Tanya Izzard deposited Writing out of suburbia: E.M. Delafield’s Suburban Young Man on Humanities Commons 4 years ago
My paper focuses on Delafield’s 1928 novel The Suburban Young Man, in which Peter Jannett, a moderately successful middlebrow writer from a composite London suburb, struggles to produce better writing; his wife and relatives argue strongly in favour of his taking a sensible job in the family business while a love affair leads to a marital crisis. While Delafield’s text does not suggest that the antipathy between suburb and city can be resolved, it does intimate that good people – and, more radically, good writing – may indeed come out of suburbia. Q.D. Leavis identified this book as exemplifying a deplorable suburban idiom, characteristic of the middlebrow, “in which everything said has a stale flavour of having been acquired from the newspaper or magazine”. The idiom may be suburban but the narrative seeks to distinguish itself from many aspects of suburban life, displaying frequent hostility to suburban tastes, manners and values. The paper investigates how Delafield’s text forms part of the prevailing critical representation of suburbia maintained by her middlebrow and highbrow peers, but also subverts such critique through its self-reflexive examination of literary value within an essentially middlebrow work. This investigation considers how Delafield makes use of the oppositional geographical and cultural spaces of city and suburb, as well as the oppositional social spaces defined by class boundaries; and evaluates the extent to which her narrative mobilises the disruptive possibilities that arise when such boundaries are breached, and challenges the notion of suburbia as a definitively middlebrow cultural and social space.