ENGL 546 B: Topics In Twentieth-Century Literature

Middlebrow/Modernism: Networks & Research

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 5:20pm
Location: 
THO 217
SLN: 
14050
Instructor:
Jessica Burstein
Jessica Burstein

Syllabus Description:

Middlebrow / Modernism: Networks and Research "The BBC claim to have discovered a new type, the 'middlebrow'. It consists of people who are hoping that some day they will get used to the stuff they ought to like." --Punch, 23 December 1925.

We are well after the Great Divide and it is impossible to account for modernism as an elite or hermetically sealed institution: it includes realms called and contested as middlebrow, and the popular. With its eye to the middlebrow, this research-intensive course focuses primarily on the novel, but also includes plays and periodicals, engaging British and American modernism and modernity in a variety of forms and locales. The student will be exposed to the burgeoning field of modernist periodical studies as well as lively current critical conversations in modernist studies, for what middlebrow means continues to be debated. (N. B. Some previous acquaintance with modernism would be useful.) We will orient ourselves in the primary texts that gave rise to the "battle of the brows," employ the British-based Middlebrow Network, and then turn to novels: mysteries, domestic fictions/"the woman's novel", and satires—always page-turnable. (In many ways this course looks beyond Richard Poirier's eminently quotable 1978 account that "modernism happened when reading got to be grim.") The marketing of culture, class/class anxiety, questions of taste (good and bad) and sophistication recur, alongside recurrent motifs involving domesticity, the relation of the urban to the non-urban, and the uneasy status of the female writer/producer/taste-maker.

Texts/authors may include: E. M. Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady, Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, Nancy Mitford, Stella Gibbons, Cold Country Farm, Michael Arlen, The Green Hat, Dorothy Parker's poetry, short stories, and reviews; one of Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels or some of her/his stories, Noël Coward's Design for Living (in play and hopefully cinematic form), perhaps Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and some engagement with middlebrow magazines from the period—such as The New Yorker, Smart Set, Vanity Fair, Time and Tide —and therefore a brief brush with periodical studies. We will also use the wonderful work of the online Modernist Journals Project, perhaps to look at what was going on in magazines when Virginia Woolf—who published in Vogue and Good Housekeeping, and wrote but didn't send a letter to a magazine ending "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"--made her pronouncement that on or about 1910 human character changed.

That's to say you'll spend some time figuring out how to use the wealth available in archives in order to produce a critically valuable statement, or as it is known in the world of the dissertation, a thesis. Therefore, in addition to exploring the realms of the middlebrow and spaces exceeding those of so-called high modernism, the point of this course is to teach students to conduct historical research that is sensitive to form, negotiating archives as well as working with an eye toward concrete results, and to acquaint students with some modernist resources and texts in excess of the realms of the canonical.

Students will be responsible for class presentations, producing a response to a CFP (Call for Papers), a final 10 page conference paper that they will present to our course's culminating "Middlebrow Modernism" conference, and an oral response to another student's paper presentation.

Additional Details:

"The BBC claim to have discovered a new type, the 'middlebrow'. It consists of people who are hoping that some day they will get used to the stuff they ought to like." --Punch, 23 December 1925.

We are well after the Great Divide and it is impossible to account for modernism as an elite or hermetically sealed institution: it includes realms called and contested as middlebrow, and the popular. With its eye to the middlebrow, this research-intensive course focuses primarily on the novel, but also includes plays and periodicals, engaging British and American modernism and modernity in a variety of forms and locales. The student will be exposed to the burgeoning field of modernist periodical studies as well as lively current critical conversations in modernist studies, for what middlebrow means continues to be debated. (N. B. Some previous acquaintance with modernism would be useful.)

We will orient ourselves in the primary texts that gave rise to the "battle of the brows," employ the British-based Middlebrow Network, and then turn to novels: mysteries, domestic fictions/"the woman's novel", and satires—always page-turnable. (In many ways this course looks beyond Richard Poirier's eminently quotable 1978 account that "modernism happened when reading got to be grim.") The marketing of culture, class/class anxiety, questions of taste (good and bad) and sophistication recur, alongside recurrent motifs involving domesticity, the relation of the urban to the non-urban, and the uneasy status of the female writer/producer/taste-maker.

Texts/authors may include: E. M. Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady, Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, Nancy Mitford, Stella Gibbons, Cold Country Farm, Michael Arlen, The Green Hat, Dorothy Parker's poetry, short stories, and reviews; one of Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels or some of her/his stories, Noël Coward's Design for Living (in play and hopefully cinematic form), perhaps Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and some engagement with middlebrow magazines from the period—such as The New Yorker, Smart Set, Vanity Fair, Time and Tide —and therefore a brush with periodical studies. We will also use the wonderful work of the online Modernist Journals Project, perhaps to look at what was going on in magazines when Virginia Woolf—who published in Vogue and Good Housekeeping, and wrote but didn't send a letter to a magazine ending "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"--made her pronouncement that on or about 1910 human character changed.

That's to say you'll spend some time figuring out how to use the wealth available in archives in order to produce a critically valuable statement, or as it is known in the world of the dissertation, a thesis. Therefore, in addition to exploring the realms of the middlebrow and spaces exceeding those of so-called high modernism, the point of this course is to teach students to conduct historical research that is sensitive to form, negotiating archives as well as working with an eye toward concrete results, and to acquaint students with some modernist resources and texts in excess of the realms of the canonical.

Students will be responsible for class presentations, producing a response to a CFP (Call for Papers), a final 10 page conference paper that they will present to our course's culminating "Middlebrow Modernism" conference, and an oral response to another student's paper presentation.

Status: 
Active
Last updated: 
March 21, 2016 - 9:07am