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Making the Case for Middlebrow Culture

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Author(s): Belinda Edmondson

Journal: Journal of Transnational American Studies
ISSN 1940-0764

Volume: 2;
Issue: 1;
Date: 2010;
Original page

Keywords: Aspirational culture | Caribbean middle class | jazz | African-American influence | popular fiction

ABSTRACT
It is commonly assumed that Caribbean culture is split into elite highbrow culture—which is considered derivative of Europe and not rooted in the Caribbean—and authentic working-class culture, which is often identified with such iconic island activities as salsa, carnival, calypso, and reggae. In Caribbean Middlebrow, Belinda Edmondson recovers a middle ground, a genuine popular culture in the English-speaking Caribbean that stretches back into the nineteenth century. Edmondson shows that popular novels, beauty pageants, and music festivals are examples of Caribbean culture that are mostly created, maintained, and consumed by the Anglophone middle class. Much of middle-class culture, she finds, is further gendered as "female": women are more apt to be considered recreational readers of fiction, for example, and women's behavior outside the home is often taken as a measure of their community's respectability. Edmondson also highlights the influence of American popular culture, especially African American popular culture, as early as the nineteenth century. This is counter to the notion that the islands were exclusively under the sway of British tastes and trends. She finds the origins of today's "dub" or spoken-word Jamaican poetry in earlier traditions of genteel dialect poetry-as exemplified by the work of the Jamaican folklorist, actress, and poet Louise "Miss Lou" Bennett Coverley-and considers the impact of early Caribbean novels including Emmanuel Appadocca (1853) and Jane's Career (1913).

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