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New York Writing as Transatlantic Literature of Anglo-Identity Reformation



Since its consolidation as Greater New York City in 1898 (and even much earlier), New York City has served as a setting and subject for a number of literary experiments. These experiments in both fiction and nonfiction challenged expectations about form and content of writing about New York City. The immense variety of texts resulting from literary engagements with New York City has been collected in a host of anthologies and literary histories that have been published throughout the 20th century and in the past decade. Many of these works have offered evidence of how foreign writers have engaged with New York. Foreign literary visitors, especially the British, offered new models for literary transatlanticism through their encounters with New York City which, more often than not, explored aspects of personal and political identity. With all of its attendant anxieties, the theme of identity was at the center of early 20th-century British as well as American writing in which New York plays a significant part such as Henry James’s The American Scene (1907) and Ford Madox Ford’s An English Girl (1907), New York is Not America (1927), When the Wicked Man (1931), some of which I consider here. British and American New York texts serve as meditations on changing notions of ‘Anglo’ identity, in particular, as well as changing notions of transatlantic writing. Only by reading these texts comparatively and historically is this important cross-conversation about ‘Anglo’ identity and transatlantic textual identity revealed. For the British, this type of writing has its roots in works 19th-century travel and social commentary by Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and others. Since the early 20th century, however, the models for modern British writers of New York also include those offered by American expatriate writers such as James, who foreground the complex issue of identity in an imperial and post-imperial world in their literary engagements with the city. British New York texts such as Ford’s tend to present the city as a forum for startling and frank fictional and nonfictional discussions about what it means to be ‘Anglo’ in an increasingly transatlantic and cosmopolitan world.