The city-as-hell: horror, dystopia and Orientalism in Anglo-American literary constructions of urban Manila 1852-2011

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This paper traces the development of what I term 'the city-as-hell', a representational trope in British and American fiction and narrative nonfiction set in Manila, the Philippines. For Nicholas Loney and other Victorian memoirists, Manila is an impenetrably mystical space dominated by the medieval superstitions of the Roman Catholic Church; it is both scandalous and forbiddingly alien to the rational, Protestant mind. Writing after the Americans annexed the Philippines from Spain in 1898 and had established a new colonial state, later Manilaists such as the Americans Walter Robb and George A. Miller mobilise city-as-hell in order to demonstrate how far Manila has progressed from a backward, Hispanic-Catholic outpost to a modern, Protestant-American metropolis. Following the devastation of Manila in World War II, the American Christian authors John Bechtel and DeLouis Stevenson limn the city using apocalyptic images and similes; the blame for this catastrophic state of affairs, they suggest, lies with the 'heathen' Japanese, who have desecrated churches and other holy sites. By the 1980s and 1990s, in novels by Timothy Mo and Alex Garland, and in travelogues by James Fenton, James Hamilton-Paterson and P.J. O'Rourke, the city-as-hell has become infused with what Mary Louise Pratt calls ‘third world blues', a signifying practice in Western travel writing that depicts non-Western 'cityscapes' as ‘grotesque' and 'joyless’ urban dystopias because they symbolise the social and political failures of societies that have freed themselves from European colonial oppression, if not from indirect influence from the American-led West.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2018
EventThe Urban Weird: Supernatural Cities III - University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Apr 20187 Apr 2018


ConferenceThe Urban Weird
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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