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Caribbean Middlebrow

Leisure Culture and the Middle Class

Belinda Edmondson

Publication Year: 2009

It is commonly assumed that Caribbean culture is split into elite highbrow culture-which is considered derivative of Europe and not rooted in the Caribbean-and authentic working-class culture, which is often identified with such iconic island activities as salsa, carnival, calypso, and reggae. In Caribbean Middlebrow, Belinda Edmondson recovers a middle ground, a genuine popular culture in the English-speaking Caribbean that stretches back into the nineteenth century.

Edmondson shows that popular novels, beauty pageants, and music festivals are examples of Caribbean culture that are mostly created, maintained, and consumed by the Anglophone middle class. Much of middle-class culture, she finds, is further gendered as "female": women are more apt to be considered recreational readers of fiction, for example, and women's behavior outside the home is often taken as a measure of their community's respectability.

Edmondson also highlights the influence of American popular culture, especially African American popular culture, as early as the nineteenth century. This is counter to the notion that the islands were exclusively under the sway of British tastes and trends. She finds the origins of today's "dub" or spoken-word Jamaican poetry in earlier traditions of genteel dialect poetry-as exemplified by the work of the Jamaican folklorist, actress, and poet Louise "Miss Lou" Bennett Coverley-and considers the impact of early Caribbean novels, including Emmanuel Appadocca (1853) and Jane's Career (1913).

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

There are many people behind this book. I am grateful to my editor, Peter Potter, for being an early and enthusiastic champion of this project. His careful editing, steady guidance, and pithy advice made this a better book. Sara Ferguson of Cornell University Press patiently answered my almost daily questions. ...

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Introduction: Making the Case for Middlebrow Culture

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pp. 1-20

A milestone of sorts was reached in 2007 when, for the first time ever, a dreadlocked, black Rastafarian woman won a Caribbean beauty pageant. It was no longer news, as it might have been ten years before, that Zahra Redwood, a dark-skinned, black woman, won the coveted Miss Jamaica Universe title. ...

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Chapter 1. Early Literary Culture

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pp. 21-49

On December 23, 1899, on the eve of the twentieth century, Jamaica’s oldest and most venerable newspaper, the Daily Gleaner, ran one of its many popular competitions. This one was for the best “Nancy story.” The entries were to capture, in written form, the stylistic and thematic intricacies of the oral folktales about Anancy the Spider. ...

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Chapter 2. Brownness, Social Desire, and the Early Novel

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pp. 50-85

In Trinidad, in the years 1853 and 1854, long before the famed Trinidad Awakening of the 1930s, two novels about brown people, both by brown authors, found their way into circulation. Emmanuel Appadocca, by the well-known Trinidadian lawyer, editor, and orator Michel Maxwell Philip, was a gothic adventure of Caribbean pirates on the high seas. ...

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Chapter 3. Gentrifying Dialect, or theTaming of Miss Lou

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pp. 86-109

On August 9, 2006, Jamaicans were riveted to the funeral of the Honorable Louise Bennett Coverley, member of the British Empire and Order of Jamaica. The wildly popular Jamaican folklorist, actress, and poet had died at the age of eighty-seven. ...

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Chapter 4. Middlebrow Spectacle and the Politics of Beauty

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pp. 110-125

The two epigraphs describing nineteenth-century Afro-Caribbean women with which I begin this chapter contain the central ideas and images that frame my argument about the contradictory ideologies surrounding contemporary women’s performance in the Caribbean public sphere.1 ...

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Chapter 5. Organic Imports, or Authenticating Global Culture

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pp. 126-147

The distinction between folk and popular that I have made thus far contrasts the “purity” of sterile, stable traditions of the past with the dynamic, unstable proclivities of the present. The former is associated with the cataloguing impulses of the state and the latter with its antithesis. The distinction is not, however, entirely workable. ...

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Chapter 6. Transnational Communities and the New Pop Fiction

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pp. 148-168

Popular fiction has always been a staple of the Caribbean entertainment diet. As we have seen, however, most of the popular fiction of one hundred years ago was relegated to small daily or weekly doses, published in the columns of a “serious” newspaper, or to the odd volume published either in London or locally, and paid for out of the author’s pocket. ...


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pp. 169-202


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pp. 203-216


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pp. 217-224

E-ISBN-13: 9780801460142
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801448140

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1