Caribbean Middlebrow

Caribbean Middlebrow: Leisure Culture and the Middle Class

Belinda Edmondson
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Caribbean Middlebrow
    Book Description:

    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).

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6014-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Making the Case for Middlebrow Culture
    (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. The predilection for light-skinned, long-haired Caribbean women of racially mixed heritage had already begun to fade in the English-speaking Caribbean since the dark-skinned black Trinidadian Wendy Fitzwilliam became the second black woman to win the Miss Universe title in 1998. (The first was the predictably light-skinned Trinidadian contestant Janelle...

  6. Chapter 1 Early Literary Culture
    (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. Anancy is the legendary folk hero brought to the islands by enslaved Africans, whose descendants, the black peasantry, were the supreme practitioners of the genre. Yet, to judge from the competition in the Gleaner, Anancy’s innate contradictions struck a resonant chord with Jamaicans of...

  7. Chapter 2 Brownness, Social Desire, and the Early Novel
    (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. Published in London in 1854, the novel went on to become a Trinidadian best seller of sorts: the royalties were enough to support Philip’s expensive legal studies.¹ The other, Adolphus, was a romance penned by an anonymous author and serialized in 1853 in the “radical”...

  8. Chapter 3 Gentrifying Dialect, or the Taming of Miss Lou
    (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. Miss Lou, as she was called informally, had been almost single-handedly responsible for legitimizing the use of Jamaican Creole, or “dialect,”¹ in the island’s schools and in the arts. Miss Lou’s career had spanned an incredible seventy years. An icon of true Jamaicanness, she wrote dialect poems that are standard fare in Jamaican national elocution contests, and recordings of her...

  9. Chapter 4 Middlebrow Spectacle and the Politics of Beauty
    (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 The visions of black women captured in these quotations encapsulate the warring images of black femininity at the center of the debate over the place of black women in the nineteenth-century Caribbean public, images that affected, and continue to affect, Caribbean women of all ethnicities into the twenty-first century. On the one hand, black women are represented as icons of respectability, virtuous women who...

  10. Chapter 5 Organic Imports, or Authenticating Global Culture
    (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. Such a distinction presupposes that the state has no interest in contemporary popular culture. Quite the contrary. Caribbean states have an investment in popular culture in much the same way that the region’s corporate sector has. As Nestor García Canclini has noted, the embrace of the...

  11. Chapter 6 Transnational Communities and the New Pop Fiction
    (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. Today’s popular fiction, by contrast, is a burgeoning industry, spurred on by desktop publishing and the innovations of the Internet. Globalization has meant the expansion of local popular fiction to international markets to serve the wider Caribbean immigrant...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 169-202)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-216)
  14. Index
    (pp. 217-224)