Hart Crane and T.S. Eliot on the Modern City
MacNiven, Ian S.
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It is a commonplace in literary criticism that the twentieth century North American writer views the city as destructive of human values. Not since William Dean Howells and Henry James have important American authors been able to reconcile successfully a positive philosophy with the conditions of urban life. Some of the apparent thematic contradictions in Hart Crane's The Bridge (1930) arise from his attempt to accomplish just this. With T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) and its denunciation of the "Unreal City" prominently in his mind during the composition of The Bridge, Crane still felt that he could reconcile the city with a basically optimistic view of American life. Differences between his conception of the city as expressed in "Atlantis", the section of The Bridge completed first, and in "The Tunnel" and "Cape Hatteras", written much later, suggest that while working on the poem Crane was approaching the disillusionment he mentioned in a February 19, 1931letter to Waldo Frank: "Present day America seems a long way off from the destiny I fancied when I wrote [The Bridge] "