Middlebrow Matters

BookOpen AccessMiddlebrow Matters

Middlebrow Matters

Women's reading and the literary canon in France since the Belle Époque

Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures, 57


November 30th, 2018


Read now

Read (Open Access)

Download (PDF)


Other Formats


An Open Access edition of this book is available on the Liverpool University Press website and the OAPEN library.
Winner of the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for French and Francophone Studies, 2018.

This is the first book to study the middlebrow novel in France. Middlebrow is a derogatory word that connotes blandness, mediocrity and a failed aspiration to ‘high’ culture. However, when appropriated as a positive term to denote that wide swathe of literature between the challenging experimentalism of the high and the formulaic tendency of the popular, it enables a rethinking of the literary canon from the point of view of what most readers actually read, a criterion curiously absent from dominant definitions of literary value. Since women have long formed a majority of the reading public, this perspective immediately feminises what has always been a very male canon. Opening with a theorisation of the concept of middlebrow that mounts a defence of some literary qualities disdained by modernism, the book then focuses on a series of case studies of periods (the Belle Époque, inter-war, early twenty-first century), authors (including Colette, Irène Nemirovsky, Françoise Sagan, Anna Gavalda) and the middlebrow nature of literary prizes. It concludes with a double reading of a single text, from the perspective of an academic critic, and from that of a middlebrow reader.

'Holmes’s book is an outstanding contribution to French studies. Its analysis of the ‘French middlebrow’ is pioneering and will make readers reformulate their views of the French novel, both modern and earlier.'
Alison Finch, University of Cambridge

'This is a much needed study: the first sustained analysis of middlebrow literary culture in France, and the first analysis of the relevance of the critical concept of 'middlebrow' in a French context. There has, to date, been hardly any research on non-anglophone middlebrow cultures, therefore this excellent book will be most warmly welcomed by scholars. It is a major research achievement in itself, and it opens up many new avenues for future work. Its three main strengths are the sheer originality of the analysis, the insightfulness of the close readings, and the immaculate writing style.'
Faye Hammill, University of Glasgow

'Middlebrow Matters is a very innovative book that should have a real impact on how we think about literature, both from a theoretical and a historical point of view.' (Translated from French.)

'Middlebrow Matters is a timely exploration of the intertwining of canonization, social class, and gender in recent French literary-cultural history. Diana Holmes’s book takes as its focus middlebrow literature—literature that sits somewhere between popular and ‘high’ culture—and her approach combines literary-cultural history with detailed literary analysis.'Kirsty Boardman, Modern Language Review


Author Information

Diana Holmes is Professor of French at the University of Leeds.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
1. Reclaiming the Middlebrow13
2. The Birth of French Middlebrow40
3. Colette: The Middlebrow Modernist68
4. Interwar France: The Case of the Missing Middlebrow99
5. The ‘little world’ of Françoise Sagan134
6. Literary Prizes, Women and the Middlebrow158
7. Realism, Romance and Self-reflexivity: Twenty-first-century Middlebrow186
Conclusion: Marie NDiaye’s femme puissante – a Double Reading215