Oct 15 2018

By the late 1920s, the Conservative Party in the UK had come to see the ‘highbrow’ as a major threat to the British state and the capitalist world order. The highbrow’s strong association with socialist movements, and with the popular Left Book Club, seemed to point to the unlikely possibility that the working classes, through reading political theory and becoming acquainted with serious culture, could rise up and overturn the foundations of western society. Under the leadership of Stanley Baldwin in particular, the Conservatives strengthened a ‘middlebrow’ movement whose aim (pursued through, among other things, a rival book club and a training college) was to promote an insular and identitarian view of English society and political economy, and to set up a barrier between the working classes and the dangerous 'isms' (including modernism) of the continent. This lecture examines the fortunes of Britten’s music in relation to the ‘battle of the brows’, then and now, draws parallels between the ideological uses of culture and identity in the 1930s and the early 21st-century and asks what the long view of the struggles between middlebrow and modernism, conservatism and radicalism, and class in the academy, have to say in respect of the traumas of our present.

 

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