Diana Holmes, Middlebrow Matters
Women’s reading and the literary canon in France since the Belle Époque, Liverpool University Press, 2018
This is the first book to study the middlebrow novel in France. Middlebrow is a derogatory word that connotes blandness, mediocrity and a failed aspiration to ‘high’ culture. However, when appropriated as a positive term to denote that wide swathe of literature between the challenging experimentalism of the high and the formulaic tendency of the popular, it enables a rethinking of the literary canon from the point of view of what most readers actually read, a criterion curiously absent from dominant definitions of literary value. Since women have long formed a majority of the reading public, this perspective immediately feminises what has always been a very male canon. Opening with a theorisation of the concept of middlebrow that mounts a defence of some literary qualities disdained by modernism, the book then focuses on a series of case studies of periods (the Belle Époque, inter-war, early twenty-first century), authors (including Colette, Irène Nemirovsky, Françoise Sagan, Anna Gavalda) and the middlebrow nature of literary prizes. It concludes with a double reading of a single text, from the perspective of an academic critic, and from that of a middlebrow reader.
Diana Holmes is Professor of French at the University of Leeds.