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.