1842. I will also look at Rebecca Harding Davis’s portrayal of an industrial city and life in “Life in the Iron Mills.” In addition, I will reference newspapers and headlines of the times in order to compare the crime and language to those in portrayed in the novels. Looking at how these stories influenced people’s thoughts on urban areas is important to understanding how Americans came to better understand and adapt to growing cities.

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