Modernism, Middlebrow and the Literary Canon: The Modern Library Series, 1917–1955, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Modernism, Middlebrow and the Literary Canon

The Modern Library Series, 1917–1955, 1st Edition

By Lise Jaillant


224 pages

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Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Paperback: 9781138048409
pub: 2017-03-10
Hardback: 9781848934931
pub: 2014-11-01

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In the 1920s and 1930s the Modern Library series brought out cheap editions of modernist works. Books by writers including H G Wells, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, were published and marketed alongside detective fiction and other books that we would now class as ‘middlebrow’. Jaillant provides a thorough analysis of the mix of highbrow and popular literature in the Modern Library and argues that the availability and low cost of modernist works helped to expand modernism's influence as a literary movement. She uses previously unknown material from publishers' archives to bring fresh insight into the role of the market on both modernist writers and their readers. 


"Jaillant’s study, through its evidence of careful research and painstaking work in the archives, offers a fresh perspective on the high/low debate told from the vantage point of one of the century’s leading publishers." --Matthew Levay, Idaho State University, The Year’s Work in English Studies

"Consistently insightful, surprising, and concise, Jaillant’s book makes an important contribution to both modernist and middlebrow studies." - Emma West, Cardiff University, Modernism/ Modernity

"Jaillant’s study provides fascinating insight into the marketing methods of the Modern Library" --Loren Glass, University of Iowa, Los Angeles Review of Books

"An important new contribution…part of the more conscientiously transatlantic move in modernist studies." --Amy L. Blair, Marquette University, American Literary History

"A solid investigation of an overlooked phenomenon. Graphs and illustrations lend substance to the various discussions. Students of Modernism will be grateful." --Gary Day, De Montfort University, Times Higher Education

"Jaillant’s study offers a detailed and carefully drawn study of the Modern Library’s version of Woolf and her contemporaries." --Claire Battershill, Simon Fraser University, Woolf Studies Annual

"A fascinating study of book production and the marketing of culture in the early 20th century." --Rebecca Bowler, Keele University, Times Higher Education 'What are you reading' section

"The book is carefully researched and full of interesting facts…The case studies in Modernism, Middlebrow, and the Literary Canon provide an excellent addition to a course on book history and modernism." --Jaime Harker, University of Mississippi, SHARP News

"shrewd and agile study." --Natalie Wright, Women: A Cultural Review

"Meticulous unpacking of just how contentious the players on opposite sides of the Modern Library debates actually were. At this point enter Anthony Comstock, the founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. . . . Jaillant tells his story in ways that bring a human face to the censors and their brand of censorship." --Sanford Pinsker, Franklin and Marshall College, Sewanee Review

"Jaillant has made a valuable contribution to both the history of the book and our understanding of the literary canon." --Troy J. Bassett, Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne, Clio: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History

"Immensely illuminating" – the book "greatly changes the way we think about the middlebrow, canon formation, and the canon itself."--Erik Fuhrer, University of Notre Dame, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America

About the Author

Lise Jaillant is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) at Loughborough University, UK.

About the Series

Literary Texts and the Popular Marketplace

In the past, the critics and writers who formulated the boundaries of the literary canon in British literature restricted its membership to ‘high culture’ and the ‘highbrow’. Writers whose work lies outside these selectively applied parameters of literary taste and value have been assigned to the derogatory category of ‘middlebrow’ or ‘popular’ literature. Some of these writers were rejected from the canon by their willing embrace of popular appeal, and their openness to a wide readership. Many texts were not included because they were written by women, addressed women’s concerns, or because they were concerned with middle- and working-class values and aspirations that were inimical to the literature of high culture. Other categories that have been disadvantaged by the institutional application of canonicity in British literary culture include regionality, the literature of impairment, political stance, and writers of colour.

This series offers monographs and edited collections of essays that examine the extents and effects of writing that resists the regulation of the canon. Crossing both cultural and geographic boundaries, this series brings together studies of texts, writers, readers, producers, and distributors. It will highlight current debates about the politics of mainstream readerships and media, about the designation of audiences and material methods of circulation, and will address contemporary critical concerns. By attending to how these texts resist the ‘high’ cultural imperative the works in this series make it possible to learn how culture is commodified for particular classes, and the role that gender and social class play in the production of those categories.

Manuscripts should be in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 words. Proposals should be eight to ten pages in length and should include a brief overview of the relevant scholarship in the field, the contribution which your work will make, a breakdown of the contents by chapter, an account of the number and type of illustrations, a brief survey of competing works, to whom the proposed book could be marketed, and the intended audience. Proposals should include a minimum of two sample chapters.

Please send all queries and proposals to the series editors, Kate Macdonald ( and Ann Rea (, for preliminary review.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 20th Century