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Marker's Examination Of Jessie Fauset As A "miscegenation Middlebrow"

By Author: Alexia.White
Total Articles: 41

Marker's examination of Jessie Fauset as a "miscegenating middlebrow" (p. 53) productively repositions her in relation to the Harlem Renaissance. Driven by passion for education and, especially, for reading, Fauset shared Canfield's belief in literature as an instrument of reform. In the mid-1920s, she fashioned a middle way not only between high culture and popular fiction but also between black and white: she endorsed the ideal of an autonomous African American culture that incorporated genteel, middle-class, white standards of Replica Tag Heuer taste because they were the "best" (p. 66; Fauset's word). Although Claude McKay condemned Fauset's, There Is Confusion as a "Sunday School self help tract for good behaving Negroes", Marker challenges that verdict by according legitimacy to Fauset's middlebrow project. In contrast to McKay's pronouncement that the book was "awfully written" (p. 72), Marker credits Fauset with imaginatively blending sentimentalism and realism to convince her readers that the best prospects for African Americans lay in the arts, education, and American identity.

Even so, Fauset never attained the popularity that Canfield enjoyed, which Marker attributes to publishers' exclusive interest in African American cultural rebels and to Fauset's (perhaps voluntary) exclusion from women's magazines. Alternatively, could it be that Fauset's writing, for all the balances it struck, was as ill constructed and careless as McKay said it was Turning to Pearl Buck, Marker again invokes pragmatist aesthetics (p. 93) in labeling Deweyan Buck's belief that literature could bridge cultures by nurturing human sympathy. A stronger aspect of this chapter is Marker's instructive treatment of Buck's The Good Earth (New York: John Day, 1932) as a "quintessential middlebrow reading experience" (p. 101). Buck's story of Chinese peasants balanced ethnography and Tag Heuer Replica Watches exoticism against an affirmation of universal humanity; it played to Americans' reverence for the land to rouse readers' emotions. Although Buck's detractors disparaged her for her unwillingness to experiment with modernist form, Marker reiterates her contention that Buck's emphasis on plot and her use of accessible language were deliberate decisions, consistent with her activist mission as an intercultural interpreter.

The most problematic of Marker's four figures is Josephine Herbst. As Marker acknowledges, Herbst saw herself as an advocate of proletarian literature. Marker tries to establish that Herbst was also a middlebrow author by noting the similarity between the literary proletarians' goals to inspire activism in a wide audience and, for example, Canfield's. She further suggests that Herbst and her colleagues might have found more success among the reading public if they had capitalized on emotion and facilitated "passionate engagement" (p. 145). Yet Herbst's celebration of class conflict and her rejection of mutualism as the source of redemption in The Executioner Waits (New York: Harcourt & Brace, 1934) are at odds with Marker's own statement of the essence of "middlebrow authorship" (p. 154): its "desire to heal societal divisions and construct a common American idiom" (p. 154).

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