Theses Doctoral

Structures of Feeling: Architecture and Literature in Postwar Britain and Ireland

Cox, Therese Anne

Why did architecture become an urgent concern for so many writers in postwar Britain? Following the destruction of World War Two, reconstruction became a total cultural project, animating writers, artists, and critics, as well as planners, politicians, and citizens. From the preservation of culturally significant buildings to the razing of old foundations, from the creation of new towns to the management of suburban sprawl, the project of rebuilding Britain sparked an extraordinary creative response that transcended disciplinary fields and brought together some of the most innovative minds of the day. However, the significance of writers’ roles in this reconstruction—and the critical role that writing plays in architecture more broadly—has not, thus far, been adequately addressed in either literary or architectural studies. “Structures of Feeling: Architecture and Literature in Postwar Britain and Ireland” builds on recent scholarship in literary geographies and the spatial humanities to propose a new intervention in literary studies: an extension of what Ellen Eve Frank has called literary architecture. Bringing together architectural and literary modernisms, my dissertation shows how novelists, architects, poets, and critics together participated imaginatively in the reconstruction of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland after World War Two by situating the key social, psychological, and political issues of the day in the built environment.Analyzing a rich archive of poetry, fiction, and criticism along with architectural writing, maps, plans, and developments, “Structures of Feeling” tracks the transition from the end of the war to the rise and fall of the welfare state; it locates forms of cultural production in the second half of the twentieth century that united urban planning, poetics, and environmental perception. In so doing, it shows how writing powerfully mediated some of the most important developments in urban planning and civic reconstruction, from motorways to new towns, from tower blocks and social housing to military architecture along contested borders. These writers, from poets like Philip Larkin to novelists like J. G. Ballard to architects like Alison and Peter Smithson, made human the effects of modern architecture’s ideologies and designs, critiqued and often proposed its boldest solutions and failures, and made architecture a public issue. Ultimately, this dissertation investigates how the complex social and political forces of the era—a dynamic cultural formation Raymond Williams has called “structures of feeling”—became animated both through postwar architecture’s physical structures and the diverse forms of writing these buildings stimulated into being.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Hart, Matthew
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 20, 2020