A pedagogical project. Middlebrow literature from Flanders in the interwar period
In the interwar years, as a result of a range of historical factors, the political emancipation of the masses (and of specific social groups, such as peasants, women and laborers) is highly accelerated. Diverse cultural actors (from individual authors to important publishing houses) seize this opportunity to make literature and other forms of ‘high’ culture available to a wide reading public. They combine this democratization of culture with a multi-faceted pedagogical project. They want to supply knowledge of the world, life, and the position of literature in life; they aim to inform, moralize, and socialize large groups of readers.
These two perspectives – cultural democratization and education of the masses – occupy center stage in this Ph.D. thesis. On the one hand, this project ties in with the research into middlebrow literature which has been flourishing since the early nineties (mostly in American and British literary studies), and which helps to reconsider the biased and therefore unrepresentative view on literature of the first half of the twentieth century. On the other hand, it studies the pedagogical functions of middlebrow literary texts and the construction of authorial authorities inside and outside these texts. Heterogeneous but complementary concepts guide the analyses, ranging from the notions of ethos and discursive scenography to the rhetoric of exemplarity.
Four case studies concretize these theoretical and literary-historical questions: the storytellers Warden Oom and Ernest Claes (who revitalize in their prose the lost art of oral storytelling and combine it with providing knowledge and moral counsel), the poet Alice Nahon (whose verses were aimed to function as poetry for daily use and to convey in this way lessons in emotion), and the socialist literary critic Raymond Herreman (who introduces a working-class public into the art of reading).