Middlebrow Gothic: Dark Domesticity in British Popular Fiction, 1920-1960 (Deadline Extended)

deadline for submissions: 
August 14, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Christopher Yiannitsaros

Commenting on Ivy Compton-Burnett’s subtly brutal A House and Its Head (1935), Francine Prose argues that the author’s portrayal of domestic life works to illuminate ‘the fear of being humiliated, bullied, silenced, and ignored, the fear of eternal incarceration in the prison of the family’. Bearing this sense of domestic peril and claustrophobia in mind, it can be argued that portrayals of home and family provide one of the foremost intersections between the twentieth century middlebrow novel and the older literary tradition of the Gothic. 


Nicola Humble has convincingly demonstrated in her influential The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 1920s to 1950s(2001) that discourses of ‘home’ were subject to considerable public discussion following the disturbances to ordinary family life caused by the two World Wars. Yet, despite the valorisation of domesticity in commercial and cultural spheres, many authors from within middlebrow literary culture responded by producing fictions which reveal the home to be anything but a sanctuary. Many middlebrow authors borrowed from the Gothic tradition to transfigure the middle-class family home into a disorderly site of buried secrets, maltreatment and paranoia. However, this dark re-imagining of the home has not yet been fully explored in either critical discussions of middlebrow literary culture or of twentieth century Gothic.


Since the early 2000s, literary Modernism has benefited from a wanted re-evaluation in term of its relationship with the Gothic, with articles, book chapters and edited collections that have challenged the received view that the textual conventions and affective responses of the Gothic are somehow incongruent with the bright and dazzling new world of twentieth century modernity. However, the same has not been true of Modernism’s ‘other’ – the middlebrow, produced chronologically alongside the works of canonical Modernism, but more conventional in narrative structure and with a more staunchly aspirational middle-class readership in mind. Rather than re-cooperate works by writers such as Agatha Christie, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Stella Gibbons, Dodie Smith and Diana Tutton into canons of ‘domestic-‘, ‘inter-‘ or ‘popular-’ Modernisms, this edited collection of essays aims to celebrate their status as middlebrow, investigating some of the inherent cross-currents between middlebrow literary culture and the Gothic: connections in terms of content, readership and their positioning within aesthetic hierarchies as foibles to more monolithic literary movements.

Topics for contributions may include but are not limited to:



  • Murder, cruelty and the ‘family romance’.
  • War, trauma and Gothic narratives (for example, in works by Rebecca West or Elizabeth Bowen).
  • Magical realism and the everyday fantastic (for example, in works by Frank Barker, Rachel Ferguson or Barbara Comyns).
  • Gothic romance novels (for example, the works of Daphen du Maurier, Victoria Holt etc.)
  • Legacies/continuations/re-writings of Victorian forms of popular Gothic (sensation fiction, detective stories).
  • Gothic geographies: dark representations of the countryside and/or the city.
  • Irish Gothic and the ‘Big House’ novel.
  • Ghosts and ghosted texts.
  • Gothic mothers/Gothic fathers/Gothic children.
  • Gothic responses to developments in psychoanalysis.
  • Middlebrow parodies of the Gothic.
  • Chinoiserie, ‘Orientalism’ and other forms of dark, racial ‘othering’.



Submit abstracts of up to 450 words, along with a brief biographical note to 

Dr Christopher Yiannitsaros at middlebrowgothic@gmail.com by August 14th 2020


Potential authors will be notified if their essay has been selected for inclusion within Middlebrow Gothic by August 31st 2020. Completed essays of 6000-8000 words will be due by January 31st 2021.