CFP for special journal issue

Belphégor

On-line journal of Popular Culture

Middlebrow Fictions

Call for articles

(voir dessous pour version en français)

The term ‘middlebrow’ in English is richly derogatory: it signifies a cultural form that has neither the dignity of the highbrow nor the dynamic if vulgar energy of the lowbrow. Coined in the 1920s, a period when a moderately educated, aspirational lower middle class was in expansion, it designated the type of culture marketed to and consumed by “people who are hoping that some day they will get used to the stuff they ought to like.” (Punch, 23 December 1925). Middlebrow fictions deal with ‘serious’ questions, but do so in the pleasurable forms of immersive plot, empathetic characters, transparently mimetic narrative, all of these disdained by a high culture profoundly shaped by a sceptical, self-reflexive modernism. Yet their explicit concern with the social and the philosophical sets them apart from the fully popular genres that Nicola Humble summarises as ‘the trashy romance or thriller’ (Humble 2001: 11). For Bourdieu, middle-brow art like the popular belongs to the field of large-scale production, determined by the market, as opposed to ‘high’ art’s field of restricted production – yet ‘may present formal characteristics predisposing (it) to enter into legitimate culture’ (Bourdieu 1993: 128).

UK scholars have opened up the study of the middlebrow, particularly in relation to gender, in an English context (see this link). Janice Radway has studied the Book-of-the-Month Club as an eminently middlebrow institution in the USA. On the whole, though, the middlebrow has continued to be largely disregarded by literary history and academic criticism, despite its importance for understanding the mainstream aesthetics and the collective imagination of modernity. Apart from the recent conference European Middlebrow Cultures, 1880-1950: Reception, Translation, Circulation, organised by Kate Macdonald and held at the Royal Flemish Academy for the Humanities and Art in Brussels in January 2014, few forums have appeared for discussion of the European middlebrow. Clearly the term is neither watertight nor fixed in meaning: what is defined as ‘middlebrow’ varies according to shifting cultural values, and what corresponds to majority taste depends upon both social geography and the historical moment. It also depends on the market and modes of production for, as Janice Radway puts it, middlebrow is ‘both a material and an ideological form’ (Radway 1997: 367).  In this special issue of Belphégor, edited by Diana Holmes (University of Leeds) and Matthieu Letourneux (Université Paris Ouest, Nanterre), we want to develop both the empirical study and the conceptualisation of the middlebrow beyond (though without excluding) anglophone cultures.

We therefore invite proposals for articles no longer than 35 000 signs/6,500 words on middlebrow fictions, literary and visual, from the end of the 19th century to the present. Proposals should not exceed 500 words and should be sent to:

d dot holmes at leeds dot ac dot uk by November 30th 2014.

Possible areas of interest include:

– publishing and the middlebrow.

– adaptations (adaptation from one fictional form to another characterises the modern middlebrow)

– gender: the feminine/masculine middlebrow

– narrative aesthetics of the middlebrow

– national middlebrows

– the middlebrow and history

– postcolonial middlebrow

 

Fictions ‘moyennes’ (middlebrow)

Appel à contributions

Le terme « culture moyenne » (et plus encore le terme anglais « middlebrow ») est franchement péjoratif : il signifie une culture qui ne possède ni la dignité de la « haute culture » ni l’énergie dynamique quoique vulgaire du populaire. Inventé durant les années 1920, période d’expansion d’une petite bourgeoisie relativement instruite et ambitieuse, le terme de « middlebrow » désigne un genre de culture qui, selon le magazine satirique Punch, visait le consommateur « qui espérait être un jour familier avec les produits culturels qu’il convenait d’apprécier » (Punch, 23 décembre 1925). Si les fictions moyennes abordent des questions sérieuses, elles le font au moyen d’intrigues favorisant l’immersion, de personnages suscitant l’empathie, de récits privilégiant une mimésis transparente – autrement dit, en utilisant des techniques que méprise la littérature légitime, laquelle se réclame plutôt d’un modernisme sceptique, réflexif et autoréférentiel. Et pourtant leurs thématiques sociales et philosophiques les éloigne de ces genres pleinement populaires que la critique Nicola Humble rassemble sous l’expression de « romans d’amour ou d’action bas de gamme » (Humble 2001: 11). Selon Bourdieu, l’art moyen appartient tout comme le populaire au champ des récits de grande production déterminés par le marché, à la différence de la haute culture qui relève plutôt du champ de production restreinte – et pourtant, la culture moyenne présente aussi certaines caractéristiques qui « la prédisposent à rejoindre la culture légitime » (Bourdieu 1993: 128).

Certain(e)s critiques britanniques ont abordé l’étude du « middlebrow », surtout par rapport au « genre » (gender) et à l’histoire littéraire anglaise (voir ici). Janice Radway, critique féministe américaine, a étudié le « Book-of-the-Month Club » en tant que démarche éditoriale caractéristique du « middlebrow » aux États-Unis. Mais la plupart du temps, l’histoire et la critique littéraire (et filmique) ont simplement passé sous silence ce vaste ensemble culturel, malgré son importance pour la compréhension de l’esthétique et de l’imaginaire collectifs d’une époque. Si l’on excepte le colloque de janvier 2014, European Middlebrow Cultures, 1880-1950: Reception, Translation, Circulation, tenu à l’Académie Royale des Arts à  Bruxelles, on compte peu d’événements explorant le « middlebrow » au-delà des cultures anglophones. Le terme lui-même, il est vrai, n’est ni étanche ni stable: ce qui se définit comme « middlebrow » varie en fonction de valeurs culturelles qui sont loin d’être fixes, et le goût majoritaire change lui aussi suivant la situation sociale ou le moment historique. La culture moyenne se définit aussi suivant le marché et les moyens de production car, pour citer encore Janice Radway, le « middlebrow » renvoie « à la fois à une forme matérielle et à une forme idéologique » (Radway 1997: 367). Dans ce volume spécial de Belphégor, dirigé par Diana Holmes (University of Leeds) et Matthieu Letourneux (Université Paris Ouest, Nanterre), nous chercherons à la fois à développer des études empiriques et à conceptualiser le « middlebrow », au-delà de la culture anglophone mais sans exclure celle-ci.

Nous vous invitons donc à envoyer des propositions d’articles sur les fictions moyennes, littéraires ou filmiques, de la fin du dix-neuvième à nos jours. Les propositions seront de 500 mots maximum, et seront envoyés à: d point holmes at leeds point ac point uk avant le 30 novembre 2014.

 Thèmes possibles:

– la culture moyenne et l’industrie de l’édition

– l’adaptation comme exemple caractéristique du « middlebrow » (exemple : l’adaptation romanesque au cinéma et à la télévision)

– le genre : la culture moyenne au féminin et au masculin

– l’esthétique « moyenne »

– la culture moyenne et la question des représentations nationales

– la représentation de l’histoire dans la culture moyenne

– la culture moyenne et le postcolonial

 

 

 

The keynote paper

Region, Illustration, Readership: Modeling Middlebrow Studies

Kristin Bluemel, Monmouth University [kbluemel at monmouth dot edu]

Joan Hassall's map of Monk's Norton

Joan Hassall’s map of Monk’s Norton

This paper assumes that endpaper maps in children’s and adult’s fictions, read in terms of the material contexts of the novels they illustrate and introduce and of their specific historical contexts, have much to teach us about the importance of region, illustration, and readers for middlebrow studies. Endpaper maps of an imagined place help us theorize how visual forms shape regional meaning in middlebrow books and how middlebrow books themselves may be identified through mixed-media forms. This theorization about form and region in individual texts leads us by a turn of page and logic to contemplate ways of rethinking regional affiliation among groups of texts. Thinking outside or across the common divisions of national or children’s or adults’ literature, this paper takes Francis Brett Young’s Portrait of a Village (1937) and A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) as case studies, building its argument through reference to literary theorists analyzing middlebrow cultures, literary theorists analyzing literary maps, and geographers analyzing real maps. Ultimately, the paper links the enterprise of developing European middlebrow studies to the work of geographers in Switzerland who are attempting to found the interdisciplinary field of “literary geography.”

Papers from the conference

The conference was a tremendous success, and was able to bring together researchers from many countries working in many European literary cultures. Further plans are being polished and discussed, but for now, this page will hold the abstracts from the papers presented, to give an idea of the range of topics, and also the emerging themes. These were didacticism, defining middlebrow, slipping periodicity across borders, and the effect of political and cultural restrictions on the development of a popular literature that entertained and taught, rather than challenged and obscured. Please contact the authors directly for more information about their papers. Abstracts will be added periodically.

Belle Époque France and the Birth of the Middlebrow

Diana Holmes, University of Leeds

Colette

Colette

Middlebrow in anglophone cultures is generally associated with the inter-war period, when the word was first coined. In France at least, it is my contention that middlebrow begins at the Belle Époque, around 1890-1914, when the material conditions of production converged with demand, from a newly  dominant middle class, for a literature that could provide reading pleasure alongside the mapping of a rapidly changing social world. The sub-genres of the roman d’idées (novel of ideas) or  roman de moeurs  (novel of society)  flourished, and corresponded precisely to what would later come to be named middlebrow: whilst the modernists rejected mimesis and recast literature as the creation of a subjective or transcendent reality, and the popular roman-feuilleton rollicked its way through the pages of the popular dailies, the middlebrow novel provided immersive, compelling plots and characterisation combined with the depiction of contemporary society and its tensions.

Marcelle Tinayre

Marcelle Tinayre

Most middlebrow authors were, unsurprisingly, male. The underlying ideology of their work was moderate, in tune with the hegemonic values of the Third Republic. But women formed a major part of the market for fiction, and publishers recognised the appeal of women writers. It is in the work of the small but significant minority of female novelists that the subversive and oppositional potential of middlebrow becomes apparent, for within the framework of the familiar, unthreatening roman de moeurs, they dramatised the contradiction between Republican values and the real inequality of women’s position; they explored the (fraught) relationship between romance and personal fulfilment, and created heroines who brought the ‘New Woman’ into respectable drawing rooms. Reviled as banal and outmoded by modernists, as sentimentally ‘feminine’ by traditional critics, these writers were hugely read by middle-class women. Focusing on the novels of Daniel Lesueur (Jeanne Loiseau), Marcelle Tinayre and Colette, this paper discusses definitions and functions of ‘middlebrow’ within this specific socio-historical moment.

Dutch Middlebrow Literature 1930-1940: Production, Distribution, Reception

1) Introduction: Is there a Dutch Middlebrow?

Erica van Boven, Universiteit Groningen, and Mathijs Sanders, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen

In this introduction, we focus on the connections and the differences of our project compared to Anglophone research. Among other things, we will discuss the idea of middlebrow as – in the words of Ann Ardis – a ‘distinctive in-between space’, that is: in between ‘high literature’ and ‘popular fiction’,  an idea that seems to guide several Anglophone middlebrow studies. In our studying of Dutch literary networks and periodicals we found no clear boundaries between what we now refer to as a minority of ‘highbrow’ critics and the majority of critics who thought of themselves as representatives of a ‘middle sphere’. Rather than as a specific cultural space or field, we tend to see middlebrow as a variety of practices, aimed at guiding the increasing number of readers through the expanding and commercializing book market.  Furthermore, we discuss the Anglophone practice of conceptualizing middlebrow as  ‘modernism’s other’. We want to avoid reproducing modernist views and opinions and focus instead on the way middlebrow defines itself as a literary-social practice, based on a specific ethos and conducted by critics and other agents who felt a need to mediate between literature and readers to make ‘the popular respectable and the obscure accessible’ (Humble). Literary institutions and cultural mediation in the context of an expanding literary industry are at the very heart of our project. In a later stage, we plan to include middlebrow novels. The concept of ‘middlebrow’ (as well as its Dutch equivalent: ‘middelmaat’) comprises institutions, forms of mediation as well as the vast amount of popular novels of the time. We plan to study this whole range of middlebrow phenomena, including novels, in our project.  Yet, in this conference we concern ourselves merely with criticism, mediation and socio-cultural institutions.

2) Cultural Mediation and the Lecture Circuit: P.H. Ritter Jr. and Dutch ‘University Extension’ Institutes

Alex Rutten, Open Universiteit Nederland

P H Ritter

P H Ritter

In the late nineteenth century several Dutch entrepreneurs, inspired by the British University Extension Movement and institutions such as Toynbee Hall, started to experiment with higher education programs for the lower and middle classes. From 1913 onwards, these innovations led to the foundation of new institutions, the so-called ‘Volksuniversiteiten’ (‘People’s Universities’). According to S. R. Steinmetz, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of these universities, they tried to provide the middle, but especially the lower classes with courses that lie “in between a simple lecture and an academic lecture”. By doing so, they differentiated themselves from institutions that were primarily aimed at practical knowledge, such as ‘Ons Huis’ (the Dutch equivalent of Toynbee Hall), and from the curricula at regular universities. At the same time, the People’s Universities adopted the faculty system and therewith part of the allure of the regular universities.

The People’s Universities tried to provide a healthy alternative to the ‘cheap’ amusement of other media and institutions, such as the cinemas, popular magazines and pulp fiction. Cultural enlightenment was one of their central goals and multiple courses on art, music and literature were part of their curricula from the very start. These cultural courses proved to be most popular among the (mostly female) public, which comprised mostly members from the upcoming middle classes. Via the well visited courses on literature, the People’s Universities played an important role in the dissemination and mediation of both high and popular literature in the Netherlands. The audiences could learn to enjoy literature through the skillful aid of travelling teachers with literary experience, such as the popular speaker, journalist and critic P.H. Ritter Jr. In addition to that, the courses on literature also functioned as a stage for contemporary writers, such as the bestseller authors Jo van Ammers-Küller, A.M. de Jong and Ina Boudier-Bakker.

3) In the middle of middlebrow? The critical program of Gerard van Eckeren

Ryanne Keltjens, Universiteit Groningen

Gerard Van Eckeren

Gerard Van Eckeren

As a book seller, publisher, author and a literary critic for several popular magazines, Gerard van Eckeren (1876-1951) put his professional career in the service of his readers, keeping his own preferences and personality largely at the background. His modest attitude may have contributed to the fact that this well-known actor in the Dutch literary field of the early twentieth century nowadays has almost completely fallen into oblivion. Van Eckeren’s critical program took its underlying aims from the perspective of middlebrow criticism. The term middlebrow criticism is used here to indicate forms of public-oriented criticism that saw education and culture mediation as their main responsibilities.

For Van Eckeren, cultural guidance was an important function of his critical work, which he characterized himself as informing and reader-oriented.  His starting point was an idealistic aim: it was his goal to bring literature and the reading public closer together. Reading would stimulate the mental development of the individual and society as a whole. Commercial objectives also played a role. Van Eckeren’s criticism was supposed to serve both the intellectual development of readers, and the flourishing of the book market. Van Eckeren believed that publishers, book traders and authors deserved to profit economically from cultural elevation. From that perspective, readers were approached like consumers. They were exposed to as many books as possible, and stimulated to buy books. This combination of educational goals and commercialism can probably be considered typical for middlebrow criticism.

With his critical program, Van Eckeren deliberately distinguished his work from more elitist forms of literary criticism, as performed by younger modernist critics like Menno ter Braak and E. du Perron. Van Eckeren made a distinction between his own objective reader-oriented criticism and subjective “critic-oriented” criticism, from which the reader would in the first place get to know more about the person of the critic. Although he considered both kinds legitimate, Van Eckeren noticed that the two kinds of criticism were practiced by different groups of people. With his reader-oriented approach, Van Eckeren joined the criticis of his own, older generation. However, I argue that the choice for an objective form of criticism for Van Eckeren was not so much a question of generation or position-taking in the literary field, but that it was rooted in his idealistic and commercial aims.

4) Herman Robbers: a cultural entrepreneur  

Meriel Benjamins, Universiteit Groningen

Herman Robbers

Herman Robbers

During the interwar years, the Dutch book market grew as production techniques advanced and new sections of the population became interested in reading. Cultural entrepreneurs used the opportunities to make money with literature, conceptualizing it as a marketable commodity. Probably one of the most well-known and visible figures amongst them was Herman Robbers (1868-1937). Robbers occupied a central position in the literary field because he was involved in different branches of literary business. After making his name as a novelist, he worked as a critic, editor and essayist. He was the director of the publishing house owned by his family for a few years and a key figure in different literary and cultural associations. All these activities can be understood as an attempt to mediate between a mass-audience and the literary sphere.

Robbers started writing book reviews for the illustrated monthly Elsevier’s Geïllustreerd Maandschrift (EGM) in 1915 and at the same time he became the general editor of the magazine. EGM deliberately stayed out of the polemic critical debates, as its credo was that being a stage for critical controversy would not be in the interest of the readers. Robbers work as a critic had a similar starting point. He tried to write objective book reviews, employed a conversational, friendly tone and figures of speech to achieve what to him was the most important aim of criticism: the development of public taste. In the late 1920s and early 1930s when Robbers had to bear the brunt of the attacks of a group of younger critics, his critical practice changed somewhat. Although Robbers never became pro-active in attacking these younger critics, he started using his book reviews to react to their allegations.

In the British context, critics like Arnold Bennett, Wilfred Whitten and John Priestly held objectives similar to those Robbers strived for. They, much like Robbers, aspired to be taste makers as they sensed a need for cultural guidance. Yet they usually maintained a greater distance from their readership in their book reviews and essays. Part of this can be explained by the fact that some of the mentioned British critics were aspiring to earn a place in the realm of high culture, while Robbers seemed to be comfortable with his position as a middlebrow critic. Another explanation is that because the Dutch literary field was considerably smaller, the battle of the brows was not fought as fiercely as in the British literature and a critic like Robbers could permit himself to be closer to his reader.

The work of this middlebrow research project can be seen here.

Middlebrow Culture in Spain: The Case of Cinema

Sally Faulkner, University of Exeter [s dot faulkner at exeter dot ac dot uk]

Asignatura Pendiente 1. GuernicaThis paper takes Spanish cinema as a case study to question the translatability of the term ‘middlebrow’, rooted as it is in the Anglophone context of the 1920s-30s. While the beginnings of a middlebrow culture may be discerned in Spain in the 1920s, for example in literary adaptations in silent film, like José Buchs’s adaptation of key realist novelist Benito Pérez Galdós in 1924 (The Grandfather / El abuelo), the paper argues that the term becomes fully meaningful in the 1970s. The Franco dictatorship replaced its isolationist economic policies of the 1940s with an opening up of markets over the 1950s, which led to soaring living standards and educational levels in the 1960s and the birth of a new and dominant middle class. In 1970s cinema we find films that both depict this new middle class, and were aimed at them as audiences: a middlebrow cinema. José Luis Garci’s Unfinished Business (Asignatura pendiente Garci 1977), for example, features middle-class characters and displays key characteristics of the middlebrow in film: serious or didactic content (here the exploration of Spain’s political Transition through a love affair); references to high culture that allowed audiences to acquire Bourdieu’s ‘cultural capital’ (for example inclusion of Modernist art and poetry, like images by Pablo Picasso, and lines from Pablo Neruda); high levels of accessibility for audiences via the use of well-known film genres (here North-American-influenced comedy); and high production values (like the casting of admired actors Fiorella Faltoyano and José Sacristán).

The emblematic film of the Spanish Transition, Unfinished Business, also demonstrates the productivity of the term ‘middlebrow’ beyond the Anglophone context to Film Studies more widely. Further, the middlebrow culture that followed the recent rise of Spain’s middle class offers a model for thinking through cultures of developing nations beyond Europe, for example in Latin-American and Chinese examples.

For further details of the transnational project that Sally Faulkner leads on middlebrow cinema, see this link to the University of Exeter’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Film Research.

Middlebrow In the Italian Cultural and Literary Context : the Novels Of Pitigrilli

Sarah Bonciarelli, KU Leuven, Universiteit Gent [sarah dot bonciarelli at ugent dot be]

Bonciarelli 1The aim of the paper is to discuss the concept of “middlebrow” and its function in the Italian cultural and literary context and to analyze a specific case study: the novels of Pitigrilli (pseudonym of Dino Segre, 1893-1975). The paper moves from the theoretical Anglo-American conception of the middlebrow, tothe Italian literary debate,discussing (a) whether a category of ‘middlebrow’ literature can be found there and (b) if and how the term has been theorized in the national criticism.

The novels written by Pitigrilli between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, such as L’esperimento di Pott(1929)and I vegetarianidell’amore (1931), combine relatively plain language and entertaining narrative plots with experimental stylistic techniques used as well by highbrow authors like Palazzeschi and Campanile.

Bonciarelli 2JPGExamples of similar techniques in Pitigrilli’s novels are the use of newspaper headlines, advertizing slogans, and typically cinematographic narrative techniques, such as shots, a fragmented syntax organized in short descriptions, a visual organization of the text, as well as simultaneous and non-linear actions. With this striking combination of readability on the one hand and stylistic or narrative devices echoing highbrow cultural and literary repertoires on the other, Pitigrilli’s novels to a certain extent aresymptomatic of the position of the Italian novel in the interwar period, caught between the perception (or prejudice) of being an unsophisticated genre oriented towards a wider audience and the presence of (or search for) at least some degree of literary quality.

A trashy novel with some depth: Vicky Baum, the New Realism, and the Middlebrow

Juliane Roemhild, University of Melbourne [J dot Roemhild at latrobe dot edu dot au]

Juliane sent her presentation by YouTube link, which you can see here.

Baroness Orczy’s Le Mouron Rouge and the Nelson Collection: Selling Gallophobic fiction to the French

Sally Dugan, Institute of English Studies, University of London [sally dot dugan at gmail dot com]

DuganBaroness Orczy’s jingoistic Scarlet Pimpernel series celebrates the chivalry and ingenuity of a band of English aristocrats who perform dramatic rescues in the French Revolution. It demonises the French sansculottes and valorises the British upper class crusader. The successful marketing of such conservative Gallophobic fiction in France is a testament to the canny foresight of the Scots publishing house, Nelson, and to the mythical power of Orczy’s superhero.

However, the story of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s adaptation in all media for a French audience – a process which created a swashbuckling image far removed from Orczy’s patriotic, mild-mannered English gentleman – helps to reconstruct an important European dimension in a process that is widely assumed to be Americanisation.

The Scarlet Pimpernel first appeared on the London stage in 1905, the Figaro reviewer dismissing it as a vehicle for the husband-and-wife acting team, Julia Neilson and Fred Terry. Coquelicot, an adaptation by the fencing and self-defence expert Jean-Joseph Renaud, opened with different actors at the Ambigu in Paris on 23 April 1912. Orczy – who had authorised the adaptation – was horrified at its ‘bourgeois’ touches. Renaud’s interest in fighting – coupled, perhaps, with a sense of his audience – led him to emphasise the man of action rather than the lofty aristocrat living on his wits. This paved the way for film portrayals of the swashbuckling Pimpernel.

Nelson m rAs a novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel’s conservative slant on French history gained respectability with a shortened schools edition in French (Le Mouron Rouge, John Murray,1911); its listing in the Nelson Collection – published ‘under the direction’ of Charles Sarolea, Professor of French at the University of Edinburgh – ranked it with the classics. At the heart of my paper is a detailed study of cuts made in the Mouron Rouge series (Nelson, 1913–1955) to avoid offending French sensibilities and to keep the reputation for wholesomeness that enabled the French Catholic Romans-revue to recommend it as suitable reading for young people. Using the Nelson Archive at Edinburgh, and French periodicals, I chart the novels’ reception and highlight the marketing practices that enabled Nelson to sell not only English novels in translation, but also French novels to the French. My paper ends with Jean-Claude Lavocat’s Le Retour du Mouron Rouge (1951) – a last-gasp attempt to recapture the early glamour of Orczy’s hero. Written in French, it was never translated into English. The patriotic Pimpernel had had his day.

The conference programme

European Middlebrow Cultures, 1880-1950: Reception, Translation, Circulation

Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten

with the support of KU Leuven and Universiteit Gent

17-18 January 2014

 

Friday 17 January

12:30-13:00         Registration

13:00-13:15         Introductory remarks (Kate Macdonald, Universiteit Gent)

13:15-14:15         Session 1: European Middlebrow From a Theoretical Perspective

(Dirk De Geest, KU Leuven; Pieter Verstraeten, KU Leuven/Rijsuniversiteit Groningen; Bram Lambrecht, KU Leuven)

14:15-16:15         Session 2: Middlebrow and Ideology

Diana Holmes (University of Leeds): Belle Époque France and the Birth of the Middlebrow

Sally Dugan (University of London): Baroness Orczy’s Le Mouron Rouge and the Nelson Collection: Selling Gallophobic fiction to the French.

Christopher Ehland (Universität Paderborn): The dangerous “Mittelware” and B.M. Croker’s German Success

Jochem Riesthuis (Universiteit Amsterdam): Socialist Middlebrow imports: the self-translation of Stefan Heym’s first American bestseller in the GDR.

16:15-16:45         Break

16:45-18:15         Session 3: Novels & Authors:

Sarah Bonciarelli (KU Leuven, Universiteit Gent): Middlebrow In the Italian Cultural and Literary Context : the Novels Of Pitigrilli

Juliane Roemhild (La Trobe University): A trashy novel with some depth – Vicky Baum, New Realism & the Middlebrow

Pilvi Rajamaë (University of Tartu): ’High’ art versus ’low’ life: the clash of modern sensibility and unforgiving reality in Mart Raud’s middlebrow novels The Axe and The Moon and the Market

17:45-18:45         Drinks

Dinner: Bij den Boer, Quai aux Briques.

Saturday 18 January

09:30-10:30         Keynote Lecture:

Kristin Bluemel (Monmouth University): Region, Illustration, Readership: Modeling Middlebrow Studies

10:45-11:00         Break

11:00-12:30        Session 4: Dutch Middlebrow Literature 1930-1940: Production, Distribution, Reception

Erica van Boven (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Open Universiteit) and Mathijs Sanders (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen): Introduction

Alex Rutten (Open Universiteit): Cultural Mediation and the Lecture Circuit: P.H. Ritter Jr. and Dutch ‘University Extension’ Institutes

Ryanne Keltjens (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen): In the middle of middlebrow? The critical programme of Gerard van Eckeren

Meriel Benjamins (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen): A cultural entrepreneur: Herman Robbers

12:30-13:30         Lunch

13:30-15:00         Session 5: Middlebrow & Media

Jeroen Dera (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen): Art for All? The Ideal of Cultural Mediation in Dutch Radio Criticism (1925-1940)

Sally Faulkner (University of Exeter): Middlebrow Culture in Spain: The Case of Cinema

Emma Barron (University of Sydney & University of Bologna) I Promessi Sposi: new audiences in 1960s Italy

15:00-15:30         Discussion, concluding remarks

where is the conference, exactly?

It’s at the KVAB (Royal Flemish Academy for Science and the Arts), on Hertogstraat 1, central Brussels. The nearest Metro stops are Arts-Loi / Kunst Wet (the main interchange), or Troon, which is also the nearest bus stop. The nearest palace is the immense 19thC pile of the Royal Palace, next door, and the nearest embassy belongs to the USA. The park outside is a lovely example of French Le Notre-esque landscaping, though it’s not at its best in the chilly, dripping grey Belgian winter. Here’s a map.

This was the Call for Papers for the conference in January 2014

European Middlebrow Cultures, 1880-1950: Reception, Translation, Circulation

logo_ondertitel17-18 January 2014, Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts, Brussels, Belgium

Keynote speakers: Professor Kristin Bluemel, Monmouth University, Professor Christoph Ehland, Universität Paderborn, and Professor Dirk De Geest, Katholiek Universiteit Leuven

This two-day conference intends to extend the well-established study of 20th-century anglophone middlebrow texts and authorship, to investigate how European literary cultures from 1880 may be examined for evidence of middlebrow writing, reading and production. This may be as a borrowed literary phenomenon through translation and assimilation, or as an indigenous pan-European cultural movement that has hitherto been obscured by a focus on modernist cultures.

Since the 1980s, the study of middlebrow literary productions and authors has become a strongly emergent movement in anglophone literary research. ‘Middlebrow’ was first used to describe a particular stream of cultural production in the 1920s, first in British and Irish newspapers, and soon after in critical writing by notable cultural authorities such as Virginia Woolf, Arnold Bennett, and Q D Leavis. ‘Middlebrow’ was always a pejorative term, used to demarcate writing and reading, and initially also musical taste, from, simultaneously, the modernist and the lowbrow. Middlebrow books and authors were rejected by those who required intellectual innovation in their leisure reading, and who privileged challenge and complexity over enjoyment, familiarity and ease in what they read, and wrote. Readers of middlebrow writing had intellectual expectations, but these were moderate rather than extreme. Middlebrow writing was concerned with established literary traditions, and was ‘an imaginative projection of lived experience conducive to a negotiation of identity and emotional “entertainment” in the sense of providing sustenance’ (Habermann 2010, 35). Yet this categorisation was fluid. ‘Middlebrow could be a mode of reading, a stratum of society, a class of book, or a state of mind’ (Macdonald 2011, 11).

The importance of the study of middlebrow is derived from its close relationship, in the British context, with class, and, in the American context, with the rise of twentieth-century consumerism. These socio-historical dimensions offer a rich resource for the scholar in analysing many different aspects of middlebrow cultures, from different perspectives. Examining middlebrow texts will reveal a non-normative and non-restrictive understanding of literary dynamics in terms of how texts were constructed and how they were received.

Most of the recent publications and conferences on middlebrow focus on anglophone texts, authors, publishing and marketing. There has been very little scholarly work published on non-anglophone middlebrow cultures, until the last five years: Van Boven et al (2008 & 2012), Sanders (2008), Van Boven (2009), Provenzano and Sindaco (2009), and Rymenants and Verstraeten (2009 & 2011). However, despite this recent work, without the input of research and scholarly discourse on middlebrow cultures in Europe, in languages other than English, the continuing study of middlebrow is artificially truncated by being limited to only authors working in English, and the interpretation of the anglophone world. An emerging community of researchers on middlebrow in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France (and undoubtedly in other European countries) need a forum to meet, discover each other’s work and initiate new collaborations.

This call for papers for a conference aims to attract a wide range of international researchers working on questions around middlebrow outside the anglophone sphere. These may include:

  • Translation of anglophone middlebrow texts into European languages
  • Film adaptations of middlebrow texts
  • Book Clubs and other commercially-oriented lists
  • The Continental edition and other publishers’ series
  • Tauchnitz and anglophone best-sellers
  • The middlebrow book review in different media
  • The literary critic in different media as mediator and arbiter
  • Middlebrow reading and cultural respectability
  • Parallel critical reputations

The primary aim of the conference will be to offer a platform for these researchers to present their work and discuss methodologies, and network informally on subjects of mutual interest. Secondary aims will be to discern strands of middlebrow research that make connections across languages, cultures, historical moments, and authors and texts. Publication of a volume of scholarly essays is planned, drawing on papers presented at the forum, and by commissioning essays from specialists.

By offering this contact forum for researchers in European middlebrow cultures, this conference will rebalance the anglophone dominance of the field, and make space to discuss research on European middlebrow cultures in the twentieth century. The conference will be open to papers on either of two strands of investigation: (1) research into European middlebrow cultural productions in languages other than English, and (2) research into the reception of anglophone middlebrow cultures in mainland Europe.

The language of the conference will be English, for practical reasons, but informal translation and interpretation into and out of Dutch, German and French may be possible.

We invite abstracts (of no more than 300 words, in any European language) that describe the background, subject and preliminary findings of your presentation. If you plan to present your paper in a language other than English, please provide an English translation of the abstract as well. Please send these to euromidd@gmail.com, by 1 September 2013, and include a contact email and postal address. We welcome abstracts from independent scholars as well as those from university researchers. Enquiries can also be sent to the above email address.

28 May 2013

Kate Macdonald, Universiteit Gent, Belgium

Koen Rymenant, independent scholar

Mathijs Sanders, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Netherlands

Erica Van Boven, Groningen Universiteit, Netherlands

Pieter Verstraeten, Katholiek Universiteit Leuven, Belgium