CFP: [20th] the masculine middlebrow reader, 1880-1950

full name / name of organization: 
Kate Macdonald
contact email: 


What Did Mr Miniver Read?
The Fears and Aspirations of the "Masculine Middlebrow" Writer, 1880-1950

A two-day conference hosted by the Institute of English Studies

13-14 March 2009

Writers of the feminine middlebrow have been studied with increasing
discernment and energy since the publication of many forgotten titles by
women novelists by Virago from 1977, and by Persephone Books from 1999.
Increasingly research has sought to link texts by both male and female
writers associated with middlebrow tastes and to identify the kinds of
cultural status they were afforded or denied. This conference focuses on
the masculine middlebrow: texts aimed at Mr rather than Mrs Miniver. We aim
to look in the den, and on his side of the bed, rather than on her bedside

‘Middlebrow' was a pejorative term by 1925, and can be traced as an
increasingly complex social indicator until after the Second World War. The
cultural tastes of the ‘middling sorts' became increasingly difficult to
police and categorise. Though the cultural distinctions reflected in the
use of the term persist to this day, we wish to encourage examination of
the texts produced during the period when the culture wars were fiercest:
the period 1880-1950.

In rereading texts, some forgotten and long disregarded, we also revisit
works which are unfashionable and morally repugnant to many in our own
time. For a better understanding of middlebrow we need to be open to these
aspects, and to understand what the ‘ordinary' reader of the day was
absorbing from the texts of the ‘masculine middlebrow'.

We invite abstracts for papers which consider the fears and aspirations
expressed in middlebrow texts by masculine authors and which were
associated with a ‘middlebrow' readership. We are particularly interested
in issues arising from the list of suggestions below.

    * Which periodicals were associated with a masculine middlebrow audience?
    * Did certain genres, such as travel, biographies, and whodunits,
address a specifically masculine rather than a feminine readership?
    * Can ‘masculine middlebrow' reading be associated with different
social classes? Which cultural zones can be securely identified with class
    * Did club libraries have the same reading and borrowing patterns as
municipal libraries, works libraries, or army libraries?
    * Who was ‘safe'? Why were some novelists associated with ‘the ageing
intellectual'? Why was Shakespeare ‘nasty ranting stuff'? What role did
anti-intellectualism play?
    * Was John Buchan read for his historical novels or his thrillers? What
happened to the masculine middlebrow texts that crossed the borders of
cultural classification?
    * What role did texts about the occult play in middlebrow reading? We
are interested in papers which relate the esoterica of Charles Williams,
Aleister Crowley and Arthur Machen to their readers' lives and wishes.
    * How did society deal with ‘problem' novelists, such as Warwick
Deeping, Gilbert Frankau, and A S M Hutchinson?
    * Who were the taste formers of the ‘masculine middlebrow'? How
influential were Arnold Bennett and J.B. Priestley, for example, as
novelists and journalists?

You should expect your final conference presentation to last for 20
minutes. Please attach this information to your abstracts:

    * name
    * academic affiliation (not obligatory: we welcome contributions from
independent scholars)
    * contact email address
    * any relevant publications
    * a short account of how masculine middlebrow fits into your past or
current research (this is without prejudice to your application: it will
help us understand which authors or issues are being worked on, and where)
    * whether you need an early decision on acceptance to enable an
application for travel funding to be made
    * whether you need particular facilities or equipment for your proposed

Organisers: Dr Mary Grover, University of Sheffield Hallam
( and Dr Kate Macdonald, University of Ghent
( Please send abstracts to
by 28 September 2008.

Enquiries: Jon Millington, Events Officer, Institute of English Studies,
Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU; tel +44 (0) 207 664 4859;

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Received on Tue Apr 15 2008 - 10:19:46 EDT