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  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by snowbell at 14:15 on 15 February 2007
    Sorry Deb - wasn't knee-jerking at all. The entire post wasn't really a big argument against your statement so much as inspired by, if you like. It is something I have thought about before.

    But you're not defining what you mean. I did not say crowd-pleasers. I was talking about a very specific kind of play where it pretends there is more to it than there is, basically, so the audience can feel pleased with themselves for going to it even if it says nothing at all. A crowd-pleaser can be anything from a pantomime to A Midsummer Night's Dream - which is obviously a fantastic play.

    I was trying to define the term and the problem that maybe people have with it. To say that everything that is "intelligent" is high-brow or middle-brow and everything else low-brow exactly illustrates my problem. What about Carry On Films. They are low-brown with a capital Low. Or Up, Pompei. But both are verbal and cleverly written. (well some anyway!) And if it's not about verbosity - what about Chaplin, who did so much sophisticated visual comedy. Is "The Kid" low-brow then? "The Gold Rush". I would argue those films had a lot to say about the times and the nature of desire and poverty.

    We all obviously have different notions of what the terms means. Which is why I said maybe the terms need to be chucked out the window. Perhaps I'll look it up on wikipedia...
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by snowbell at 14:18 on 15 February 2007
    Aha! From wikipedia. I think this maybe illustrates what I was trying to say much better and more succinctly than I could:

    According to the OED, the term �middlebrow� first made an appearance in 1925, in Punch: �it consists of people who are hoping that some day they will get used to the stuff that they ought to like.�


    Ooo. I don't know why it got all exotic over the speechmarks but there you go...
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by Account Closed at 14:20 on 15 February 2007
    Jane Espenson (who is wise in these matters) has some interesting
    posts on the subject of lowbrow and highbrow comedy.


    By the way I would assume most people consider Blackadder to be highbrow comedy (although it has its fair share of knob gags) and Up Pompeii to be lowbrow comedy... but I read this on Wikipedia recently which I thought was quite an interesting comparison...

    The plot device of a 'modern' man in ancient times is not new, and has a venerable history in fiction.

    In TV comedies, perhaps the most obvious 'ancestor' of the Blackadder series is Up Pompeii. The series, starring Frankie Howerd as Lurcio, was set in ancient Rome and made similar play with historical characters. Even the apparent 'reincarnation' device found in Blackadder [8] is also used. The TV series inspired three feature films, the first of which, Up Pompeii!, was also set in Imperial Rome with Howerd as Lurcio. The film ended with the eruption of Vesuvius and had a final scene set in the present day, in which the actors all played tourists closely resembling their ancient roles, with Howerd being a tour guide, showing them around the ruins of Pompeii. The second was set in medieval times and called Up the Chastity Belt, with Howerd's character as 'Lurkalot' (cf The Black Adder). In this, Howerd's character is discovered to be a double of Richard Lionheart, and later assumes the throne under his identity while the real king leads a bawdy life as Lurkalot (cf Blackadder the Third). Most strikingly, the third and final Up ... film, Up the Front, sees Howerd's character reborn as 'Private Lurk' and fighting in the First World War (cf Blackadder Goes Forth).
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by snowbell at 14:26 on 15 February 2007
    Thanks Griff. That was fun. I don't know that it's a fruitful line of enquiry really the high-brow and low-brow of comedy. Maybe we should just chuck all the brows out the window. What I don't like is something pretending to be something it isn't I suppose.


    Of course Up Pompei is now on BBC4. What does that say?
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by Account Closed at 15:00 on 15 February 2007
    There are so many pieces that substitute repetitious cod lyricism, superficial analogies with science that mean nothing and reveal nothing about science or art, a sonorous overly earnest serious voice to represent "serious" issues (just in case we snigger at the wrong point? I don't know) and something Emma brought up recently - the idea that dumping in some sort of angsty subject: anorexia, child abuse etc, in the right sonorous way is a substitute for saying anything and - lastly and most importantly - the idea that something is going to be explored in depth and then what we end up with is nothing more that some easy reinforcement of the values of that audience with no questioning.

    I think this is especially rife in 'serious' historical fiction (or costume drama, for that matter) where the staggering conclusion is often something like 'women should be allowed to vote', 'slavery is rather limiting to the personal growth of the enslaved individual', 'it's really rather unfair that unwed mothers are ostracised by their families and have to turn to prostitution to feed their babies', 'we must not be snobbish about lower-middle-class girls who end up marrying dukes (even if they have embarrassing parents)', 'work-houses: how to improve them?', or 'rich landlords are, generally speaking, selfish bastards who seduce dairy-maids and turn tenants out of their cottages, so let's all vote for Lloyd George'.

    ('Pretending to be something it isn't' -- that's precisely it, I suppose. Pretending to be relevant social commentary when the social commentary is so late it's been a clich for the past two hundred years. And yet it somehow passes as important and edifying in today's society.)

    I'm not sure, though, that 'middle-brow' itself is necessarily to blame for this. There's lots of middle-brow literature that manages to engage a middle-brow audience and typically middle-brow issues in ways that are original, entertaining and even subversive (though usually not overtly: kind of like Austen and her ilk with their 'laughing feminism'. Indeed, it's probably more difficult to write good middle-brow fiction than the extreme ends of the spectrum.


    Stupid smileys. I'll vote for anyone who bans them.


    By the way, I've never understood how Elizabeth Bowen got to be classified as middle-brow. I don't think you can get much more literary, or in some places even opaque, than The Death of the Heart or The Heat of the Day. In many ways she's like a Woolf with fewer semi-colons.
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by snowbell at 15:04 on 15 February 2007
    Yes yes Fredegonde. Your post was really funny. And I agree.

    Indeed, it's probably more difficult to write good middle-brow fiction than the extreme ends of the spectrum.

    Maybe you're right. But I think we are all just struggling with the definition. We all seem to have picked up a notion of middle-brow from somewhere and none of them match. I was trying to list my associations with it: but obviously that is not a definition. How would you define it?


    There seems to be a historical usage from Woolf etc, but I'm not sure that is what people are on about these days.


    That yes yes looks impatient. It was meant to be celebratory!
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by EmmaD at 15:54 on 15 February 2007
    Fredegonde, I'd agree about Bowen - wonderful, wonderful writer that she is - she is at the very highest end of the middle brow in Humble's spectrum, not least because of her subject matter, more than her style, perhaps. And I suspect a man writing in a similar way wouldn't have got parked there, but only Woolf seems to have managed to transcend her gender completely successfully at the time.

    I do think you'd like that book, by the way. I've lent it to someone, or I'd post her definition of 'middlebrow' here.



    I mean, it's Bowen's subject matter that means she squeezes into middlebrow, while her style is pretty highbrow.
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by snowbell at 16:42 on 15 February 2007
    Perhaps there is not a correlation between novels and theatre then. I'm not sure.
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by polysharratt1 at 08:46 on 16 February 2007
    This thread is really interesting.

    When I think about mid brow I suppose I come at it from the background of working on newspapers and community papers, getting educated gradually and thinking of putting together some kind of mix for a paper that could grow, a space where you're really seeking out connections in your own small, fragile way. But a place where you create something beautiful as a by product of your activity.

    I suppose what I mean is communication that is trying to produce a form of communication that is unmediated by anything other than what it is. That is true of all art, anything that's worthwhile. It is created from a drive to make sense of things.

    I think that class is relevant here because very often our life chances are mediated by institutional responses to our social position. Perhaps literary fiction or midbrow work generally is work where this is made explicit or implicit, so in a way making visible some of the structures of thought, action and being in our hearts, minds and everyday lives...
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by debac at 09:28 on 16 February 2007
    Sorry Deb - wasn't knee-jerking at all

    Oh, I didn't mean that I minded! I think we've both agreed that the confusion arises from the fact that everyone interprets these terms slightly differently!

    Carry On Films. They are low-brown

    I love your Freudian slip - and how accurate!!

    Brings to mind "Dan Dan the lavatory man", and "Do you mind if I smoke?" from Carry On Screaming, which I always thought was the best one. Anyone think Liam and Noel G look like Odbod and Odbod Junior?

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by Account Closed at 11:29 on 16 February 2007
    I think Screaming is definitely my favourite Carry On... so many of my favourite actors in it (Kenneth Williams, Harry H.Corbett, Jon Pertwee, Joan Sims...), much better jokes than a lot of the others, and Fenella Fielding is just fabulous. "Oh, Oddbod, if only you weren't so damned attractive..."

    I haven't seen Cleo in a long time though.
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by debac at 12:00 on 16 February 2007
    Yes, FF was excellent! I don't remember Jon Pertwee - who did he play?



    I mean I don't remember JP in that film...

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by Account Closed at 12:10 on 16 February 2007
    Pertwee is "Dr.Fettle", the mad scientist who (IIRC) grows Oddbod Junior from the severed finger...
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by debac at 12:45 on 16 February 2007
    Ah thanks! I remember the scene but don't remember him in it for some reason. I guess I mostly watched the film when I was quite young, so less into spotting actors!

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by snowbell at 13:45 on 16 February 2007
    Debac - I didn't see that slip. Eek.

    I suppose knee-jerk means coming out with something without thinking. But I suppose I was trying to say this is something I have thought about a lot in relation to theatre having seen so many examples of this kind of play. Perhaps I need another definition for the kind of thing I'm thinking of...I'll have to try and think of something

    EmmaD was saying that lots of people complain about what they call middlebrow. I suppose it might be interesting to know what THEY define it as and why they object to it. There must be some modern associations that the term. Do you know, Emma, what they mean or are referring to?
  • This 182 message thread spans 13 pages:  < <   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11  12  13  > >