The Stagecoach Scene

In our investigations into the fundamental differences between c19th and c20th literature, we have perhaps overlooked one of the most important: I mean, the stagecoach scene. In c19th (and indeed c18th) literature, the stagecoach scene is everywhere: Dickens is full of them, Jean Paul’s Schmelzle’s Journey to Flætz is just one long stagecoach scene, that odd anonymous book called The Rake of Taste we read earlier this year is just the same, and what’s more there’s a stagecoach scene in the book I’m reading at the moment … but for some no doubt deep-seated psychological reason, possibly a great breakthrough in human understanding which now divides us from a Victorian era we can barely comprehend – whose works are as akin to humanity as we understand it, as would be the works of cats or mice – the c20th seems to have given up on this peculiarly hackneyed form.

It may well, I think, be down to Georg Cantor’s work in Set Theory during the 1870s, and later Russell’s paradox, which have led us in c20th to question naive assumptions about groups of people sitting inside a stagecoach.

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2 thoughts on “The Stagecoach Scene

  1. Railway carriages have replaced the stagecoach haven’t they? I was thinking of that Maupassant short story whose title escapes me ( Bel Ami maybe??? ) where a prostitute sits in a stagecoach with a group of well-to-do folk and gradually the differences and statuses blur. Quite similar to the bits on the train in Sartre’s Roads to Freedom ( the middle book whose title also escapes me ) or Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train ( knew the title of that one ).

  2. I was going to write a longer post than this, which would take in railway travel, but I guess I got side-tracked by making sarcastic remarks about modernism.

    The thing about the stagecoach I feel is a) its enclosedness, and b) the sheer length of the time the characters are forced to spend with one another. This latter is important because we are talking days, rather than hours; and characters staying overnight together in inns. This allows an entire novel to take place quite easily.

    The Reprieve, I think. (I’ve read one of them, the one where he drowns the cats).

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