English Seminar: Eleanor Dark’s Interwar Fiction
Melinda Cooper, University of Sydney
Middlebrow Modernism: Eleanor Dark’s Interwar Fiction
Eleanor Dark is one of Australia’s most significant mid-century novelists, and her work is currently enjoying a revival of critical interest. In this paper, I argue that Dark’s fiction can be read productively in terms of a distinctive aesthetic of middlebrow modernism – a phrase that captures her complex negotiation of literary modernism, the middlebrow, and popular fiction, and also her balancing of cosmopolitan commitments with more place-based attachments to the settler nation and local community. Focusing on the novels that Dark published during the interwar years, I will show how her writing has the potential to defamiliarise our understandings of modernism and expand our conceptions of how modernity was experienced, translated and mediated in and across various locations in the mid-century period. In particular, Dark’s ‘middle’ position has important implications for challenging binary approaches that have too often structured accounts of twentieth-century Australian literature (and of modernism/modernity more generally), and which set nationalism, regionalism and the middlebrow at a divide from cosmopolitanism, internationalism and modernism. Rather than an either/or approach to culture and aesthetics, Dark’s work suggests a relational and dialogic one, and calls for a similarly agile methodology that is capable of balancing a transnational paradigm with one that is sensitive to regional and national differences.
MECO Seminar Room S226
John Woolley Building (A20)
The University of Sydney