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Loss of Identity in the Urban Soundscape of John Gay’s Trivia

Jan Marten Ivo Klaver


Literary critics and historians have often stressed the importance of the sensory experience in John Gay’s Trivia (1716) and have concentrated on the visual impact of the London cityscape as being responsible for the sensory impressions in the poem. But, as Trivia’s London is largely represented by street noise, this essay argues that it is above all sound that gives the poem this impressionistic quality. City noise is constantly present as a backdrop to Gay’s eighteenth-century urban setting. Moreover, much of the text reveals social tensions in an urban setting where individual identities are effaced, and Trivia’s speaker is constantly at pains to preserve the integrity of his own self. But as neither silence nor distance are possible in Gay’s London, there is no escape from the crowd’s press or from the continuous invasion of sound. Especially the emphasis on the presence of traffic noise, and the allusions to Homeric and Biblical chariots of war, turns into a powerful symbol of fear of the city as a place of moral degradation and cultural annihilation.


John Gay; Trivia; Soundscape; City; English Literature.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/ling-2020-001-klav

Copyright (©) 2020 Jan Marten Ivo Klaver – Editorial format and Graphical layout: copyright (©) LED Edizioni Universitarie

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Linguæ & - Rivista di lingue e culture moderne
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (06/04/2012 n. 185)
Online ISSN 1724-8698 - Print ISSN 2281-8952

Dipartimento di Scienze della Comunicazione, Studi Umanistici e Internazionali: Storia, Culture, Lingue, Letterature, Arti, Media
Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo

Editor-in-Chief: Roberta Mullini
Editorial Board: Maurizio Ascari - Stefano Beretta - Antonio Bertacca- Tania Collani - Chiara Elefante - Marina Guglielmi - Maryline Heck - Richard Hillman - Reinhard Johler - Stephen Knight - Cesare Mascitelli - Sonia Massai - Aurélie Moioli - Maria de Fátima Silva - Bart Van Den Bossche 

Editorial Staff: Margaret Amatulli - Alessandra Calanchi - Riccardo Donati - Ivo Klaver  - Massimiliano Morini - Antonella Negri - Luca Renzi

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