"...that mile-long babel where you've been elbowed and cheated..."
In Clara Louise Burnham's 1894 novel Sweet Clover: A Romance of the White City, a visitor to Chicago's Columbian Exposition contrasts the glorious but antiseptic fair grounds ("the White City") with the bustling and gritty Midway area just outside, which Carl S. Smith (in Chicago and the American Literary Imagination, 1880-1920) describes as "a strange grab-bag of culture and carnival where a visitor could get a tour of a mock-up Japanese village, a ridge on the Ferris Wheel, a gander at the dwarf elephant Lily in Hagenbeck's Animal Show, or even a peek at the provocative danse due ventre in the 'Streets of Cairo.'" Burnham's character marvels:
"...when you come out o' that mile-long babel where you've been elbowed and cheated, you pass under a bridge - and all of a sudden you are in a great beautiful silence. The angels on the Woman's Buildin' smile down and bless you, and you know that what seemed like one step, you've passed out o' darkness into light...perhaps dyin' is goin' to be somethin' like crossin' the dividin' line that separates the Midway from the White City."
Like many writers of that era, Burnham (who was no relation to the fair's mastermind, Daniel Burnham), saw a sharp distinction between the White City (as the urban ideal) and the Midway (as the urban reality). With the latter's strong (if amplified) similarity to Chicago itself - in the 1890s, the city was still closer to a cutthroat prairie boomtown than a sophisticated metropolis - it's clear that Miss Burnham did not admire or approve of the city as it was then. Even though the alternative, as represented by the White City, is ethereal and unsustainable (the buildings were literally made of plywood and plaster), the author still prefers it to the livable, if messy, reality. That attitude, along with a narrative that sounds overly melodramatic, makes this book one of the few discussed by Smith that I'm not interested in hunting down to read at length.