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Materiality and the Masculine Middlebrow: Wells, Bennett, Galsworthy Open Access


Other title
John Galsworthy
H. G. Wells
English literature
Arnold Bennett
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Hurlburt, Alison A
Supervisor and department
Sinnema, Peter (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Arlene Oak (Human Ecology)
Burch, Robert (Philosophy)
Kent, Eddy (English and Film Studies)
Wallace, Jo-Ann (English and Film Studies)
Department of English and Film Studies
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, and John Galsworthy are often grouped together as typical ‘middlebrow’ or ‘Edwardian’ authors, but little critical attention has been given to the connections between their works. This dissertation argues that Wells, Bennett, and Galsworthy share a fascination with the material surroundings of their characters that grows out of popular evolutionary theory. English middlebrow culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries grew out of expanded educational opportunities for the middle and lower classes. By writing evolutionary concepts into their fiction, Wells, Bennett, and Galsworthy participate in the middlebrow project of providing readers with tools to informally further their education as adults. Drawing on the critical work of Elizabeth Grosz, I argue that understanding Wells, Bennett, and Galsworthy’s work requires an understanding of the material world that sees it as an active determinant of the lives of its inhabitants in evolutionary terms. As a result, this dissertation intervenes in contemporary material-culture criticism, which remains indebted to Marxist models of commodity culture and cannot accommodate the broad material environments present in these three authors’ fiction. This project analyzes texts produced by Wells, Bennett, and Galsworthy between 1895 and 1928, including Bennett’s ‘Five Towns’ fiction (Clayhanger, Anna of the Five Towns, The Old Wives’ Tale), Galsworthy’s ‘Forsyte’ novels (The Forsyte Saga, A Modern Comedy, The End of the Chapter) and Wells’ mid-career ‘Condition of England’ novels (Tono-Bungay, A New Machiavelli). Individual chapters explore how Wells, Bennett, and Galsworthy use material culture to articulate gendered struggles about literary merit at the turn of the century, how the suburb and the provincial town function as ideal middlebrow environments, the three authors’ responses to the material devastation of the First World War, and the political consequences of their emphasis on environmental influences.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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