Call for Papers – Middlebrow

Here’s another upcoming conference that looks interesting. “Middlebrow” is a powerful word in discussions of twentieth century fiction. Damn a text with the m-word, and it’s outside the academic pale – unambitious, philistine and (implicitly) not-quite-our-class-dear. But looking at Great War novels, I’ve found middlebrow novelists tackling the same problems as canonical ones, and coming up with interesting answers.

Investigating the Middlebrow

One-Day Conference, Sheffield Hallam University, 23rd June 2007
middlebrow, n. and a.
colloq. Freq. derogatory.

According to the OED, the term ‘middlebrow’ first made an appearance in 1925, in Punch: ‘it consists of people who are hoping that some day they will get used to the stuff that they ought to like.’ Perhaps so, but while considering the stuff they ought to like, that controversial figure, the general reader, was buying what it did like, creating best-sellers of novelists as diverse as Elizabeth von Arnim, Warwick Deeping, Winifred Holtby, J.B. Priestley, and Stella Gibbons. These widely-read novelists, contentiously labelled ‘middlebrow’, have received very little critical attention, and today the ‘middlebrow’ continues to be used to mark particular types of popular literature as unchallenging and of little cultural or intellectual value.

What does it mean to be labelled ‘middlebrow’? Is it a question of readership? Q.D. Leavis explicitly identified the growth of the ‘middlebrow’ as an unfortunate consequence of women forming the majority of library users; while 50 years later Bourdieu argued that ‘middlebrow’ culture, in its eternally reverential relationship to ‘legitimate culture’, was illegitimate simply because it was the taste of the middle-class, not because of any intrinsic qualities.

This conference invites papers on any aspect of the middlebrow. Topics could
·the pleasures of reading
·the role of sentiment
·historicizing the middlebrow
·the gender of modernism
·taxonomies of taste
·cultural capital
We particularly welcome papers focussing on analyses of little-studied middlebrow novels, films, novelists or film-makers.
Proposals of 400 words for 20-minute papers should be sent via email to Erica Brown and Mary Grover at by 24th November 2006.


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