My ongoing search for literary magazines as potential vehicles for my essays yielded a captivating title this past year: Middlebrow. How could any Woolfian resist?
Established in the U.K. in 2010, as best I can tell, the journal’s vision starts with an attention-getting quote from Susan Sontag: “Art is seduction not rape.” The editor, Harriet Williams, elaborates: “A highbrow quotation, it’s true, but nevertheless one that aptly sums up the point of our magazine. Middlebrow is a magazine dedicated to the principles of art for enjoyment.”
But wait a minute. Whence this praise? Virginia Woolf, in her essay, “Middlebrow,” castigates it as “the bloodless and pernicious pest who comes between” the highbrow and the lowbrow, “the bane of all thinking and living.” She ends her essay by saying that “If any human being, man, woman, dog, cat, or half-crushed worm dares call me ‘middlebrow’ I will take my pen and stab him, dead.”
But the fearless Ms. Williams stands firm in defense of her journal and its place in the world of art. She seeks to reclaim the positive connotations of the term “middlebrow,” claiming it as the best of both worlds, “the intelligence of the highbrow and the guilty enjoyment of the lowbrow things we all like but pretend we don’t.”
She even dares to poke at Woolf in damning praise: “Virginia Woolf’s own essays are middlebrow, despite her hatred of the word and style, and let her come and stab me if she wants to. While they deal with so called highbrow subjects, they are insightful, clear, concise, even funny.”
The current issue includes an essay about Abraham Lincoln–surely a middlebrow himself–and another on writer’s block (do we get it because it exists, or does it exist because we get it?). It’s been said that the U.S. is or was a society of mostly middlebrows / middle class (buried within the so-called 99 percent under the wing of the Occupy movement). So as a middlebrow Woolfian, I’m delighted to see the banner flying boldly. I’ll be even happier if they publish one of my pieces.