British Writing Exam Section B

What does the term Middlebrow refer to?

  • a term coined in the 1920s
  • OED defines it as as someone of 'average or moderate cultural attainments' or cultural productions that are 'moderately intellectual'
  • in between 'highbrow' and 'lowbrow' works
  • caters for a middle class readership
  • reflects middle class concerns of gender, class, money and culture
  • George Orwell described middlebrow fiction as 'good bad books' (1994)
  • not a genre, includes many different types of novels
  • not ignorant or uniterested in culture
  • does interesting things with form but not obscure
  • Daphne Du Mauriers middlebrow novel 'Rebecca' (1938) for example uses symbols, dreams and retrospective
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How is the middlebrow related to modernism?

  • emerges at the same time as modernism
  • literary criticism dominated by modernism
  • so the middlebrow was ignored by critics for a long time
  • the middlebrow as a criticism of the educated elite and artistic pretention
  • criticises modernist form: fragmentation, chaos, disorientation
  • reverts back to 19th c victorian forms: well rounded narratives, clearly structured plots and definite endings
  • reliant on the assumed presence of an audience bound by a community of values
  • interesting things with form but not obscure
  • Daphne Du Mauriers middlebrow novel 'Rebecca' (1938) has a sophisticated narrative with the inclusion of dreams, symbols and retrospective
  • modernist readers and writers saw 'good literature' as threatened by mass pop culture and the middlebrow/lowbrow literary products
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Emergence and Success of the middlebrow

  • middlebrow fiction writers alert to mass culture
  • took inspiration from the complicated narratives of popular cinema and radio dramas
  • borrows plot and stock characters from cheap and cheerful romance or thrillers
  • the Boots Book Lovers library was a major factor in the success
  • books could be bought full price/with a book club discount or loaned from the library
  • mass circulation of middlebrow fiction
  • the industry was a self supporting business
  • more novels meant more marketing and more publishing
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Middlebrow's relationship to the lower m/c

  • the middlebrow reflects the middle class' concerns and values of gender, money, class and culture
  • validates and reinstates the existing values
  • large readership as the middle class grew dramatically after the war
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What values does Rebecca (1938) articulate?

In terms of gender:

Validates- the female protagonist narrator is presented as innocent, naive and pure as well as representing sexual propriety which are all values that deem her fit for marriage to Maxim, an aristocratic gentleman. Furthermore, she is passive in the way she lets her husband make all the decisions in the marriage and at Manderley.

Condemns- Rebecca is condemned due to her reputation as an active, sexually improper woman due to her various affairs.

 

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What values does Rebecca (1938) articulate?

In terms of class:

Validates- Maxim's role as the landed gentry is the only class role really validated in the novel

Condemns- The protagonist is of lower middle class and is placed in a role as the lady of the house at Manderley which neccesitates a different class background. She does not have the class reassurances to maker her own decisions at Manderley. There is the suggestion that class appropriation can not be succesful.

Furthermore, the novel condemns Rebecca and the illegitimate heir. Maxim sees murdering Rebecca as the suitable option to prevent an illegitimate heir inheriting Manderley. The traditional line of inheritance would be disrupted.

 

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What values does Rebecca (1938) articulate?

In terms of class:

Validates- Maxim's role as the landed gentry is the only class role really validated in the novel

Condemns- The protagonist is of lower middle class and is placed in a role as the lady of the house at Manderley which neccesitates a different class background. She does not have the class reassurances to maker her own decisions at Manderley. There is the suggestion that class appropriation can not be succesful.

Furthermore, the novel condemns Rebecca and the illegitimate heir. Maxim sees murdering Rebecca as the suitable option to prevent an illegitimate heir inheriting Manderley. The traditional line of inheritance would be disrupted.

 

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What values does Rebecca (1938) articulate?

In terms of culture:

Validates- English culture is validated. At the start of the novel the protagonist and Mrs Van Hopper cling to English custom through a collection of cliches; drinking tea, keeping up to date with cricket scores and importing British newspapers.

Furthermore, the protagonist is overly polite to Mrs Van Hopper although she is mistreated, which is a typically English trait.

As well as this, the alliance between the protagonist the protagonist and Maxim comes from their superior knowledge over Mrs Van Hopper of English history. The protagonist is 'English' in Monte Carlo but is not 'English' enough at Manderley.

Condemns-The novel presents the London flats a space of sexual impropriety and therefore the city as a place of immorality. Therefore, creating the binary opposition of the countryside as a place of morality and tradition values (although Rebecca thwarts this anyway).

 

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