Date of Award


Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Liberal Studies


Dr. Edward H. Cohen

Second Advisor

Dr. Patricia A. Lancaster


Since the invention of the modern bicycle in the 1880s, bicycles have played an integral role in western culture. As a reflection of its cultural significance and impact on individuals, many novelists have incorporated bicycles into their works in both realistic and symbolic ways. This paper focuses on the use of bicycles in western literature from the bicycle boom decade of the 1890s to the mid-twentieth century and includes works of H. G. Wells, Émile Zola, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Richardson, D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Becket, Luigi Bartolini and L. P. Hartley. These novelists used bicycles not merely as a means to transport characters, but as catalysts for or symbols of social and personal transformation. Novels written around the turn of the twentieth century reflect the significant positive role bicycles played in the cultural changes and personal freedom of this era. Later, after the first World War and the advent of the automobile, bicycles remained literary devices, but their symbolic use changed. While in the post-World War I era bicycles are still capable of transforming characters, their transformational potential is often unrealized or is tempered by skepticism or pessimism.