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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2014

Isobel Maddison: Martin Hipsky, Modernism and the Women’s Popular Romance in Britain, 1885-1925

from Reviews


Modernism and the Women’s Popular Romance in Britain, 1885-1925 is an important and masterful analysis of the romance novel set in the wider context of emerging modernism and the notable shift in the literary hierarchies that accompanied it. The express intention of the book is to redress the ‘romance gap in our literary-historical record’ by focusing on a small group of romances that best exemplify ‘the meteoric rise of once best-selling texts’ (xii) by authors such as Mary Ward and Marie Corelli.

This sounds as though it could be an analysis that attaches importance to the notion of limited literary classifi cation, especially because the Introduction and first chapter alert us to hierarchies of artistic and cultural ‘brows’ into which we might slip thoughtlessly the romances under discussion. This is not Hipsky’s aim, however. Rather, he offers a challenge to twenty-first century scholars of modernism and illuminates the ‘continuities and frictions’ (xiii) between those texts considered popular and those deemed to be modernist in what he calls a ‘zone of convergence’ (xv). Instead of focusing on narrative and stylistic differences, his argument centres on commonality and ‘complementarity of affect’ (219). He suggests, for instance, that the best-selling romances of 1885–1925 offer representations of interiority that parallel the ‘more self-conscious forms of psychic intensity’ (xv) explored by, amongst others, Mansfi eld, Woolf and Lawrence. He is persuasive in connecting the quest for moments of modernist transcendence with the climatic, ‘escapist’ scenes of several romance novels, which also, like Mansfield’s ‘blazing moments’ in particular, foreground the ultimate impossibility of achieving such a goal.