At the beginning of the 19th Century, European literature depicted the city as a mysterious place, thanks to the transition due to the beginning of the Modern era and the loss of traditional values. The city, which substituted the traditional rural spaces, was a scary place, an unsettling phenomenon that was quite difficult to understand because of its size and complexity. Writers tried to offer an explication to the upheaval of their times by portraying the city as a hidden menace, thus continuing the Gothic novels’ disturbing setting. Gothic literature was widespread in 18th-century Europe, and mystery was an element very popular and appreciated by the audience, hence the emphasis placed on it. On the one hand, authors tried to reassure their readers by mitigating the city’s more sinister aspects, but on the other hand, they used the mystery to entertain and amuse. This double aim can be observed in those images of the city that writers used in their representations.
The essay wants to present three categories of images which revolve around this double image of the city, of mystery on the one side and of stable concreteness on the other: the city-labyrinth, the city-woman and the city-monster. The examples are taken from English, French and German literature.