Magazines, Travel, and Middlebrow Culture: Canadian Periodicals in English and French 1925–1960 by Faye Hammill and Michelle Smith (review)
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Reviewed by
Faye Hammill and Michelle Smith. Magazines, Travel, and Middlebrow Culture: Canadian Periodicals in English and French 1925–1960. University of Alberta Press. xii, 244. $49.95

It has been a decade since Sean Latham and Robert Scholes hailed the emergence of the distinct field of periodical studies within the broader field of print culture in their essay "The Rise of Periodical Studies." The past ten years have seen an increasing number of scholarly works that, in the words of Latham and Scholes, "investigate the ways in which modern literature and the arts are connected to the culture of commerce and advertising and to the social, political, and scientific issues of the time." Magazines, Travel, and Middlebrow Culture is one such text, which represents an especially important contribution to the growing field of periodical studies in Canada. [End Page 171]

Focusing on six commercial magazines published in Canada between 1925 and 1960 (Mayfair, Chatelaine, La Revue Moderne, La Revue Populaire, The Canadian Home Journal, and Maclean's), the book challenges the traditional bias in literary studies toward small literary presses and noncommercial periodicals. With a broad appeal and large circulations – some in excess of 500,000 – these commercial magazines might be said to provide a better gauge of Canadian popular sentiment than their noncommercial counterparts, evidencing the way Canadians received and were influenced by the print media they consumed.

Though both authors come from a background in literary studies, they employ an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural approach to the analysis of Canadian magazines. This approach includes a comparison of four Englishlanguage magazines and two French-language magazines. Given the dearth of cross-cultural, cross-linguistic studies in Canada, the book is both enlightening and refreshing. The authors carefully articulate the way these magazines responded to their respective socio-cultural contexts, as well as the similarities that cut across the supposed cultural divide. At the same time, they are attentive to the way in which both Anglophone and Francophone magazines "privilege[d] Canada's white population, circulating visions of national belonging which exclude[d] Native and ethnic minority citizens."

The book is not, however, solely concerned with providing a cultural history of Canada's leading commercial periodicals. As its title suggests, the text's examination of magazines is organized around two principal themes: middlebrow culture and travel. Commercial magazines in Canada emerged at a time when recreational travel was becoming more common among the middle class. At the same time, the concept of a middlebrow culture – one which the authors define principally in terms of aspiration, self-improvement, and a mixing of the high with the low – was becoming a distinctive feature of Canadian society. Hamill and Smith track the relationship between these two important phenomena across thirty-five years, revealing how commercial magazines served to construct travel as a means of achieving cultural and social capital, and upward mobility. Throughout, their analysis remains grounded in the recognition of the magazines as primarily commercial publications, aimed at promoting consumption by not only catering to, but also shaping the tastes, desires, and aspirations of their readers – often along the lines of gender, class, and ethnicity.

Beyond the specific cultural and thematic focus of their text, Hamill and Smith aim "to provide a model for such investigations in other cultural contexts." The authors pay particular attention to the materiality and physical dimensions of the magazines, examining the ways in which the [End Page 172] magazines' text and paratext, their writer-contributed content and advertising, were closely intertwined. In doing so, they propose a new methodology, one that involves multiple "levels" of analysis. Close reading, sampling of an issue, sampling of a volume, and broad overview of a full print run each form a different level of analysis in the authors' framework. While such a multilevel approach to periodical studies is not novel, the authors' delineation of each level of analysis does reveal the advantages and disadvantages of any one approach, indicating the need for a combined approach in comparative studies such as their own. This methodology, combined with Magazines, Travel, and Middlebrow Culture's broad scope and interdisciplinary perspective, will appeal to scholars across disciplines, including literary studies, sociology, periodical studies...


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