Monday 20 October 2008

Humble Pie

I mentioned briefly, in that Booking Through Thursday quiz, that I'd bought Nicola Humble's The Feminine Middlebrow Novel 1920s to 1950s but I couldn't just leave it at that, could I? I'll warn you now, it's not cheap (paperback about £28, hardback much more) so get onto your local library... because for those whose reading tastes are most aligned with mine, or at least overlap significantly, that book title must sound like manna from Heaven - and, figuratively, it is. Literally, it's just a book title... Ahem.

I read Humble's book when writing my thesis on the topic as an undergraduate, and got rather peeved because she'd said all sorts of things I was hoping were original to me - but don't hold that against her. She writes about all sorts of authors close to the Stuck-in-a-Book heart: EF Benson, Elizabeth Bowen, Agatha Christie, Ivy Compton-Burnett, EM Delafield, Monica Dickens, Rachel Ferguson, Stel
la Gibbons, Rosamund Lehmann, Rose Macaulay, Nancy Mitford, Dodie Smith, Elizabeth Taylor, Angela Thirkell, Virginia Woolf. What a list. Even if you haven't read all those authors (I'll confess, there are two listed whom I've not read), you'll probably still be interested in their spheres and their ethos. Do see what Danielle had to say about it on her blog.

The chapter headings are:
1. 'Books Do Furnish A Room': Readers and Reading
2. 'Not Our Sort': The Re-Formation of Middle-Class Identities
3. Imagining the Home
4. The Eccentric Family
5. A Crisis of Gender?

All such fascinating topics - and Humble writes with a style and verve which makes everything completely accessible without 'dumbing down'. All rather middlebrow, now I come to think of it. EM Delafield would be proud to be included, and I can think of no higher, nor more apposite, praise than that.


  1. I need this, it fits the list for my grad work like a glove...figuratively of course...

  2. I love this book. I've not actually read it in its entirety yet, though I refer to it often. I feel like I should have read more of the authors she discusses (as she seems to write about them as if the reader is somewhat familiar). It's definitely a book worth saving for and owning if you like this period of literature. I'd also like the buy Elaine Showalter's book, but it's another pricey one I haven't yet gotten to.

  3. Oh, man. I have to buy this book IMMEDIATELY. Between you and Danielle, all I do is add to my book list. I've been intrigued by this one since I first heard about it, and I can no longer live without owning it.

  4. Now which would be the two you haven't read? I'm guessing Ivy Compton-Burnett and Elizabeth Bowen. Several on there I haven't -- 5, I think.

  5. This does sound good. Just out of interest, does she include O. Douglas? Come to that, have you read any O. Douglas? If not, I recommend!

  6. It sounds juicy !!

  7. I haven't read through the book but it's been sitting on my desk. It's a handy book that I refer to very often.

    By the way, I will add some of the titles on your 50 Books You May Not Have Heard About list. They sound good!

  8. This sounds great! I don't mind a high cost if I'm going to love a book. I wonder if there is a "masculine" counterpart? And speaking of that who are your favorite male writers? I think I know a few - Wodehouse, Milne, JK Jerome. And I'd bet Mortimer, too, but who else? I see some on the sidebar, but I wonder if those are single books or if you like others the writers have written. I'm especially interested in the British male writers.

  9. Glad everyone is being enticed!

    Harriet - one right, one wrong! I have read ICB, but not Elizabeth Bowen. The other is, shamefully, Rosamund Lehmann - I own three or four of her books, but still not read any.

    O. Douglas - I've not read any, and no mention in the index!

    Nan - favourite male authors... you're right on the ones you mention, otherwise not all that many! Frank Baker and David Lindsay, as you say, are on the strength of one book each.

  10. Well Simon I can only say that you have a treat in store -- RL is a fine writer so do please give her a go. I've read and enjoyed one Bowen but had to give up on the second one I tried (can't recall off hand the titles of either!).

  11. Mmm, I added this to my wishlist recently - I'm reading another book on middlebrow writers at the moment, and I couldn't justify buying two. As I've read all the authors except Rachel Ferguson (and judging by your comments I must remedy that), I really NEED to read this!

  12. Hate to tell you this Simon but I bought this for £8 in an OUP sale many moons ago. I now will have to get it down and read it though I have checkced it out every now and then


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