Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The 'feminine middlebrow' novel

A few years ago I studied for an English degree as a mature student. When it came to my dissertation I knew that I wanted to examine women writers who came to prominence in the mid-twentieth century, writers such as Rebecca West, Elizabeth Taylor, Nancy Mitford and Dodie Smith. I also wanted to defend reading purely for pleasure. I wasn't sure how to define the genre until I came across Nicola Humble's wonderful book The Feminine Middlebrow Novel 1920's-1950's: Class, Domesticity and Bohemianism. In the end Rebecca West was the sole subject of my dissertation. It wasn't particularly groundbreaking - I've always been more of a reader than a writer - but it was a valuable exercise in defining why I read and what I read. I'm not an academic. I don't want to examine a novel for Marxist/Freudian/feminist themes (although I'm not saying that that is not a valuable exercise). I prefer a surrendered read and I prefer to read those forgotten novels by women writers that our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers may have read and loved.

6 comments:

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

I remember reading a couple of novels when I was a teenager that were on my mother's bookshelf. I can still remember the feeling of reading them and the link I felt with my mother because they were her books. I still remember them all these years later — though not necessarily the story lines!

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

oh how l agree...as an undergrad with the OU...i have studied P+P and was really pissed off with the critical analysis...it almost ruined the book and any other classic....this isn't how they wrote but its apparently how we understand and draw out the subtleties..bollocks...ok so l did it for the course but it was horrid..l bet she turns in her grave ...

kristina said...

I too did my BA in literature. And while I loved reading and discussing the novels on the syllabus, I never really enjoyed the critical essays!

Cornflower said...

I'm off to look up Nicola Humble's book.....

Vintage Reading said...

Linda, I do think that reading books your mother or grandmother read forges a special link - I'm going to investigate this theme a bit more.

Saz. Heh. I was a rebel student, too.

Kristina, I'm glad I got the BA and I liked the reading part, it was the writing and the time it took I wasn't so keen on.

Karen, I have see the Humble reviewed on another blog. Maybe Random Jottings? I can't remember.

JRSM said...

To chip in with a bloke's view, I agree with everything you said: I need to find Nicola Humble's book. I read everything I can get my hands on from Persephone and the older Virago Modern Classics list (before they cut back and chucked all the more obscure stuff). And anyone who rates Willa Cather is OK by me!