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Virginia Woolf and the Common(wealth) Reader$
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Helen Wussow and Mary Ann Gillies

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780989082679

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9780989082679.001.0001

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A “Bloodless and Pernicious Pest”

A “Bloodless and Pernicious Pest”

The Middlebrow’s “Common Man” in the Essays of Virginia Woolf

(p.159) A “Bloodless and Pernicious Pest”
Virginia Woolf and the Common(wealth) Reader

Martin Winquist

Liverpool University Press

This chapter discusses Woolf's antagonism toward the “middle brow,” the all-too-common reader who mistakenly believes that she/he actually knows something about literature. It considers a number of Virginia Woolf's essays in an attempt, firstly, to help position her within the battle of the brows and, secondly, to understand her vitriolic, yet nuanced critique of the middlebrow. It suggests that for Woolf the battle of the brows was much more than a highbrow “fight for readership” and a middlebrow “fight for [the] respect and legitimization” of their art. It was a battle over the body of the consumer and had far-reaching political implications, particularly for modernist writers and other public intellectuals as they negotiated their role within the battle of the brows. What starts for the modernists as a strategic marginalization designed to protect highbrow art's integrity against the homogeneity of middlebrow culture, becomes an increasingly forcible exclusion through which middlebrow culture is positioned as not merely more accessible, but normal by middlebrow writers and critics.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, highbrow, middlebrow, modernist writers, public intellectuals

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