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Chicago Dreaming

Midwesterners and the City, 1871-1919

During the late nineteenth century, Chicago’s population grew at an astonishing rate, with an estimated growth of 900,000 people between 1860 and 1890. Drawn to the opportunities generated by an expansive economy, hinterland migrants from the rural Midwest flocked to the city, their visions of prosperity creating a thriving modern urban culture. The hopes of these newcomers are the subject of Timothy B. Spears’s book Chicago Dreaming—the story of Chicago’s growth and the transplanted Midwesterners who so decisively shaped the young city’s identity.

Through innovative readings of Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, and Richard Wright, Spears argues that the migratory perspective was crucial to the rise of Chicago’s emerging literary culture. In following the paths of several well-known migrants, including Jane Addams, cartoonist John T. McCutcheon, and businessman John Glessner, Spears also shows how the view from the hinterland permeated urban culture and informed the development of key Chicago institutions. Further exploring the notion of dreaming, he brings to light the internal desires that lured Midwestern migrants to the city as well as the nostalgia that led them to dream of the homes they left behind.

With this fascinating new take on the rise of Chicago, Chicago Dreaming blurs the line between country and city to reveal the provincial character of modern urban culture.

296 pages | 16 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Chicago and Illinois

History: Urban History

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature

Sociology: Urban and Rural Sociology


"Chicago Dreaming is about imagining city life. Where William Cronon revealed to us the material relationships between Chicago and its hinterlands, Timothy Spears explores the cultural ties in those early years when the city exploded with energy. Chicago Dreaming captures how Midwestern migrants to the city created a metropolis of the mind. This is first-rate cultural history."

Elliott Gorn, Brown University

"Chicago Dreaming is a signal achievement in cultural history and literary analysis, an achievement all the more impressive and engaging because of the lucidity of the writing. The combination of the importance of the story being told and the quality of the telling will make this a classic in writing about the city. Spears’s book greatly advances and enriches our knowledge of both Chicago and American literature and cultural life."

Carl Smith, Northwestern University

"Chicago Dreaming is a strong, original, and highly readable book. It’s not only a new look at Chicago literature, American realism, and the city as historical and literary artifact, it’s also a compelling example of how to write about literature and the real world in relation to one another."

Carlo Rotella, Boston College

"The achievement of Chicago Dreaming is twofold. First, Spears skillfully integrates social and cultural history. . . . Second, Spears presents a new, more complicated vision of Chicago. Chicagoans’ interior worlds--their dreams--were full of paradox and juxtaposition: provincial and cosmopolitan, immigrant and native-born, rural pioneers and urban multiethnics. . . . As a frenetic, chaotic, expanding urban community, Chicago was shaped by not just material conditions but also by memory, nostalgia, and emotions."

Tomothy J. Gilfoyle | Business History Review

"Spears’s book makes a solid contribution to Chicago- and American Studies. His argument that some of modernism’s roots may be discernmed in rural mid-America is a needed corrective to the too-prevalent assumption that modernism is purely the byproduct of a fragmented, thoroughly urbanized consciousness."

James Guthrie | Dreiser Studies

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Shock City
2. John and Frances Glessner
3. Stories of the Rising City
4. George Ade and John T. McCutcheon
5 The Place of Nostalgia
6. Jane Addams
7. Among Immigrants
8. Floyd Dell, Sherwood Anderson, and Tennessee Mitchell
9. Chicago Dreaming

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