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Materiality and the Masculine Middlebrow: Wells, Bennett, Galsworthy

  • Author / Creator
    Hurlburt, Alison A
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    2014-06
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/R3639KD2J
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
    English
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
    Doctoral
  • Department
    • Department of English and Film Studies
  • Specialization
    • English
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Sinnema, Peter (English and Film Studies)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Arlene Oak (Human Ecology)
    • Burch, Robert (Philosophy)
    • Wallace, Jo-Ann (English and Film Studies)
    • Kent, Eddy (English and Film Studies)