Mapping the middlebrow in Edwardian England
We are sick to death of the assorted panaceas, of the general acquiescence of artists, of their agreement to have perfect manners, and to mention absolutely nothing unpleasant.
Realism in literature has had its run …
The artist has been at peace with his oppressors for long enough. He has dabbled in democracy and he is now done with that folly …The aristocracy of commerce is decaying, the aristocracy of the arts is ready again for its service
And the public will do well to resent these “new” kinds of art.
Ezra Pound, “The New Sculpture” 1
Ezra Pound's essay for the Egoist on “The New Sculpture” in 1914 provides a useful point of departure for this chapter's consideration of an arena of literary production that the Joyce—Eliot—Pound nexus of modernism obscures entirely from history: the sphere of the middlebrow in Edwardian England. The work of Netta Syrett (1865–1943), a middlebrow writer of feminist women's fiction who published prolifically between 1895 and 1940, will provide the occasion in this chapter to register depth and subtle contrast in a terrain that her avant-garde contemporaries viewed only as a vast, flat wasteland. Before introducing her or looking closely at her work, however, it is helpful to unpack Pound's contribution to the controversy raging in 1914 over Jacob Epstein's sculpture.
Viewing this controversy in the visual arts as an opportunity to establish aesthetic policy in the realm of the verbal arts, Pound accomplishes several things with his usual truculence in “The New Sculpture. ” First, as is also the case in manifestos by D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf such as “Surgery for the Novel — Or a Bomb” and “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown, ” Pound collapses all distinctions among a plethora of nonmodernist contemporary writers in order to distinguish “new” art from