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Introduction: The Middlebrow – Within or Without Modernism

Introduction: The Middlebrow – Within or Without Modernism Melissa Sullivan and Sophie Blanch In Fiction and the Reading Public (1932) Q. D. Leavis argues that the success of the Book Society in the United Kingdom is evidence that ‘a middlebrow standard of values has been set up’ and that the second-rate ‘middlebrow taste has thus been organized’. From Leavis’s perspective, the disputes and frustrations over this ‘battle of the brows’ had become so heated that she had to issue a veritable call to arms, crying that ‘if there is to be any hope, it must lie in conscious and directed effort. All that can be done, it must be realised, must take the form of resistance by an armed and conscious minority’.1 This bombastic and hyperbolic proclamation in a highbrow’s lengthy study of cultural capital and the literary field indicates how well elite writers, artists, critics and publishers were both organised and empowered at this time. While a single highbrow cannot represent that supposedly illustrious sphere, the proliferation of similarly reductive portraits of the middlebrow suggests highbrow privilege and influence during the ‘battle of the brows’, as well as the need for nuanced yet bold middlebrow self-fashionings.2 The rivalries among high, middle and lowbrows regarding cultural http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Modernist Cultures Edinburgh University Press

Introduction: The Middlebrow – Within or Without Modernism

Modernist Cultures , Volume 6 (1): 1 – May 1, 2011

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Publisher
Edinburgh University Press
Copyright
© Edinburgh University Press 2011
Subject
Film, Media & Cultural Studies
ISSN
2041-1022
eISSN
1753-8629
DOI
10.3366/mod.2011.0002
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Melissa Sullivan and Sophie Blanch In Fiction and the Reading Public (1932) Q. D. Leavis argues that the success of the Book Society in the United Kingdom is evidence that ‘a middlebrow standard of values has been set up’ and that the second-rate ‘middlebrow taste has thus been organized’. From Leavis’s perspective, the disputes and frustrations over this ‘battle of the brows’ had become so heated that she had to issue a veritable call to arms, crying that ‘if there is to be any hope, it must lie in conscious and directed effort. All that can be done, it must be realised, must take the form of resistance by an armed and conscious minority’.1 This bombastic and hyperbolic proclamation in a highbrow’s lengthy study of cultural capital and the literary field indicates how well elite writers, artists, critics and publishers were both organised and empowered at this time. While a single highbrow cannot represent that supposedly illustrious sphere, the proliferation of similarly reductive portraits of the middlebrow suggests highbrow privilege and influence during the ‘battle of the brows’, as well as the need for nuanced yet bold middlebrow self-fashionings.2 The rivalries among high, middle and lowbrows regarding cultural

Journal

Modernist CulturesEdinburgh University Press

Published: May 1, 2011

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