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).
Subjects: Language & Literature
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