Middlebrow Modernism

Eleanor Dark's Interwar Fiction

Melinda J. Cooper

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Format: paperback
290 pages
ISBN: 9781743328569

Publication: 01 Oct 2022
Series: Sydney Studies in Australian Literature
Publisher: Sydney University Press

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Winner of the Alvie Egan Award 2023

Eleanor Dark (1901–85) is one of Australia’s most innovative 20th-century writers. Her extensive oeuvre includes ten novels published from the early 1930s to the late 1950s, and represents a significant engagement with global modernity from a unique position within settler culture. Yet Dark’s contribution to 20th-century literature has been undervalued in the fields of both Australian literary studies and world literature. Although two biographies have been written about her life, there has been no book-length critical study of her writing published since 1976.

Middlebrow Modernism counters this neglect by providing the first full-length critical survey of Eleanor Dark’s writing to be published in over four decades. Focusing on the fiction that Dark produced during the interwar years and reading this in the context of her larger body of work, this book positions Dark’s writing as important to the study of Australian literature and global modernism.

Melinda Cooper argues that Dark’s fiction exhibits a distinctive aesthetic of middlebrow modernism, which blends attributes of literary modernism with popular fiction. It seeks to mediate and reconcile apparent binaries: modernism and mass culture; liberal humanism and experimental aesthetics; settler society and international modernity. The term middlebrow modernism also captures the way Dark negotiated cosmopolitan commitments with more place-based attachments to nation and local community within the mid-20th century. 

Middlebrow Modernism posits that Dark’s fiction and the broader phenomenon of Australian modernism offer essential case studies for larger debates operating within global modernist and world literature studies, providing perspectives these fields might otherwise miss.

Melinda Cooper’s research focuses on twentieth and twenty-first century Australian literature. Her work on Australian modernism has been published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals. Melinda has taught in the department of English at the University of Sydney. She is the Publicity Officer for the Australasian Modernist Studies Network (AMSN).


Middlebrow modernism: Negotiating settler-colonial modernity, regional cosmopolitanism and liberal humanism

  1. “Whether you deal in books or peanut brittle”: Writing for the popular market in Eleanor Dark’s 1920s magazine fiction and Slow Dawning (1932)
  2. “A masterpiece of camouflage”: Australian modernism and Prelude to Christopher (1934)
  3. “Like the lens of a camera”: Commercial culture, settler belonging and middlebrow modernism in Return to Coolami (1936)
  4. “The everlasting voice of man”: Modernist aesthetic utopianism and Sun Across the Sky (1937)
  5. “The vast, the bewildering, the menacing problems of all humanity”: Regional cosmopolitanism and the political middlebrow in Waterway (1938)
  6. “An exercise in imagination”: The limits of empathy in The Timeless Land (1941)


“an original and provocative work that both affirms and redefines Eleanor Dark’s position as a major Australian writer and cultural figure” Emeritus Professor David Carter


Format: paperback
Size: 254 × 178 mm
290 pages
ISBN: 9781743328569
Publication: 01 Oct 2022
Series: Sydney Studies in Australian Literature