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Once the provincial arrives the city is to be 'taken on' and conquered. ("If you can make it there you'll make it anywhere"). Balzac's hero Eugene de Rastignac surveys Paris from the Pere Lachaise cemetery:

"Il vit Paris tortueusement couché le long des deux rives de la Seine ou commencaient à briller les lumieres..Ses yeux s'attacherent presque avidement entre la colonne de la place Vendome et le dome des Invalides. Là ou vivait ce beau monde dans lequel il avait voulu pénétrer…his contemplation famously concludes: "A nous deux maintenant."

In War and Peace Napoleon looks over Moscow:

"The view of the strange city with its peculiar architecture....filled Napoleon with the rather envious and uneasy curiosity men feel when they see an alien form of life that has no knowledge of them....Napoleon from the Poklonny Hill perceived the throb of life in the town and felt, as it were, the breathing of that great and beautiful the clean morning light he gazed now at the city and now at the plan".

(That last detail is stupendous. How often have I gazed, with equal hunger "now at the city and now at the plan"!)

But the occupational hazard of the young provincial on the make, especially given the security and certainties of his 'vie de province', is anomie; that special loneliness of the city; not that of the hermit; rather the cruel loneliness of the solitary figure surrounded by and taunted by conviviality .

The lone man in the city: In Dickens the figure in the room has a strange hallucinatory presence:

"…The housetops stretching far away…steeples towers belfries, shining vanes and masts of ships: a very forest. Gables, housetops, garret windows, wilderness upon wilderness. Smoke and noise enough for all the world at one. The man who was mending a pen at an upper window over the way, became of paramount importance in the scene and made a blank in it, ridiculously disproportionate in its extent, when he retired" (Martin Chuzzlewit). Inexplicably effective those last eight words.


need these streets
city sublime
seismic city
chopper shot
perfect city
dark city
global flaneur
shanghai and seoul
city tourist
loathsome centres
krung thep
sex city
hong kong
nightmares dreams
new sublime
dickens in la

  verybigcity: e-Book by Rodney Blakeston
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