The Middlebrow Family Resemblance: Features of the Historical and Contemporary Middlebrow

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In October 2015, I wrote a piece for the Sydney Review of Books that considered three Australian novels and their participation in both literary and middlebrow practices of publishing and reading. The review, which highlighted the books' powerful storytelling, poetic language, intriguing moral questions, and humor, concluded that "[s]ome of the pleasures of these novels are middlebrow, all of them contribute to a vibrant Australian culture of books and reading."1 The reaction to this review included more than 500 tweets, a combined 4500-word response from the three authors,2 an article in The Guardian with 187 comments,3 and several posts on book blogs.4 Many people were intrigued by my description of middlebrow culture, suggesting some public interest in the burgeoning academic field of middlebrow studies. Others, however, saw my review as an insult to the authors, to readers, or to both. One of the authors I reviewed wrote that the term middlebrow "implies an arrested capacity for aesthetic assessment, it implies an unrefined judgment of taste;"5 another tweeted "Don't just reject the label; middlebrow doesn't exist."6

The word middlebrow touches a nerve. It seems to activate contradictory impulses: both resistance and attraction, both a denial of cultural hierarchy and a claim for position within that hierarchy. So many cultural conversations rely on a framework of value, oriented by exemplars of high and low culture. Think of the widely expressed contempt for the mega-selling erotica novel Fifty Shades of Grey (2011), about which Salman Rushdie stated, "I've never read anything so badly written that got published."7 Consider, also, the respect given to those elite cultural producers, the winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yet while these extreme examples persist, one of their chief effects is to highlight a large middle space where much cultural activity takes place. This middle space is not a value-free zone, and analyzing it requires robust conceptual resources, one of which is the middlebrow.

Defining the middlebrow has always been contentious. The word emerged to complicate the binary between highbrow and lowbrow in the early-to-mid twentieth century, a period when critics were confronted by both the emergence of Modernism and the increased production of mass culture. During this time, middlebrow culture developed across the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries, and was inevitably inflected by these different national contexts.8 In the United Kingdom, the term middlebrow was part of a developing cultural gatekeeping apparatus in the period known as the Battle of the Brows.9 One of the key early references is a letter written by Virginia Woolf, in which she articulates a comic and violent antipathy towards the middlebrow: "If any human being, man, woman, dog, cat or half-crushed worm dares call me 'middlebrow' I will take my pen and stab him, dead."10 Two decades later, American critic Dwight Macdonald was disgusted by the "ooze of the Midcult swamp", which he saw as a monstrous, "peculiar hybrid bred from...unnatural intercourse" between high and low culture.11

Yet, for all this hostility, the actual definition of the middlebrow was elusive. As Woolf writes, "what, you may ask, is a middlebrow? And that, to tell the truth, is no easy question to answer."12 Macdonald, too, despite several attempts to describe Midcult products and institutions, was frustrated: "It is its ambiguity that makes Midcult alarming."13 The flexibility of the term has led some twenty-first century critics to try to reclaim the middlebrow: David Haglund wanted to use the term "unsnobbishly" in Slate magazine,14 while journalist Claire Coleman recently announced she was "Middlebrow and proud!"15 One of the questions for middlebrow studies, and for this article, is whether by developing a nuanced definition of the middlebrow, it is possible to lessen the word's sting and gain a fuller appreciation of this cultural formation.

Ever since the groundbreaking studies by Joan Shelley Rubin and Janice Radway, who offered sustained analysis of twentieth-century middlebrow institutions such as the Book-of-the-Month Club, it has been apparent that the term middlebrow is more than a rhetorical slap.16 The twentieth-century middlebrow was a widespread cultural formation with distinctive characteristics. My research extends this work by looking also at the contemporary middlebrow, in recognition of the term's persistence in cultural discourse, where it turns up in discussions of Oprah's Book Club, HBO television dramas, Oscar-winning biopics, and more.

In this article, I provide a detailed account of the middlebrow as a cultural phenomenon with continuities across its historical and contemporary manifestations. My account relies on an understanding of the middlebrow as related not only to cultural products, but also to cultural practices. This is a similar definitional approach to that of Melissa Sullivan and Sophie Blanch, who consider the middlebrow as an aesthetic mode, a set of dissemination and transmission practices, and a set of consumption practices.17 Drawing on research from middlebrow scholars as well as my own investigations into contemporary culture, I consider multiple illustrative examples of middlebrow products, institutions, and practices from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. While my background is in literary studies, this article also considers middlebrow music, film, television, magazines, and visual art, and it is attentive to the ways in which the middlebrow has developed across different, though mostly Anglophone, national cultures.

By examining different cultural forms, this analysis extends the scholarship in my book, The New Literary Middlebrow: Tastemakers and Reading in the Twenty-First Century, in which I define the middlebrow through eight key features.18 The middlebrow is middle-class, reverential towards elite culture, entrepreneurial, mediated, feminized, emotional, recreational, and earnest. Instead of seeing these features as absolute requirements, we should understand them in the frame of Ludwig Wittgenstein's theory of family resemblance, in which a group is defined by a number of overlapping similarities.  It is a set of phenomena that "have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all - but they are related to one another in many different ways."19 The flexibility of this form of definition is appropriate for a broad formation such as the middlebrow: these definitional features can be in tension with one another and can combine to create different cultural registers. Nonetheless, all middlebrow institutions and practices display most of these features, and together they describe a distinctive cultural space.

 

The middlebrow is middle class

The rise of the middlebrow corresponds to the growth of the middle class, and the two concepts remain linked. As David Carter argues, while there is no straightforward correlation between middlebrow culture and the middle class, nevertheless "the potency of imagining cultural divisions through the brow triad owed much to its apparent homologies with class divisions."20 Historically, the middle class, like the middlebrow, has occupied an in-between space, defined against the aristocracy and the working class. The term has a tendency to stretch, encompassing a range of groups with different cultural practices and operating in distinctive national contexts.

For example, Bourdieu's work on middlebrow taste (le gout moyen) draws on his knowledge of French society and is linked to his argument in Distinction that shared cultural tastes characterize different socioeconomic groups. Bourdieu maintains that middlebrow tastes align with petit bourgeois consumers, who roughly correspond to the lower end of the middle class.21 For Bourdieu, the petite bourgeoisie knows that culture is important but lacks the familiarity with culture provided through family or tertiary education. As a consequence, this class fraction relies on middlebrow mediators to make culture accessible. The consumers who were the target of mid-twentieth-century English critiques of the middlebrow by Q. D. Leavis, Graham Greene, and Virginia Woolf also tended to occupy a lower-middle-class position.22 Leavis, for example, writes that "what saved the lower middle-class for some time from a drug addiction to fiction was the exorbitant price of novels."23 The rise in lower-middle-class readership that followed the advent of cheap novels is part of the cultural "disintegration" to which Leavis objects in her monograph. The middlebrow is frequently defined by its class-based audience, as Nicola Humble notes when she suggests that a novel was often seen as middlebrow "because it was widely read by the middle-class public."24 Other scholars draw attention to a desire for cultural upward mobility in middle-class consumers: for example, Faye Hammill and Michelle Smith suggest there is a link between the emergence of middlebrow culture, in the form of mainstream travel magazines in both England and Canada, and middle-class ambitions towards geographical mobility, glamour, and prestige.25

This reading of the middle class as aspirational aligns with work on class and culture in the United States. As Radway's study in A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste and Middle-Class Desire indicates, the middle class of the American middlebrow was likely to be professional-managerial, made up of cultural workers whose status and income depended on the acquisition of cultural capital.26 This is also evident in Amy L. Blair's analysis of a book column in Ladies' Home Journal, which she argues was written for a "burgeoning middle-class reading audience" attracted by the "tacit promise...that some texts, like mysterious alchemical lore, can make the reader wealthier"; the columns displayed an "elision of aesthetic and economic value terms."27

As these different inflections of class suggest, a simple mapping of the middle class onto the middlebrow is difficult. A.O. Scott addresses this difficulty in his reflection on the influential 1949 article by Russell Lynes for Harper's Bazaar, which was accompanied by a chart setting out examples of highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow consumption.28

highbrowlowbrow

Figure 1. Russell Lynes, "Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow," Life, 1949.

For Scott, these "categories do not represent class differences; they replace class differences ... every brow-holder is assumed to be able to afford furniture, clothes, reading material and other amenities, and each is assumed to have leisure time in which to enjoy them."29 Scott highlights the inexactness of the category of the middle class, and while middlebrow is often discussed in relation to the middle class, the correlation is far from precise.

The concept of the middle class is highly elastic in the twenty-first century. A 2011 Heartland Monitor poll, for example, showed that 85% of Americans considered themselves to belong to the middle class.30In a 2015 review of the book Culture Crash by Scott Tindberg, Eugenia Williamson critiques "the billowing cultural middle," an analytical category that can seem to include everyone from artists to store clerks.31 More fine-grained approaches to the middle class are emerging. For example, the 2013 British Broadcasting Commission's Great British Class Survey found a new model of seven social classes, diversifying our understanding of the contemporary middle class. The established middle class makes up the largest group (25 percent) in this survey, but it has two near neighbours: the technical middle class, with low levels of social and cultural capital, and the new affluent workers, who are socially and culturally active.32 This major study confirms a relationship between culture and class, while recognizing diverse cultural practices within the middle class. In particular, there may well be distinctions between the kinds of cultural activity pursued by different fractions of the middle class, with books occupying a somewhat higher status than movies or television.

With these distinctions in mind, it is nonetheless clear that the middle class is frequently invoked in discussions of contemporary middlebrow culture. For example, Marilyn Poole's interviews with members of contemporary Australian book clubs found that "[t]he groups see themselves as middle-class, professional, native English-speaking, and perhaps rather exclusive."33 My research on the Melbourne Writers Festival over several years indicates that a large majority of attendees are tertiary-educated and have a relatively high income.34 This level of income seems required for some middlebrow activities: the cable television dramas adding prestige to television, for example, require their audiences to pay for subscription services and internet access. Middlebrow culture remains broadly middle class, although the particular relation between any middlebrow cultural activity and its participants' class positions will always require thoughtful examination.

 

The middlebrow is reverential

A respect for culture underpins the activities of the middlebrow. In Bourdieu's conceptualization, the petite bourgeoisie is characterized by "cultural goodwill" and "filled with reverence for culture;"35 this attitude is also evident in research on historical Anglophone middlebrow institutions. Rubin, writing about the reception of American radio book programs in the mid-twentieth century, suggests that the intimacy of listening to such programs in one's home perpetuated "genteel homage to critical pre-eminence": the experience created a "strong feeling of indebtedness to the distinguished visitor who had graced one's home."36 The chart of highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow for Life magazine in 1949 indicates further examples of cultural deference. While the highbrow hangs "drawings by his friends" in the bathroom, the middlebrow favors acknowledged cultural masters by not being "above an occasional color reproduction of a van Gogh or a Cezanne." The middlebrow also likes likes "easy listening music."37 Keir Keightley's analysis of this kind of music underscores its aspirations: as he writes, the new LP format was originally used to disseminate classical music but from the 1950s onward developed into series, such as Paul Weston's Music for Easy Listening, that combined classics and popular music in a format often referred to as semi-classical or light music.38

In the twenty-first century, cultural reverence remains a leading characteristic of the middlebrow. Writers' festivals glorify authors, particularly the international, literary authors that establish an event's prestige. Through her book club, an exemplary institution of the contemporary middlebrow, Oprah Winfrey also celebrated and displayed awe towards writers' cultural authority. A.O. Scott offers perceptive insights into the forms of reverence shown by contemporary middlebrow culture, by referring not only to "'difficult' cable television shows," but also to the "self-conscious foodie culture in which a taste for folkloric authenticity commingles with a commitment to virtue and refinement."39

Scott reads these forms of reverence as "pretension": for him, "'middlebrow' is the kind of word rarely said without a sneer."40 The middlebrow's respect for culture means that it can appear insecure, looking to high culture for guidance. Perhaps the most famous early use of the word middlebrow was in 1925, when a columnist in Punch quipped that "the BBC claim to have discovered a new type, the 'middlebrow'. It consists of people who are hoping that someday they will get used to the stuff they ought to like."41 This way of characterizing the middlebrow recalls Bourdieu's theoretical model. He insists that "middle-brow culture is objectively condemned to define itself in relation to legitimate culture," which means that it can often appear as an incomplete or inferior version of high culture.42 Several critics of the middlebrow adopt this perspective. Macdonald, for example, sees "Midcult" as a dangerous copy and adulteration of highbrow culture: it "pretends to respect the standards of High Culture while in fact it waters them down and vulgarizes them."43 In a more affectionate twenty-first century critique that purports to defend the pleasures of middlebrow film, Noel Murray writes, "If it's thoroughly accessible, but with presumptions of 'importance,' that's totally middlebrow ... I have a soft-spot for the faux-sophisticated, when it's done well."44

The sophistication of the middlebrow is, for these critics, illegitimate (faux). The reverence for culture displayed by the middlebrow can also highlight its separation from formal academic institutions. As Timothy Aubry notes, while contemporary academic scholarship has challenged the notion of the author as an individual genius, "One sign of the middlebrow readers' relative autonomy from the academy, ironically, is their persistent reverence for literature and for the category of the 'literary.'"45 Yet this distance also marks the middlebrow as more than an imitation of legitimate culture, showing a distinctive mode of appreciation. There is a genuine enthusiasm for art underpinning the activities of the middlebrow that is one of the middlebrow's most attractive qualities.

 

The middlebrow is commercial

For all its reverence towards art, middlebrow culture is also closely connected to commercial networks; a constant tension between art and commerce animates middlebrow culture. The middlebrow commitment to increased accessibility is twinned with an awareness of the commercial opportunities offered by an expanded market for cultural products. All books, including works of literature, are involved in marketing processes, but in the case of the middlebrow these processes are often highly visible.46 This can produce criticism of the middlebrow that reacts to it as part of a commercial system profiting from culture, and, in consequence, casts middlebrow mediators as manipulative and middlebrow consumers as passive dupes. The association of the middlebrow with a commercial taint is evident in Woolf's barbed hypothetical scenario, in which lowbrows consider it "very kind of the middlebrows to try to teach them culture. And after all, the lowbrows continue, middlebrows, like other people, have to make money."47

While making money is suspect, the collocation of the commercial and the cultural provides a particular focus for condemnation of the middlebrow. Woolf's letter shows her distaste for this mingling: the middlebrow is "in pursuit of no single object, neither art itself nor life itself, but both mixed indistinguishably and rather nastily, with money, fame, power, or prestige."48 Macdonald also objects: for him, Midcult is essentially mass, commercial culture "the formula, the built-in reaction, the lack of any standard except popularity" but covered "with a cultural figleaf."49

One of the most striking middlebrow entrepreneurial schemes of the twentieth century was the Book-of-the-Month Club, a mail-order scheme that regularized book sales. Radway writes that criticism of middlebrow operations like the Book-of-the-Month Club arose from the fact that such institutions "foregrounded the connections between culture and the market."50 Similarly, Keightley's analysis of easy listening music from the 1940s draws attention not only to "the new economic centrality of a new medium, the adult-oriented LP," but also to characteristics of the music that "marked it as a particularly commercial form of music: its pronounced melody, its easily recognizable/singable hummable quality, its nostalgic tendencies and especially its explicit functionality: it is consistently positioned as music for a specific purpose."51

The twenty-first-century middlebrow is also identifiable by its commercial aspects. Today's cultural entrepreneurialism often entails sophisticated marketing that drives sales directly. Each book selected by Oprah's Book Club, for example, became a bestseller over several months. Selection caused publishers to increase their print runs, reviewers to write about the book, and as novelist Jonathan Franzen commented, distributors to get the book "into Wal-Mart and Costco and places like that" that is, to secure mass distribution of the text.52 In the world of music, the Dutch violinist Andre Rieu has created large, spectacular concerts of waltzes and classical music described as "multimedia extravaganzas of Contintental middlebrow culture" that earn millions of dollars in revenue globally.53 It is this framing as commercial entertainment that makes the music he plays middlebrow: critic Andrew Messenger reflects that "The Blue Danube was low-brow when Strauss wrote it, high-brow when Kubrick used it in 2001: A Space Odyssey  and middle-brow when Andre Rieu butchers it for the blue-rinse brigade."54

Figure 2. Violinist and conductor Andre Rieu.

Figure 2. Violinist and conductor Andre Rieu.

As another example, Belinda Edmondson writes of the middlebrow "commercially savvy jazz festivals" launched in Caribbean islands to stimulate tourism that they are "up front about their link to commerce and tourism."55 Other middlebrow phenomena are subtler in their integration of the artistic and the commercial. The Man Booker Prize, for example, draws on a rhetoric of excellence but was founded to stimulate the book industry and has always been discussed in terms of its effect on sales for shortlisted and winning titles.

The mingling of the artistic and the entrepreneurial, that aspect of the middlebrow that appalled Woolf and Macdonald, is a prominent feature of contemporary middlebrow culture. The entrepreneur who packages and markets literature is one mediator of its consumption a fact that leads us to the next key feature of the middlebrow.

 

The middlebrow is mediated

Rubin's seminal work on the middlebrow highlights the inclusion both of entrepreneurs and of an identifiable critical presence in middlebrow institutions.56 These are forms of mediation: the middlebrow is a site where consumers eager to acquire cultural capital intersect with the publishers, critics, entrepreneurs, and educators who make that culture accessible.57 Middlebrow consumers look to mediators to certify particular products and modes of consumption; the mediators of the middlebrow are tastemakers who define a zone between vulgarity and the avant-garde. The mediation of the middlebrow can be personal, but it can also be institutional and technological. The historical middlebrow was a product of modernity, making extensive use of new media formats and distribution mechanisms from radio programs to magazines, while contemporary middlebrow institutions often make use of digital technology.

The visible presence of these mediating people and platforms is problematic for proponents of elite culture who believe that artistic works should speak directly to people. For example, Woolf is unsettled by the middlebrows' role as "go-betweens ... the busybodies who run from one to the other with their tittle tattle and make all the mischief."58 Lowbrow and highbrow culture are also mediated, of course, but the mediation of the middlebrow is more obvious. This obviousness is provocative since, as Bourdieu argues, the recognized power to consecrate is a central goal in the struggle of the literary field.59 Middlebrow mediators therefore not only champion particular cultural products, but also make a claim for their own authority as tastemakers.

Figure 3. Oprah with Toni Morrison, Oprah's Book Club, 1996.

Figure 3. Oprah with Toni Morrison, Oprah's Book Club, 1996.

Historical examples of middlebrow mediators include John Erskine, whose Great Books series is discussed in Rubin's study, and the creator of the Book-of-the-Month Club, Harry Scherman, a publisher and economist described by Radway as "a perceptive social observer who understood keenly the rich cultural meaning attached to the book at a transitional moment in American history."60 Radway's characterization of Sherman as both reflecting and leading cultural taste resonates with Janet Carey Eldred's scholarship on the editors of The New Yorker. Eldred quotes Edward Bok, Ladies' Home Journal editor and middlebrow entrepreneur:

The average editor is obsessed with the idea of 'giving the public what it wants,' whereas, in fact, the public, while it knows what it wants when it sees it, cannot clearly express its wants. The American public always wants something a little better than it asks for, and the successful man, in catering to it, is he who follows this golden rule.61

The dynamics of mediation are also spotlighted in accounts of middlebrow visual culture. In her study of the Federal Art Project (FAP), which ran in the United State between 1935 and 1943, Victoria Grieve observes: "Like other contemporary efforts to introduce the middle class to 'culture', the FAP relied on experts  art critics, writers, and museum professionals  to approve of its products and assure the American public that they were experiencing, and financing, good art."62 In this case, mediation was a means of bringing in an audience, and thus central to the middlebrow's mandate to enable broad accessibility to culture.

Another twentieth-century example of middlebrow cultural mediation is found in Leonard Bernstein's televised music concerts, such as Young People's Concerts and Omnibus. Omnibus was a television series sponsored by the Ford Foundation, to which Bernstein contributed between 1954 and 1958. Omnibus was named by Macdonald in his attack on "midcult": he notes that it promised to be "aimed straight at the average American audience, neither highbrow nor lowbrow, the audience that made the Readers' Digest, Life, the Ladies' Home Journal, the audience which is the solid backbone of any business as it is of America itself."63 Of Bernstein himself, Alicia Kopfstein-Penk writes that he "intentionally crafted the [Young People's Concerts] for a middlebrow audience," because he wanted people to feel closer to music.64 Robert Gottlieb calls him "a potent and highly influential proselytizer for music in general, both in his writing and on television."65 Bernstein's enthusiastic mediation of classical music through the mass medium of television is paradigmatic of the historical middlebrow.

In the twenty-first century, the middlebrow is also highly mediated, and its mediators are just as capable of provoking debates about their cultural influence. Oprah Winfrey is perhaps the most spectacular example.66 Macy Halford's description of Zadie Smith as "working in a grand middlebrow tradition" through her book reviews has also prompted debate, as has Alain de Botton's mediating role through the "Art As Therapy" project discussed below.67

Contemporary middlebrow mediation can also be institutional and technological. An increasingly dominant example is the list: 1001 Movies You Have to See Before You Die, Top 100 Books of All Time, and so on. The list is a way of guiding and managing consumers' choices that has become ubiquitous in twenty-first-century culture, evident everywhere from shop displays to Facebook memes to polls run by public broadcasters.68 More broadly, the technological developments of the twenty-first century have extended the middlebrow's use of mass media to make culture accessible. For example, Google has developed virtual art galleries and museums that enable those with internet access to "walk through" collections digitally, while other institutions, such as the Tate Modern, have developed sophisticated smartphone apps that extend the visitor experience outside of the museum.69 The technological mediation of contemporary culture is heir to the middlebrow tradition, with increased reach.

While mediation is a key feature of the middlebrow, it is tempered by an overarching commitment to the audience. Middlebrow institutions make use of critics, but they can also reject them in order to support the audience's needs and desires. A historical example comes from John O'London's Weekly, a literary magazine produced in London from 1919. As Jonathan Wild suggests, although editor Wilfred Whitten regularly recommended books, he also asserted the importance of readers' own preferences: "There is, of course, no ought about it. Right reading is self-chosen reading, and the bogeys of correctness and completeness are responsible for a great deal of shivering on the brink of literature."70 Similarly, as Keightley argues, easy listening music deferred to the pleasures of its listeners: it had an "audience-oriented conception of its value: it is precisely the refusal of musical exclusivity  whether of the art music or the jazz varieties  that makes 'easy listening' so appealing."71 In the twenty-first century, middlebrow institutions keep an eye towards enhancing audience experiences: bookstore fit-outs have comfortable armchairs and in-store cafes, and Andre Rieu concerts encourage audience sing-alongs. This element is crucial to the success of the middlebrow: Cecilia Konchar Farr, for example, has argued that Oprah's Book Club "functioned more effectively when it let everyday readers talk than when it invited them to listen to professors."72 Middlebrow culture is always in the service of the consumer, and it is weakened when mediators lead it too far from that goal.

 

The middlebrow is feminized

Middlebrow culture is often produced and disseminated, as well as overwhelmingly consumed, by women. A significant body of contemporary research analyzes gender and the middlebrow, including work on women and the middlebrow,73 the masculine middlebrow,74 and the queer middlebrow.75 Much of this research, concentrating on literary culture, has drawn attention to the women who produced much of the writing characterized as middlebrow in the mid-twentieth century, including Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Dorothy Parker, E.M. Delafield, Elizabeth Taylor, Stella Gibbons, and Nancy Mitford.76 Such scholarship, noting that gender was a central concern of middlebrow literary culture, has also focused on the depiction of women and gender in middlebrow novels. Humble, for example, writes that middlebrow fiction worked through "the middle-class woman's anxieties about her new responsibility for domestic labour," while its "frivolity and its flexible generic boundaries allowed it to explore new gender and sexual identities."77 This is a positive view of the value of middlebrow literary culture for women, which sees them as active and engaged consumers.78

Yet the involvement of women has also led to the middlebrow being disparaged: women's participation in middlebrow cultural events lowers the status of these activities. As Andreas Huyssen has argued, men have historically been associated with the most elite forms of culture, while women have been linked with commercial forms.79 Radway's study of the Book-of-the-Month Club identifies a "gender anxiety" in book publishing and distribution during the 1920s, a rejection of the feminization of literary production that was associated with emergent Modernism.80 In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, a number of critics of the mid-twentieth century were explicitly dismissive of women's cultural activity. George Orwell, for example, writes, "It is not true that men don't read novels, but it is true that there are whole branches of fiction that they avoid. Roughly speaking, what one might call the average novel  the ordinary, good-bad, Galsworthy-and-water stuff which is the norm of the English novel  seems to exist only for women."81 Midcentury Hollywood adaptations of middlebrow women's fiction also offer an insight into the gendering of middlebrow culture. In her analysis of the 1947 film Daisy Kenyon, Esther Sonnet examines a review of the 2008 DVD release and suggests that the film has been rehabilitated within the category of film noir through a "retrospective act of masculine affiliation" - transforming it from a "Joan Crawford vehicle" based on the bestselling novel by Elizabeth Janeway into a product of its "auteur father, director Otto Preminger."82 The disavowal of this film's association with women moves it away from the category of the middlebrow.

The gendered status of certain kinds of cultural activity is one of the sharpest indicators that the middlebrow persists in the twenty-first century. For example, participation in face-to-face book clubs is most commonly an activity of women, and the most visible mass-mediated reading group, Oprah's Book Club, selects a high proportion of books written by and about women, with women forming the majority of its membership online. Literary festivals are also predominantly attended by women: my research on the Melbourne Writers Festival shows that between 2010 and 2013, an average of 83 percent of attendees were women.83 A female audience for any cultural event is a target for contemporary critical disapproval, as the pejorative reference to Rieu's "blue-rinse brigade" above makes clear. The feminization of middlebrow culture is intimately linked with its consumption, production, and status, and it also intersects with a number of other middlebrow features, including its emotional appeal and recreational settings.

 

The middlebrow is emotional

Middlebrow practices emphasize emotional connection with culture. This involves a number of different modes, including sentimentality, empathy, and therapy. Sentiment, probably the most disparaged of these, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as an "appeal to the tender emotions in literature or art. Now chiefly in derisive use, conveying an imputation of either insincerity or mawkishness."84 To describe a text or a person as sentimental is almost always derogatory, and in a gendered way. Woolf, establishing her distance from a set of feminized qualities that includes both sentimentality and domestic cooking, characterizes the middlebrow as a "mixture of geniality and sentiment stuck together with a sticky slime of calf's foot jelly."85 In the contemporary middlebrow, connotations with sentimentality remain both disparaging and gendered, as when Jonathan Franzen, on being selected for Oprah's Book Club, called some of Winfrey's selections "schmaltzy" and said he had been hoping for male readers of his novel.86

Instead of sentimentality, middlebrow culture often explicitly aims for emotional engagement, which can involve cultivating empathy. Radway writes that for members of the Book-of-the-Month Club, reading was "an event defined by affective response and reaction." Radway's term "personalism" is relevant here, describing a middlebrow "individualism of both affect and empathy." The middlebrow reader feels intensely, but also feels for others; reading becomes an "event for identification, connection, and response."87 I would suggest that there are contemporary cultural occasions, such as some One Book, One City events and festival sessions, that offer audiences this middlebrow experience of empathetic consumption.88

Another function of emotional middlebrow practices is therapy. Cultural products can be approached as ways to alleviate mental pain, tension, or stress, and this is perhaps the most visible register of the emotional middlebrow in the twenty-first century. Timothy Aubry's book Reading as Therapy suggests that "[i]n search of comfort and companionship, [many readers] also expect novels to validate their grievances, insecurities, and anxieties, while confirming their sense of themselves as deep, complicated, emotionally responsive human beings."89 The idea that middlebrow culture is used to make consumers feel better recurs in contemporary criticism. Robert McCrum, for example, refers to Hilary Mantel's prizewinning novel Bring up the Bodies as a "middlebrow triumph," stimulating "a feel-good factor throughout the nation's book groups."90 In a defense of "likable films," Ann Hornaday writes that "where highbrow films seek to unsettle audiences and lowbrow films seek to anesthetize them, middlebrow films seek to comfort and stimulate viewers simultaneously. They may not always be feel-good, but they never go to gratuitous lengths to make us feel bad."91

Alain de Botton's ongoing "Art as Therapy" project encompasses curated exhibitions at leading galleries as well as a book co-authored with John Armstrong; the associated website promises that "art can help us with our most intimate and ordinary dilemmas."92 Reviewing one of the exhibitions, Adrian Searle writes that "Alain de Botton has filled the Rijksmuseum with giant yellow Post-it notes that spell out his smarmy and banal ideas of self-improvement...The labels tell us what's wrong with us, and how the artworks and artefacts they accompany can cure our ills."93

 Figure 4. Alain de Botton, "Art is Therapy," Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Figure 4. Alain de Botton, "Art is Therapy," Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

De Botton's work is provocative, but perhaps more for its explicitness than its general approach. For example, Searle notes that De Botton's effort to "mend what he sees as a disconnection between art and life" is an "unexceptional ambition;" the problem, for Searle, is that De Botton's "insights and descriptions [are] shallow and obvious;" they are "self-improvement shtick."94 Arguably, there is an acceptance of the idea that culture should be relevant and meaningful that is testament to the success of middlebrow culture. Critical ire is raised only when the therapeutic scaffolding becomes too conspicuous. The different ways in which middlebrow culture engages the emotions of audiences, whether therapeutic, sentimental, or empathetic, can lead to the dismissal of the middlebrow by critics, but this emotional engagement also provides great satisfactions for audiences and influences social ideas of what culture should do.

 

The middlebrow is recreational

The emotional framework of the middlebrow connects with another of its key features: middlebrow cultural practices are amateur, performed out of love. The middlebrow is recreational rather than academic: defined outside of, and often against, the academy. This is true even when the two formations appear to overlap  for example, when academics participate in middlebrow institutions, such as Harvard president Charles W. Eliot's association with the "Five-Foot Shelf of Books."95 In those instances, the middlebrow borrows academia's authority and prestige but situates them in a context of accessible, leisure-based cultural consumption. The transformation is evident in the physical postures associated with different forms of cultural consumption. Humble, for example, suggests that books are highbrow "if read at a desk" and middlebrow if read while reclining: "the battle of the brows can, on one level, be seen simply as a matter of sitting forward or sitting back."96 Highbrow reading is pure intellectual work that ignores the body, but middlebrow reading is physically embodied in specific places: the couch, the bed, or, as George Orwell suggests in relation to casual reading, the bath.97 Middlebrow music is listened to not in the lecture theatre, but on the stereo system of a lounge room or while sitting on picnic rugs at an open-air concert.

One of the most middlebrow locations is the home, a space associated with women. In the twentieth century, certain kinds of cultural consumption were cast as leisure activities for middle-class women located in the domestic sphere. Humble suggests that middlebrow novels, cookery books, hostess manuals, and magazines were obsessively concerned with domestic space: the founding editorial of Good Housekeeping magazine in 1922, Humble notes, stipulates that it is "both a woman's duty and her delicious indulgence to produce a continually evolving domestic sphere."98 Domesticity closely connects the twentieth-century and contemporary middlebrows. Journalist Claire Coleman quotes a brand consultant, Christian Schroeder, who says that "the brands that might be considered middlebrow all make us feel at home: they're straightforward and comfortable and make us feel safe."99 For example, despite their location in wider entertainment structures, televised book clubs are most frequently watched in people's homes, and their format promotes an at-home aesthetic. The televised version of Oprah's Book Club featured segments showing dinner parties at Winfrey's house, while the Richard & Judy Book Club fostered a domestic atmosphere through the banter between the married presenters and the show's set of couches and coffee table, vases and mugs.

Public entertainment offers another recreational context for the middlebrow. For example, both literary prizes and literary festivals are framed as communal celebrations that interrupt the world of work. Danielle Fuller and DeNel Rehberg Sedo show that many organizers of book events deliberately look beyond traditional academic institutional spaces, such as libraries and schools, to host their cultural events at ice rinks, pubs, or parks instead.100 More broadly, the recent growth of cultural tourism frames cultural consumption as value-added leisure: examples include the jazz festivals of the Caribbean; book towns in Europe, Australia and Asia; and the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, which includes Cities of Music, Literature, and Design.101

Figure 5. Hay Festival.

Figure 5. The Hay Literary Festival.

 

The middlebrow prioritizes pleasure, but it is always more than just entertainment. The word "recreation" implies a use of leisure that is purposeful, and middlebrow culture offers its audiences this distinction: a reading group is more than a social event, and a television drama such as Friday Night Lights provides more food for thought than the reality TV show and tabloid spectacle of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. The urge to make entertainment useful or meaningful links back to the concern with therapy and emotional connection, and it is also embodied in another facet of the middlebrow: its earnestness.

 

The middlebrow is earnest

Middlebrow consumption uses leisure time to seek out stories of personal growth and moral redemption, and it is concerned with both social improvement and self-improvement. In the twentieth century, the earnestness of the middlebrow had a strongly moral flavor. Rubin's definition of the middlebrow includes an emphasis on "self-culture," a goal associated with developing character, and she notes the "moral and aesthetic commitments which the makers of middlebrow culture at their best tried to diffuse."102 These goals were not necessarily radical, and could be pursued within the framework of existing social structures. Tom Perrin has argued that the middlebrow novel of the mid-twentieth-century United States responded to the challenges of modernity by using "formal literary conventions whose pleasure lies in their very conventionality," allowing some outlet for complaint but affirming the value of social belonging.103 The conservative quality of the middlebrow is described by Bourdieu when he writes that market-oriented culture reproduces dominant social values, whereas art that is distant from the market is able to be politically radical.104

However, conservatism is only one ethical dimension of the historical middlebrow. As Perrin notes, middlebrow aesthetics were able to critique normative social values even as they recognized the wish to assimilate to society.105 Caroline Pollentier also opens up discussion of the ethical values of the historical middlebrow, by considering author J. B. Priestley's praise of the "broadbrow" and his support for an ethos of inclusiveness, friendship, and eclecticism.106 In a detailed study of how this moral imperative can work, Jaime Harker analyzes the work of Dorothy Canfield Fisher and suggests that she combined activism and writing in her efforts to persuade her readers to adopt a more liberal view of gender, race, and class hierarchies.107

The ethical drive of the middlebrow often situates culture within a larger social-improvement context. Book clubs, for example, have often taken on social projects. Elizabeth Long suggests that nineteenth-century American literary societies, precursors to the middlebrow book club, saw themselves as having a civilizing, progressive role, supporting the establishment of libraries and kindergartens.108 Elizabeth McHenry's study of African American reading groups at the turn of the last century also highlights their social and political functions.109

In the new middlebrow, ethical seriousness is still evident. William Deresiewicz, for example, argues that "Midcult, still peddling uplift in the guise of big ideas, is Tree of Life, Steven Spielberg, Jonathan Safran Foer, Middlesex, Freedomthe things that win the Oscars and the Pulitzer Prizes, just like in [Dwight] Macdonald's day."110 The combination of uplift (or emotional benefit) with "big ideas" a sense of social importance  is particularly middlebrow and endures today. McHenry's study points out that contemporary African-American reading groups still emphasize empowerment, evidenced through names such as Go On Girl! and Black Women United in Literary Development (BUILD).111 In other contemporary cases, the middlebrow's earnestness is expressed through an association with charity, as when the Oprah's Book Club provided books to children in regions where a selected club book was set: books were distributed in St. Petersburg when the club was reading Anna Karenina.112

The contemporary middlebrow often associates culture with social issues. Literary festivals do this prominently. The 2015 Hay Literary Festival, for example, ran streams on "Environment," "Education," "Economics," "Futures," "Globalisation," "Politics," and "Sustainability." Social issues can also be woven into middlebrow products. Phyllis Lassner discusses this closely with relation to contemporary Holocaust narratives, such as the film adaptation of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008). This, she argues, is a middlebrow text due to its popular appeal, awards, melodramatic features, characterization  and its morality. The film's official website includes a discussion guide with topics such as "the essence of true friendship" and "the development and consequences of prejudice and discrimination," moral lessons gleaned from the middlebrow text.113 This earnestness amounts to a formal feature for some critics. In relation to contemporary film, for example, Noel Murray writes that

The problem with middlebrow fare is that it's usually so stuffy and self-important...But that's mostly a matter of surface. If you can think of the rigidity of middlebrow movies as just a formal element...then it's possible to appreciate the nuances, or even just the communal feeling of sharing an easily digestible, scantly profound experience with millions of other people.114

The idea that the earnestness of the middlebrow is shared is particularly striking when one considers the link between middlebrow culture and the ideal of citizenship. In his work on British cinema and middlebrow culture, Lawrence Napper argues that the aesthetic of the interwar period was aimed at the British lower middle class with the intention of building a sense of cultural distinctiveness from America and Hollywood movies.115 Mass media was seen as having the potential to build large audiences into a common culture, and middlebrow culture was deliberately used to develop a sense of national identity. The citizenship trope was also invoked by Winfrey in an interview just after the founding of Oprah's Book Club, when she reflected that as a child "getting my library card was like citizenship, it was like American citizenship."116 Fuller and Rehberg Sedo suggest the idea of the "citizen reader," describing the way that people can use shared reading events to form a meaningful if fleeting sense of belonging, particularly when they are otherwise uncomfortable with attaching their identity to the state.117 This insight holds for middlebrow culture more broadly; the explicitly socialized experiences of middlebrow cultural consumption can foster a sense of community that facilitates the expression of ethical and social concerns.

 

Conclusion

Middlebrow is a term with undeniable potency. The urge to categorize is perennially attractive: the 1949 pictorial chart by Life magazine that invited readers to classify themselves as highbrow, upper middlebrow, lower middlebrow, or lowbrow, according to their taste in clothes, furniture, salads, and drinks, has been periodically reworked. In 1992, The New Republic offered a version that included categories such as favourite character from The Simpsons, while in 2011 a similar graphic in GQ referenced current film stars and TV shows.118 In these cultural treatments, the "brow" represents a kind of personality type, and classification is a game but one that speaks to enduring features of the cultural field.

Our fascination with the middlebrow is twinned with an ongoing debate about the hierarchization of culture. As illustrated by "Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow  Do These Kinds of Cultural Categories Mean Anything Anymore?" a recent New York Times feature, for every Pankaj Mishra who thinks culture has become more egalitarian, there is a Thomas Mallon who "would prefer to see a Republic of Letters rather than a democracy."119 Indeed, where some see a flattening of culture, others see its polarization. In relation to film, for example, Lynden Barber recently commented that "in literature and film we hear a perpetual lament for the midlist and the midsize movie, as the businesses slip into a topsy-turvy high-low economy of blockbusters and niches," while Ross Douthat is "worried about the fate of the 'tweener'  the mass-market, middlebrow films for grown-ups that the studios have traditionally excelled at making."120 Both the rhetoric of the disappearing brows and the rhetoric of polarization obscure the steady strength and burgeoning activity of the cultural middle.

The middlebrow is one conceptual resource for analyzing this middle space. It names a particular phenomenon of the twentieth century, a formation that emerged between the elite and the popular with its own distinctive modes of production, dissemination, and consumption. It also describes aspects of today's culture. Particular features of the middlebrow thread through its historical and contemporary formations. The middlebrow is middle class: participation requires education, income, and leisure. The middlebrow is aspirational, respectful of culture and keen to connect with it, while at the same time commercially oriented. The middlebrow relies heavily on cultural mediators  critics, editors and salespeople  but this mediation must be in service of the audience. The middlebrow is feminized because of the women involved in its consumption and production and the way it is disparaged in gendered terms. The middlebrow is emotional, enabling cultural activity that is sentimental, empathetic, and therapeutic. The middlebrow is recreational, framed as domestic or entertaining rather than academic, and it is earnest, promoting a sense of social and moral responsibility.

Knowledge of these features allows us to see the sources of the pejorative sting attached to the middlebrow: particularly, its feminization and cultural aspirations. Yet these eight features also reveal the middlebrow to be a complex and vibrant cultural formation, operating across different registers but analytically robust enough to offer an important resource for cultural studies. The term middlebrow is worth keeping and using because it speaks to the endurance of a cultural hierarchy, at the same time as it reveals a particular set of relations between producers, mediators and consumers that continues to exert a powerful cultural force.

Beth Driscoll is a lecturer in Publishing and Communications at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The New Literary Middlebrow: Tastemakers and Reading in the Twenty-first Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).


An earlier version of some of the material in this article appears in Beth Driscoll, The New Literary Middlebrow: Tastemakers and Reading in the Twenty-First Century, 2014, Palgrave Macmillan, reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

  1. Beth Driscoll, "Could Not Put It Down," review of The Landing by Susan Johnson, Relativity by Antonia Hayes, and The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop, Sydney Review of Books, October 20, 2015. []
  2. Stephanie Bishop, Antonia Hayes, and Susan Johnson, "As One in Rejecting the Label 'Middlebrow,'" Sydney Review of Books, October 30, 2015. []
  3. Meredith Jaffe, "Middlebrow? What's so shameful about writing a book and hoping it sells?" The Guardian, November 4, 2015. []
  4. See, for example, Kat Mayo, "Who feels the stigma of the middlebrow? Not readers," Book Thingo (blog), November 14, 2015; Cassie Hamer, "Reading, Watching, and Writing: Weekly Round-Up," Book Birdy (blog), November 2, 2015; Ellen Akins, "Middlebrow furrowed," Ellen Akins (blog), November 5, 2015; Shan Williams, "Middlebrow Literature - Really?," Kath's Blog (blog), For Reading Addicts, November 8, 2015. []
  5. Bishop, Hayes, and Johnson, "As One in Rejecting." []
  6. Antonia Hayes, Twitter post, November 6, 2015, 12:56am. []
  7. Colin Irvine, "Sir Salman Rushdie: 'Fifty Shades of Grey Makes Twilight Look Like War and Peace,'" The Telegraph, October 9, 2012. []
  8. This article focuses on middlebrow culture in Anglophone countries, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States. For work on the middlebrow in other national contexts see, for example, Chinese Middlebrow Fiction from the Ch'ing and Early Republican Eras, ed. Liu Ts'un-Yan, (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1984); Jonathan M. Hess, Middlebrow Literature and the Making of German-Jewish Identity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010); Erica van Boven et al., "Middlebrow en modernisme. Een inleiding," TNTL (Journal for Dutch Language and Literature) 124 no. 4 (2008): 304 - 311. []
  9. For examples of this phrase, see Virginia Woolf, "Middlebrow," in The Death of the Moth (London: Hogarth Press, 1942), 113-119; and Middlebrow Literary Cultures: The Battle Of The Brows, 1920-1960, ed. Erica Brown and Mary Grover (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). []
  10. Woolf, "Middlebrow," 119. []
  11. Dwight MacDonald, Against The Grain: Essays On The Effects Of Mass Culture (New York: Vintage Books, 1962), 74 and 37. []
  12. Woolf, "Middlebrow," 115. []
  13. Macdonald, Against the Grain, 37. []
  14. David Haglund, "Is 'Middlebrow' Still An Insult?" Slate, October 12, 2011. []
  15. Claire Coleman, "Middlebrow And Proud: Experts Say It's Time To Embrace Middle-Of-The-Road Tastes (So You Can Stop Pretending To Love Opera!)" Daily Mail, August 1, 2011. []
  16. Joan Shelley Rubin, The Making Of Middlebrow Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992) and Janice Radway, A Feeling For Books: The Book-Of-The-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997). []
  17. Melissa Sullivan and Sophie Blanch, "Introduction: The Middlebrow - Within or Without Modernism," Modernist Cultures 6, no. 1 (2011): 1-17. []
  18. Beth Driscoll, The New Literary Middlebrow: Tastemakers and Reading in the Twenty-First Century (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). []
  19. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953), §66-69. []
  20. David Carter, "Middlebrow Book Culture," in The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Arts and Culture, ed. Laurie Hanquinet and Mike Savage (New York: Routledge, 2015), 356. []
  21. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique Of The Judgement Of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 58. []
  22. Q. D. Leavis, Fiction and the Reading Public (1932; reprint, London: Chatto & Windus, 1978); Graham Greene, Journey Without Maps (London: Heinemann, 1936); Woolf, "Middlebrow." []
  23. Leavis, Reading Public, 152. []
  24. Nicola Humble, The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 1920s to 1950s: Class, Domesticity And Bohemianism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 13. []
  25. Faye Hammill and Michelle Smith, Magazines, Travel, and Middlebrow Culture: Canadian Periodicals in English and French, 1925-1960 (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2015). []
  26. Radway, A Feeling for Books, 262. []
  27. Amy L. Blair, Reading Up: Middle-Class Readers and the Culture of Success in the Early Twentieth-Century United States, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011), 3. []
  28. Russell Lynes, "[Harper's] Reprint: 'Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow' (February 1949)." The Wilson Quarterly 1, no. 1 (1976): 146-58. The Wilson Quarterly reprinted, with an editorial forward and a postscript from Lynes, "a slightly condensed version" of Lynes's 1949 article, originally published in Harper's. Lynes, "Highbrow," 146. []
  29. A. O. Scott, "The Squeeze on the Middlebrow: A Resurgence in Inequality and Its Effects on Culture," New York Times, August 1, 2014. []
  30. Aimee Groth, "America's Middle Class is More Anxious Than Aspirational," Business Insider, April 26, 2013. []
  31. Eugenia Williamson, "Notes on Kampf," The Nation, April 28, 2015. []
  32. The survey gathered responses from over 161,000 people. It was complemented by a nationally representative sample survey, reported in Mike Savage et al.'s article, "A New Model of Social Class: Findings from the BBC's Great British Class Survey Experiment," Sociology 47, no. 2 (2013): 219-250. []
  33. Marilyn Poole, "The Women's Chapter: Women's Reading Groups in Victoria," Feminist Media Studies 3, no. 3 (2003): 278. []
  34. Driscoll, New Literary Middlebrow, 163. []
  35. Bourdieu, Distinction, 321. []
  36. Rubin, The Making Of Middlebrow Culture, 269. []
  37. Lynes, "Highbrow," 150 and 153. []
  38. Keir Keightley, "Music for Middlebrows: Defining the Easy Listening Era (1946-1966)," American Music 26, no. 3 (2008): 316. []
  39. Scott, "The Squeeze." []
  40. Ibid. []
  41. Quoted in Oxford English Dictionary Online, s. v. "Middlebrow," last modified March 2002. []
  42. Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, trans. Richard Nice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 129. []
  43. Macdonald, Against The Grain, 37. []
  44. Noel Murray, "Rise of the Middlebrow," AV Club, July 29, 2007. []
  45. Timothy Aubry, Reading As Therapy: What Contemporary Fiction Does For Middle-Class Americans (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011), 5-6. []
  46. See Claire Squires, Marketing Literature: The Making of Contemporary Writing in Britain (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). []
  47. Woolf, "Middlebrow," 117. []
  48. Ibid., 115. []
  49. Macdonald, Against The Grain, 37. []
  50. Radway, A Feeling for Books, 259. []
  51. Keightley, "Music for Middlebrows," 329 and 326. []
  52. Jeff Baker, "Oprah's Stamp of Approval Rubs Writer in Conflicted Ways," The Oregonian, October 12, 2001. []
  53. James Manheim, Review of "Andre Rieu: Special Collectors' Edition," All Music, 2007. []
  54. Andrew Messenger, "Is Baroque the most High-brow music?" CutCommon, July 6, 2014. []
  55. Belinda Edmondson, Caribbean Middlebrow: Leisure Culture And The Middle Class, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), 139 and 141. []
  56. Rubin, The Making Of Middlebrow Culture, xi. []
  57. See David Carter, "The Mystery of the Missing Middlebrow or the C(o)urse of Good Taste," in Imagining Australia: Literature and Culture In The New New World, ed. Judith Ryan and Chris Wallace-Crabbe (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 173-201. []
  58. Woolf, "Middlebrow," 115. []
  59. Bourdieu, Field, 42; Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. Richard Nice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 224. []
  60. Radway, A Feeling for Books, 161. []
  61. Janet Carey Eldred, Literate Zeal: Gender and the Making of a "New Yorker" Ethos (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), 44. []
  62. Victoria Grieve, The Federal Art Project and the Creation of Middlebrow Culture (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 4. []
  63. Macdonald, Against The Grain, 40. []
  64. Alicia Kopfstein-Penk, Leonard Bernstein and His Young People's Concerts (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), 49 and 51. []
  65. Robert Gottlieb, "Lenny!," The New York Review of Books, December 19, 2013. []
  66. For discussion of the controversial reception of Oprah Winfrey's tastemaking role, see R. Mark Hall, "The 'Oprahfication' of Literacy: Reading 'Oprah's Book Club'," College English 65, no. 6 (2003); Kathleen Rooney, Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2005); and The Oprah Affect: Critical Essays on Oprah's Book Club, ed. Cecilia Konchar Farr and Jaime Harker (New York: SUNY Press, 2008). []
  67. On Smith, see Macy Halford, "Reviewers on Reviewing," The New Yorker, February 8, 2011, and "On 'Middlebrow,'" The New Yorker, February 10, 2011. []
  68. David Wright, "Literary Taste and List Culture in a Time of 'Endless Choice,'" in From Codex to Hypertext: Reading at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, ed. Anouk Lang (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012). []
  69. See "Magic Tate Ball app," Tate, accessed April 29, 2016. []
  70. Jonathan Wild, "'A Strongly Felt Need': Wilfred Whitten/John O'London and the Rise of the New Reading Public," in Middlebrow Literary Cultures: The Battle Of The Brows, 1920-1960, ed. Erica Brown and Mary Grover, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 106. []
  71. Keightley, "Music for Middlebrows," 316. []
  72. Cecilia Konchar Farr, "Faulkner Novels of Our Own: Oprah's Middlebrow Book Club Meets the Classics," The Mississippi Quarterly, 66 no. 3 (2013): 423. []
  73. See, for example, Middlebrow Moderns: Popular American Women Writers of the 1920s, ed. Lisa Botshon and Meredith Goldsmith (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2003); and Jaime Harker, America the Middlebrow: Women's Novels, Progressivism, and Middlebrow Authorship Between the Wars (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007). []
  74. Kate Macdonald, The Masculine Middlebrow, 1880-1950: What Mr Miniver Read. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). []
  75. Jaime Harker, Middlebrow Queer: Christopher Isherwood in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013). []
  76. Nicola Humble, for example, analyzes works by authors such as Elizabeth Taylor, Stella Gibbons, and Nancy Mitford in her study, The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 1920s to 1950s: Class, Domesticity and Bohemianism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). In the 2011 special issue of Modernist Cultures, 6, no. 1, devoted to the middlebrow, Melissa Sullivan closely reads E. M. Delafield's fiction and journalism in "'I Turn with Immense Relief to Old Friend Time and Tide:' Middlebrow Expansions in E. M. Delafield's Fiction and Journalism," while Catherine Keyser examines the work of Dorothy Parker in "Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker 'In Broadway Playhouses:' Middlebrow Theatricality and Sophisticated Humour." Parker's middlebrowness has also been explored by Lauren Berlant in The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2008), 207-231. []
  77. Humble, The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 5. []
  78. Ibid., 9. []
  79. Andreas Huyssen, After The Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986). []
  80. Radway, A Feeling for Books, 189. []
  81. George Orwell, "Bookshop Memories," in Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, vol. 1 (London: Secker and Warburg, 1968 [1936]), 244. []
  82. Esther Sonnet, "Why Film Noir? Hollywood, Adaptation, and Women's Writing in the 1940s and 1950s," Adaptation 4, no. 1 (2011): 2. []
  83. Driscoll, The New Literary Middlebrow, 163. []
  84. Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. "sentiment," accessed April 30, 2016. []
  85. Woolf, "Middlebrow," 117. []
  86. Baker, "Oprah's Stamp," 5 []
  87. Radway, A Feeling for Books, 262, 283-4. []
  88. On One Book, One City, see Danielle Fuller and DeNel Rehberg Sedo, Reading Beyond the Book: The Social Practices of Contemporary Literary Culture (London: Routledge, 2013). []
  89. Aubry, Reading As Therapy, 1. []
  90. Robert McCrum, "Hilary Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies: A Middlebrow Triumph," The Guardian, January 29, 2013. []
  91. Ann Hornaday, "'Middlebrow' Doesn't Have to Be Bad: A Reappraisal of Likable Movies," The Washington Post, April 18, 2013. []
  92. "Art as Therapy," Alain de Botton, accessed April 18, 2016. []
  93. Adrian Searle, "Art Is Therapy review - de Botton as doorstepping self-help evangelist," The Guardian, April 25, 2014. []
  94. Ibid. []
  95. Rubin, The Making Of Middlebrow Culture, 27-28. []
  96. Nicola Humble, "Sitting Forward or Sitting Back: Highbrow v. Middlebrow Reading," Modernist Cultures 6, no. 1 (2011): 47. []
  97. Orwell, "Bookshop Memories," 246. []
  98. Humble, The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 108 and 109. []
  99. Coleman, "Middlebrow And Proud." []
  100. Fuller and Rehberg Sedo, Reading Beyond the Book, 4. []
  101. On the Caribbean, see Edmondson, Caribbean Middlebrow. []
  102. Rubin, The Making Of Middlebrow Culture, 329. []
  103. Tom Perrin, "Rebuilding Bildung: The Middlebrow Novel of Aesthetic Education in the Mid-Twentieth-Century United States," Novel 44, no. 3 (2011): 384. []
  104. Bourdieu, Field, 41. []
  105. Perrin, "Rebuilding Bildung," 397. []
  106. Caroline Pollentier, "Configuring Middleness: Bourdieu, l'Art Moyen and the Broadbrow," in Middlebrow Literary Cultures: The Battle Of The Brows, 1920-1960, ed. Erica Brown and Mary Grover (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 45. []
  107. Harker, America the Middlebrow, 23-52. []
  108. Elizabeth Long, Book Clubs: Women and the Uses Of Reading in Everyday Life (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003), 52. []
  109. Elizabeth McHenry, Forgotten Readers: Recovering The Lost History Of African-American Literary Societies (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002). []
  110. William Deresiewicz, "Upper Middle Brow: The Culture Of The Creative Class," The American Scholar, November 4, 2012. []
  111. McHenry, Forgotten Readers, 305. []
  112. "Oprah's Angel Network Fact Sheet," accessed June 6, 2016. []
  113. Phyllis Lassner, "Testing the Limits of the Middlebrow: The Holocaust for the Masses," Modernist Cultures 6, no. 1 (2011): 181 and 185. []
  114. Murray, "Rise of the Middlebrow." []
  115. Lawrence Napper, British Cinema and Middlebrow Culture in the Interwar Years (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2009). []
  116. Marilyn Johnson. "Oprah Winfrey: A Life in Books," Life, September 1997, 44. []
  117. Fuller and Rehberg Sedo, Reading Beyond the Book, 211. []
  118. Tom Funk, in Lynes, "Highbrow," 154 - 155, chart; Tad Friend, "The Case For Middlebrow," New Republic, February 3, 1992; Devin Friedman, "Middlebrow: The Taste That Dare Not Speak Its Name," GQ, June 10, 2011. []
  119. Thomas Mallon and Pankaj Mishra, "Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow  Do These Kinds Of Cultural Categories Mean Anything Anymore?" The New York Times (Sunday Book Review), July 29, 2014. []
  120. Lynden Barber, "Why Australia Should Produce More Middlebrow Movies," SBS Movies, January 8, 2015; Ross Douthat, "The Crisis Of The Middlebrow Movie," The Atlantic, February 17, 2009. []