The Ordeal of Warwick Deeping: Middlebrow Authorship and Cultural Embarrassment

The Ordeal of Warwick Deeping: Middlebrow Authorship and Cultural Embarrassment

The Ordeal of Warwick Deeping: Middlebrow Authorship and Cultural Embarrassment

The Ordeal of Warwick Deeping: Middlebrow Authorship and Cultural Embarrassment

Synopsis

Grover examines how the hierarchical structures of taste implied by the term middlebrow were negotiated by the novelist Warwick Deeping (1877-1950). Deeping is the focus for three reasons: he was immensely popular, prolific, and his popularity was percieved by such critics as Q.D. Leavis as a threat to the 'sensitive minority'.

Excerpt

The problem of petty-bourgeois taste, culture, and expression re
mains to this day a largely neglected question for cultural studies
and a formidable obstacle to a left cultural politics.

In 1925 sorrell and son was published. it gradually became one of the most enduring best-sellers in Britain, Europe, and the United States, “41 editions and innumerable impressions, read and reread long out of its time.” It was last published in Britain in 1984 following a successful television adaptation in 1983. the familiarity of readers between the wars with the name of its author, Warwick Deeping, was principally with this one text but it was only one of a group of his novels to achieve best-seller status in the 1920s and 1930s. From the beginning of his publishing career, in 1903, his novels sold well. the sixty-eight novels of Warwick Deeping, published from 1903 to 1957, are a sequence of texts within which we can trace the development of an author’s bitter contestation of the place in the cultural hierarchy to which these texts are being consigned. the study of how cultural hierarchies are constructed and how texts are generated, within and in contestation with those hierarchies, poses problems for researchers not least because they are themselves operating within similar hierarchies. This introduction explores ways of addressing the questions posed by the salient feature of my material: the acute self-consciousness of the author whose chief subjects were shame and the threat of humiliation. the nature of my questions derive from Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of the relation of middlebrow to highbrow culture, but some of the answers lead me to challenge some of Bourdieu’s assumptions.

A useful illustration of the increasing social sensitivity of matters of taste in the 1930s is the synchronicity of three texts, all written or published in 1932. One is an unpublished letter from Virginia Woolf, the second is Q. D. Leavis’s Fiction and the Reading Public, and the third is Warwick Deeping’s Old Wine and New, a self-justificatory dramatization of the reception of Sorrell and Son (1925) which I discuss later, in chapter 4.

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