This book analyzes the differences in content, reader expectation, and social/moral/ethical functions of the three types of novels in America of the 1950s. It challenges the notion that highbrow novels ("Lolita") do important cultural work while popular novels contribute to personal and social decay, and examines how time periods influence the moral content of novels.
The book separates popular fiction into lowbrow ("Peyton Place") and middlebrow ("Man in the Grey Flannel Suit") and explains that lowbrow (like highbrow) evolves from the folklore tradition and contains messages about how to be a good man or good woman and how to find a satisfying niche in the social order. Middlebrow, on the other hand, evolves from myth tradition and relates lessons on what personal adjustments need to be made to succeed in the economic order. Middlebrow novels most reflect the time and place of their writing because conditions for economic survival change more than conditions for social survival. Arguing that what most distinguishes highbrow from lowbrow is the audience, highbrow writers try to separate from the flock; lowbrow writers to include.
This study differs from such well-known studies of popular fiction as John Cawelti's and Janice Radway's in looking beyond the surface features of plot, character, and theme. The book also challenges arguments that novels in which marriage is women's highest triumph and aggressive heroism men's reinforce limiting cultural paradigms.
"Ruth Wood take an engaging subject and writes about it with wit, clarity, and utter originality. In revisiting the grand novels of the fifties with such intellegence and affection, she introduces us once again to our country--and to ourselves. This is splendid book."
-Carolyn See, Professor of English, UCLA
"What a pleasure it is to read Ruth Pirsig Wood's scholarly and sprightly discussion of fiction's three brows--low, middle, and high--during the Fifties. Bringing to the table both innovative criticism and a sharp wit, Wood urges us to reconsider our preconceived notions about literary labels. Never again will we consider "From Here to Eternity or "Forever Amber in our tired, unenlightened ways. "Lolita in "Peyton Place is a forever valuable addition to any reader's library."
-Ruth Coughlin, author of "Grieving: A Love Story
"Ruth Pirsig Wood has produced that rarest of oxymorons: a scintillating scholarly study. Her clear-eyed, original analyses of 1950's fiction blows the dust off the jacket of the usual academic fussiness and snobbery, penetrating to the heart of the impulse that leads writers to write and readers to read. Lolita in Peyton Place provides sharp insight into American culture at mid-century, but even more, it leads one to approach any modern novel with a greater awareness of context, sturcture and meaning. A remarkably concise and objective study."
-Michael Dorris, author of "Crown of Columbus and "The Broken Cord
"A provocative book....Many faculty and students will find this work useful."
Series: Garland Studies in American Popular History and Culture
Tertiary; University or College
Number Of Pages: 178
Published: 1st July 1995
Publisher: TAYLOR & FRANCIS
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 22.23 x 14.61
Weight (kg): 0.36
Edition Number: 1