The Making of Middlebrow Culture

The Making of Middlebrow Culture

by Joan Shelley Rubin
     
 

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The proliferation of book clubs, reading groups, "outline" volumes, and new forms of book reviewing in the first half of the twentieth century influenced the tastes and pastimes of millions of Americans. Joan Rubin here provides the first comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon, the rise of American middlebrow culture, and the values encompassed by it.
Rubin

Overview

The proliferation of book clubs, reading groups, "outline" volumes, and new forms of book reviewing in the first half of the twentieth century influenced the tastes and pastimes of millions of Americans. Joan Rubin here provides the first comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon, the rise of American middlebrow culture, and the values encompassed by it.
Rubin centers her discussion on five important expressions of the middlebrow: the founding of the Book-of-the-Month Club; the beginnings of "great books" programs; the creation of the New York Herald Tribune's book-review section; the popularity of such works as Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy; and the emergence of literary radio programs. She also investigates the lives and expectations of the individuals who shaped these middlebrow institutions--such figures as Stuart Pratt Sherman, Irita Van Doren, Henry Seidel Canby, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, John Erskine, William Lyon Phelps, Alexander Woollcott, and Clifton Fadiman.
Moreover, as she pursues the significance of these cultural intermediaries who connected elites and the masses by interpreting ideas to the public, Rubin forces a reconsideration of the boundary between high culture and popular sensibility.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rubin's ( Constance Rourke and American Culture ) discussion of American culture from the 1920s through the 1940s is less revealing of middlebrow values and attitudes than of what the people who dispensed packaged culture thought such attitudes were. She offers entertaining details on the instruments of middlebrow culture and their creators: the heyday of the New York Herald Tribune' s books section, the early years of the Book-of-the-Month Club and the ``great books'' movement, the first literary radio shows and the then-popular ``outline'' volume. She examines the tension between informing the public and forming its tastes, between marketing knowledge and standardizing it. Rather less interesting is Rubin's preoccupation with the relationship of her subjects to academia, for example, ``great books'' originator John Erskine (an insider) and BOMC book critic Dorothy Canfield Fisher (an outsider). However, there is much to enjoy in her accounts, and as an added bonus the book itself demonstrates that middlebrow culture lives on: Rubin received NEH funds ``to bring the results of cultural activities to a broad, general public''--thus, it's a middlebrow work. (Mar.)
Booknews
Examines the form, content, and proliferation of book clubs, reading groups, first half of the 20th century--and the values encompassed by this democratization of culture. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
A significant book.

James Gilbert, Reviews in American History

[An] absorbing study.

New York Times Book Review

[An] intelligent and readable book.

Daniel Aaron, New Republic

A welcome scholarly reappraisal of a neglected chapter in America's impulse toward education and self-improvement.

Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807864265
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
11/09/2000
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
438
File size:
3 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
A fascinating account of efforts to raise the playing field of national taste by bringing Arnold's 'best that was thought and said' into the American living room.—Georgia Review

Not only has Ms. Rubin found a way to make [the middlebrow critics] shine again, but she also makes us understand why they mattered in the first place. And by understanding that we can see more clearly why American book culture, for better and for worse, is what it is today.—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

[An] absorbing study.—New York Times Book Review

Joan Rubin's clear, careful, and illuminating account of the creation of middlebrow culture in the early years of the twentieth century constitutes the first sustained effort to understand this much-maligned phenomenon. Her judicious appraisal of the missionary zeal exhibited by cultural entrepreneurs and institutions like Stuart Sherman, John Erskine, Will Durant, and the Book-of-the-Month Club adds significantly to our developing understanding of the creation of cultural hierarchy in the United States. The Making of Middlebrow Culture expertly continues the work begun by Lawrence Levine in Highbrow/Lowbrow. It should be read by anyone interested in the cultural life of middle-class Americans.—Janice A. Radway, Duke University

A distinguished piece of work. It will quickly become an often-quoted volume in the burgeoning field of American cultural studies. This is history that helps us understand ourselves because it makes our culture transparent; it shows us how our culture informs and deforms us. . . . The research effort is stupendous and the writing is excellent.—Richard Wightman Fox, Boston University

[An] intelligent and readable book.—Daniel Aaron, New Republic

A significant book. [Rubin] has asked pertinent questions and revealed some of the important outlines of what should become a major exploration of an element of twentieth-century culture that has not so much been ignored as dismissed as white noise that blurs the more exciting rhythms and melodies of mass and elite culture.—James Gilbert, Reviews in American History

A welcome scholarly reappraisal of a neglected chapter in America's impulse toward education and self-improvement, and most interesting in the perspective of today's debates on curriculum and 'great books.'—Kirkus Reviews

Meet the Author

Joan Shelley Rubin, professor of history at the University of Rochester, is author of Constance Rourke and American Culture.

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