E.M. Delafield and the feminist middlebrow

Izzard, Tanya (2014) E.M. Delafield and the feminist middlebrow. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis investigates the interaction between the categories of the middlebrow and feminism in the novels of E.M. Delafield (1890-1943). Selecting works for detailed scrutiny from the full range of Delafield’s published fiction, I evaluate the expression of feminist meaning in a cultural form that often evinces both formal and social conservatism. I build on Nicola Humble’s construction of the feminine middlebrow, a category of interwar twentieth century writing concerned with women’s lives, sometimes disruptive in terms of content, but traditional in form. I also develop notions of the middlebrow as hybrid and mutable to support my argument for the establishment of a category of the feminist middlebrow: texts that articulate feminist meaning while retaining palatability, in terms of both form and content, for a large and politically mainstream audience.

I argue that Delafield makes use of various constructions of ambiguity within her fiction to assert, and often simultaneously obscure, her feminist meaning. These ambiguous forms include the extensive use of irony, elision of the boundaries between author and protagonist, use of comedy to distract from disruptive meaning, developing marginal characters to carry feminist ideas, and a complex representation of female subjectivity and interiority. Delafield’s use of ambiguity allows her to continue to advance feminist arguments, sometimes radical in their implications, without disturbing readerly pleasure in her middlebrow texts; it allows her to speak to a number of potential audiences, those engaged with feminism, those sympathetic to its aims, and those antipathetic, and to create fiction that remains palatable to all those audiences. This privileging of the reader, I argue, creates an intersubjective and democratic approach in which readers articulate feminist meaning in texts, and which plays a crucial part in constructing the category of the feminist middlebrow.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR6000 1900-1960 > PR6007.E33 Delafield, E.M.
H Social Sciences > HQ The Family. Marriage. Women > HQ1101 Women. Feminism
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR6000 1900-1960
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 09 Dec 2014 17:01
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:37
URI: http://srodev.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/51568

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