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The Intellectuals and the Masses: Modernism against the Crowd

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revisits a classic study of modernist culture and snobbishness

John Carey’s The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939 was published in 1992, over a quarter of a century ago now. The book explores how writers of the early twentieth century – intellectuals as such H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Wyndham Lewis, E. M. Forster, and others – conceived of, and wrote about, the majority of their fellow human beings (the ‘great unwashed’ to use Bulwer-Lytton’s phrase), in disparaging and often jaw-droppingly unsympathetic terms. Carey’s book also shows how this idea of ‘the masses’ was useful to the intellectuals, such as the modernists, in providing them with a mainstream populism which they could then set themselves up in opposition to.

John Carey is one of the greatest living critics. His The Violent Effigy: A Study of Dickens’ Imagination is one of the few works of criticism on Dickens’s work which not only manages to enter into full imaginative sympathy with its subject but also succeed in actually being rather funny. I read it twice while I was studying for my MA. But The Intellectuals and the Masses is probably Carey’s best-known book, and deserving of a reappraisal now, especially given the widening gulf between the governing classes and the rest of the population, the richer and poorer, the elite and everyone else. Among the many insights Carey’s book provides, there is his fascinating Read the rest of this entry

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A Summary and Analysis of Aesop’s ‘The Fox and the Grapes’ Fable

Aesop’s fable of the fox and the grapes is among the most famous of all of Aesop’s fables. What does this little tale mean? And what common everyday phrase did it inspire?

In summary, the fable of the fox and the grapes runs as follows: one hot summer’s day a fox was strolling through an orchard when he came to a bunch of grapes that were ripening on a vine, hanging over a lofty branch. ‘Those grapes are just the things to quench my thirst,’ said the fox. Drawing back a few paces, the fox took a run and a jump, but just missed the bunch of grapes. Turning round again he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again the fox tried to jump up and reach the juicy grapes, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: ‘Oh well, I am sure they are sour anyway.’ Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Edmund Waller’s ‘On the Friendship betwixt Two Ladies’

‘On the Friendship betwixt Two Ladies’ was written by Edmund Waller (1606-87), who is probably best-known for his short lyric ‘Go, lovely rose’. Waller, whose life was as colourful as one might expect of a poet who lived through the English Civil War, is one of the wittiest minor poets of the seventeenth century, although not as great (or as famous) as his contemporaries, Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvell.

On the Friendship betwixt Two Ladies

Tell me, lovely, loving pair!
Why so kind, and so severe?
Why so careless of our care,
Only to yourselves so dear?

By this cunning change of hearts,
You the power of love control;
While the boy’s eluded darts
Can arrive at neither soul.

For in vain to either breast
Still beguiled love does come, Read the rest of this entry