13 November - Middlebrow Modernism: Irish Writers and The New Yorker in the Mid-20th Century

Yen-Chi Wu holds a PhD in English from University College Cork, where his thesis on John McGahern and modernity was funded by an Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship. His essays have appeared in Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction and forthcoming in Irish Studies Review and New Hibernia Review. He has been awarded a short-term fellowship from the Rose Library at Emory University, where he will investigate McGahern’s literary connections with writers from Northern Ireland. His research interests include twentieth-century Irish literature, modernism(s), postcolonial criticism, and contemporary fiction.

Department of English

Wednesday 13 November 2019
O'Rahilly Building Room 2.12

This paper considers the extent to which Irish writers’ connections with The New Yorker magazine help us better understand Ireland’s literary environment in relation to global modernity in the mid-20th century. Many important Irish writers were regular contributors to The New Yorker, such as Frank O’Connor, Benedict Kiely, Mary Lavin, Maeve Brennan, and Edna O’Brien, to name but a few. While critics have paid attention to how the magazine provided a crucial publishing venue for Irish writers and boosted their international standings, they also highlight the extent to which the magazine’s scrupulous editorial process limited the writers’ literary experimentalism and heightened the stories’ Irishness to appeal to its American readers. This criticism, however, risks overstating The New Yorker’s supposed conservatism. As a middlebrow magazine, The New Yorker has the dual purposes to inform and entertain its educated readership. Post-war liberalism, shared by many upper-middle-class readers at the time, further enhanced patterns of self-contradiction: serious journalistic reports on “third-world” problems shared pages with advertisements of upscale goods and humorous cartoons. In other words, The New Yorker readers celebrated liberal democratic values, but this did not prevent them from enjoying post-war affluence; they were not immune from class bias either. Placing the Irish short stories back in the textual space of The New Yorker—alongside the cartoons, advertisements, social commentaries, and journalistic reports—this paper considers different ways in which Irish stories could be read amid the shifting geopolitics and America’s liberal and middlebrow culture in the mid-twentieth century.

College of Arts, Celtic Studies & Social Sciences

Coláiste na nEalaíon, an Léinn Cheiltigh agus na nEolaíochtaí Sóisialta

College Office, Room G31 ,Ground Floor, Block B, O'Rahilly Building, UCC