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'What Thought of 'Head Office' to "One off His Head"': Escaping 'Clerkly Lives' in Middlebrow Fiction (1859-1945).

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Nicola Jane Bishop
Publication date2014
Number of pages231
Awarding Institution
Place of PublicationLancaster
  • Lancaster University
Electronic ISBNs9780438573567
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis explores how the literary clerk, a nonentity by most accounts, became so emblematic of urban modernity by the early twentieth century that he served to unite the middle and high brows. While the thesis draws parallels with, and offers challenges to, our understanding of the parameters of modernist fiction, it does so through a detailed study of texts that are defined thus far as middlebrow. This includes the works of Victor Canning, Norman Collins, Keble Howard, P. G. Wodehouse, as well as Shan Bullock, H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, and Edwin Pugh. These authors address the plight of the clerk, and they do so from personal experience; most converted to full-time authorship after a period of office work. These novelists, then, are the product of a 'clerkly' fascination with reading, writing, and the acquisition of cultural capital. The narratives that they offer - filled with tales of clerical hardship -show that their sympathies lie with those who cannot write their way out of the office. This is a topographical study which identifies a series of 'escapes' that clerkly authors make available to their literary clerk. In framing the research in this way, this thesis assesses the validity of the typical clerk type before examining the spaces in which the clerk-character could begin to emerge as a viable literary 'everyman'. The clerk is thus placed within those spaces which usually define him (the office and the suburb), demonstrating that underneath the facade of conformity, there is a 'human' element. This human element is to be found in the subversion of office-time, the pleasurable retreat to the suburb, and, in the discovery of the ramble. This ultimate escape --- an adventure in the Home Counties --- showcases the moment in which the clerk-character, at last, becomes the clerk-author.

Bibliographic note

Thesis (Ph.D.)--Lancaster University (United Kingdom), 2014.