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Literature and Culture in Early Modern London.

Lawrence Manley. Literature and Culture in Early Modern London. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 19 illus. + xvi + 603 pp. $59.95. ISBN: 0-5214-6161-8.

As if speaking for his age, James I observed with wonder and dismay that "soon London will be all England." Within the space of a few generations early modern London mushroomed from medieval commune to burgeoning cosmopolitan center of trade, an explosive growth that catalyzed profound changes in English society and fostered a sense of crisis throughout the period. In his comprehensive study, Lawrence Manley examines the interplay between this new large-scale social formation and the literature that responded to it. That literature, he argues, seeks to make sense of the unfamiliar and chaotic nature of urban life, a "collective experience" for which inherited models of social order were woefully inadequate. Literary discourses, he argues, respond to London's disruption of England's late feudal cultural system by transmuting inherited political topoi into new concepts of "the city." They also craft and disseminate distinctively urban patterns of identity that accommodate citizens to market economies, social mobility, and the bewildering variety of London life. Through their very forms, argues Manley, literary works model "urbane mentalities of settlement" (16).

The study is organized in four sections. The first two chapters, on More's Utopia and early Tudor complaints, examine the problems posed by early Tudor London as an unprecedented social phenomenon. The second section details Elizabethan reconceptualizations of the city and its relation to nation and crown, ranging from chronicles and descriptions of London, to Spenser's Faerie Queene, to civic rituals such as the royal entry and Lord Mayor's Show (a chapter especially rich in detail and insight). In the third section Manley moves to late Elizabethan pamphlet literature, satire, and city comedy, genres which offer alternatives to traditional institutions unable to cope with urbanization. In his final chapters Manley turns to the later Stuart period, where development of a decisively metropolitan habitus finds expression in Caroline urbanity and Puritan interiorized spirituality. The book begins and ends with a paradox: the city offered Londoners unprecedented freedoms only through radical concentration of its own power.

Though focused upon "cultural practices" as they circulate between literature and the city, Manley's analysis breaks ranks with those modes of "topical" reading associated with New Historicism. Instead he chronicles broad sociological processes - chief among them the shift from rural feudalism to urban capitalism - that operate through adaptive, dynamic cultural systems. The emphasis thus falls on the "complex of changing structures" engaged Kin a process of mutual destructuration and restructuration" (11). This structuralist model of cultural change - with economics as its fundamental engine - allows Manley to tie together a remarkable variety of texts and perceive affinities between otherwise distinct genres or social groups. He makes, for example, a provocative case for continuities between royalists and puritans, who developed "a reliance on a morally select community withdrawn from the larger physical one, a cultivation of personal integrity and liberty, and above all a potentially alienating sense of the ethical priority and privilege of the individual" (532). Nonetheless, the study's primarily economic and political emphases tend to crowd out equally salient perspectives. Given current arguments that urbanization decisively reshaped the relations between the sexes and their respective cultural spaces, the lack of space devoted to the gender system is a serious lapse. One wonders too whether the thesis might have been modified by extended consideration of such non-canonical genres as ballads, broadsides, works of popular piety, and popular rituals; in this account the commons primarily constitute the disorder to which others responded. The book's comprehensiveness and interdisciplinary learnedness are impressive, though its copiousness at times might have been profitably curtailed, particularly in those passages marred by verbatim repetition.

Despite questions of emphasis and materials, the overall point of this important study is convincingly argued and scrupulously documented. It is essential reading for those interested in literature's contribution to the urbanizing process in early modern England.

DOUGLAS LANIER University of New Hampshire
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Author:Lanier, Douglas
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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