Middlebrow: Satire and Woolf Essay

Submitted By samigator2
Words: 1215
Pages: 5

After reading Virginia Woolf’s “Middlebrow”, it indisputably clear that Virginia Woolf identifies herself as a highbrow. But something that needs to be addressed is the true meaning of the word “highbrow” to Woolf. Although the word “highbrow” generally refers to an individual of a higher class and social status, I don’t think that’s what she intends in this essay. I truly don’t think that Woolf wrote this essay using the word “highbrow” to discuss the issue of class differences and social positions. I say this because Woolf refers to highbrows as being “the man or woman of thoroughbred intelligence who rides his mind at a gallop across a country in pursuit of an idea” and refers to the lowbrows as being “the man or woman of thoroughbred vitality who rides his body in pursuit of a living at a gallop across life.” Although one would think that this reference to the different purposes in life of each group indicates class difference, I believe that the essay is referring to the cultural intelligence of different groups of people. The “highbrows” are those who are highly cultured and have great intelligence in such an area, such as Shakespeare, Dickens, Byron, Shelley, and Keats, all people Woolf refers to as highbrows in her essay. Highbrow, based on the individuals referenced in her essay, is a group of individuals constituted by cultural intellects, artists, writers, poets, and individuals, as Woolf so aptly described, that “are wholly incapable of dealing successfully with what is called real life.” Lowbrow is a group of people constituted by people that work as maids, stockbrokers, conductors, miners, and essentially laborers that aren’t lesser than the highbrows. They’re just individuals that aren’t as culturally intelligent and don’t have the diversity in knowledge of a highbrow. It’s a relationship where “lowbrows need highbrows and honour them just as much as highbrows need lowbrows and honour them”.
The third group that Woolf makes reference to in her essay is that which she calls the “middlebrows”. The middlebrow is a group that lies between the highbrows and the lowbrows. An individual in this group is “the man, or woman, of middlebred intelligence who ambles and saunters now on this side of the hedge, now on that, in pursuit of no single object, neither art itself no life itself, but both mixed indistinguishably, and rather nastily, with money, fame, power, or prestige”. In other words, and individual with no purpose in life who is driven usually by money or power. This is the group that Woolf targets in this essay, and more specifically targets a reviewer that did the review of one of her books. Woolf targets this individual and constructs her essay through the use of satire to establish her argument and get her point across to the reviewer. Woolf’s line of argument is that he failed to address her as a highbrow, something that insults her for she knows who she is and understands herself in a way that a middlebrow doesn’t. She states that “we highbrows read what we like and do what we like, and praise what we like”, referring to the fact that she does not need the opinions of others in order to know things about herself and in order to determine her likes and dislikes. Woolf lives in a more realistic manner that isn’t based on societal views or opinions of her. To contrast, middlebrows are shown in her essay as being people that are what we refer to today as “going with the flow”. They don’t think for themselves and are always trying to reach the standards of the highbrows and always trying to be like them in every way they can. They purchase “first editions of dead writers, always the worst; pictures, or reproductions from pictures, by dead painters”, and they never purchase anything that is original. In her essay, Woolf also refers to the middlebrow style of writing as being “this mixture of geniality and sentiment stuck together with a sticky slime of calves-foot jelly”, indicating that it lacks realism and