The Intellectuals And The Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligensia, 1880-1939

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9780897335072: The Intellectuals And The Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligensia, 1880-1939
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In this landmark study, John Carey analyzes the elitest views of some of the most highly respected literary icons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This book, as defined in his preface, "is about the response of the English literary intelligentsia to the new phenomenon of mass culture." Readers may be shocked to learn that H.G. Wells liked to think that this newly emerged "mass" would be eliminated by plague and atomic bombs; that Yeats wished them to perish in an apocalyptic war against the educated classes and that D.H. Lawrence visualized a huge lethal chamber in which they could be exterminated. John Carey's devastating attack on the intellectuals exposes the loathing which the mass of humanity ignited in many of the virtual founders of modern culture: G.B. Shaw, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot and others. Professor Carey compares their detestation of common humanity to Nietzsche, whose philosophy helped create the atmosphere leading to the rise of Adolph Hitler. Any student of modern literature and history will find John Carey's incisive book both enlightening and disturbing, an essential read for a full understanding of where we are today.

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About the Author:

John Carey is Merton Professor of English at Oxford University. A distinguished critic and broadcaster, he is the author of four previous books on history and literature, and the editor of The Faber Book of Science. He lives in England.

From Kirkus Reviews:

The obscurities of modern art and literature, according to Carey (English/Oxford; John Donne, 1981), were devised by the intelligentsia to exclude the new reading public for whom they had contempt--a thesis that Carey applies here to, among others, George Gissing, H.G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, and Wyndham Lewis. Nietzsche, Yeats, Shaw, Flaubert, Ibsen, Ortega y Gasset, E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce--indeed the entire modernist movement, says Carey, depicted the ``masses'' and the popular culture they generated with disdain. These writers, the author contends, worshiped the lofty, isolated, high-minded artist who produced an alienating art without human or narrative content to which the masses could relate. Followers of Freud, the intelligentsia feared crowds and condemned their suburban refuges as culturally impoverished ecological disasters. Gissing concluded that the masses were ineducable, while Wells considered them manifestations of a ``biological catastrophe.'' Meanwhile, Bennett, the ``hero'' of Carey's study, believed that the people could be redeemed through the study of literature, although Wyndham Lewis- -whom Carey compares to Hitler--felt that the democracy they believed in was effeminate. The author attempts to demonstrate how Mein Kampf was firmly rooted in the intelligentsia's orthodoxy--and how the incineration of Jews was an extension of it. Members of The intelligentsia, he says, believed that they formed a natural aristocracy united by an esoteric body of knowledge that protected them from the herd. Concluding with a chilling analogy, Carey suggests that the influence and style of the turn-of-the-century intelligentsia survives in the obfuscations of contemporary criticism. Provocative, courageous, certainly stimulating--and reflecting a profound understanding of the often invisible yet potentially insidious relationship between aesthetics and politics, as well as of how art can be used to camouflage the most repugnant ideas. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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