Women's reading and the literary canon in France since the Belle Epoque. Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures 57
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 Epoque, inter-war, early twenty-first century), authors (including Colette, Irene Nemirovsky, Francoise 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.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"This is a much needed study: the first sustained analysis of middlebrow literary culture in France, and the first analysis of the relevance of the critical concept of 'middlebrow' in a French context. There has, to date, been hardly any research on non-anglophone middlebrow cultures, therefore this excellent book will be most warmly welcomed by scholars. It is a major research achievement in itself, and it opens up many new avenues for future work. Its three main strengths are the sheer originality of the analysis, the insightfulness of the close readings, and the immaculate writing style."
Faye Hammill, University of Glasgow "Holmes's book is an outstanding contribution to French studies. Its analysis of the `French middlebrow' is pioneering and will make readers reformulate their views of the French novel, both modern and earlier."
Alison Finch, University of Cambridge