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The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939 [Paperback]

John Carey
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Oct 1992

Professor John Carey shows how early twentieth-century intellectuals imagined the 'masses' as semi-human swarms, drugged by popular newspapers and cinema, and ripe for extermination. Exposing the revulsion from common humanity in George Bernard Shaw, Ezra Pound, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, W. B. Yeats and other canonized writers, he relates this to the cult of the Nietzschean Superman, which found its ultimate exponent in Hitler.

Carey's assault on the founders of modern culture caused consternation throughout the artistic and academic establishments when it was first published in 1992.


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The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939 + What Good are the Arts? + The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; New edition edition (1 Oct 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571169260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571169269
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 72,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

John Carey is an Emeritus Professor at Oxford University. His books include studies of Donne, Dickens and Thackeray, The Intellectuals and the Masses, What Good Are the Arts? and a life of William Golding., John Carey is an Emeritus Professor at Oxford University and a Fellow of the British Academy. His books include studies of Donne, Dickens and Thackeray, The Intellectuals and the Masses, What Good Are the Arts? and a life of William Golding.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Eye-opener 16 Mar 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Whilst I am inclined to agree with some of the criticisms made by other reviewers, they are not major problems when set against the real and important achievements of this book. Yes, Jonathan Rose's 'The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes' is much more thoroughly researched and overall is more rewarding, but it's a bigger book and on a different subject. Indeed, both books should be read together as they show different sides of the coin. They compliment each other well.

Carey's book certainly has its virtues. He isn't afraid to be blunt where it is justified and he has a gently cutting sense of humour when he has a mind. He has performed a signal service with this book, shedding light on the less savoury side of some of our much-vaunted intellectual predecessors. He's not the first to notice some of these things, but he puts his argument together well and the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Pretentious worshippers of the likes of Woolf and Eliot now have no excuse for not knowing that their heroes had moral feet of clay. It doesn't lessen their achievement as artists - I appreciate Eliot's work myself - but it should provide food for thought. Thank heavens, one might say, for 'the death of the author'. Personally, I'm rather glad that their dislike of educating the masses was sensibly ignored. If it hadn't been, I probably wouldn't be writing this.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 1 Aug 2006
Format:Paperback
A very well-written book full of fascinating details. A few criticisms: I would have preferred a chronological approach, to show how attitudes had changed over the period covered - this is only approximated by the ordering of material, ending with Hitler and covering postmodernism in the postscript; occasional lapses into subjective language are unworthy of the author; a failure to recognise that Joyce not only wrote about the 'common man' but was happy to associate with him, suggesting that his prolix style was not simply the result of a desire to be 'exclusive' (and to say this is true of others is a bit simplistic). The treatment of Orwell also seemed a bit unfair, and did Nietzsche really have less subtlety and imagination than DH Lawrence? I would agree with the central thesis - that to view 'the masses' as a uniformly subhuman group is an arrogant fallacy. But surely it's valid to be critical of and frustrated by the mass media that pander to the lowest common denominator, even if their audience are, individually, more intelligent than what they read.
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1.0 out of 5 stars As scientists say: not even wrong 13 July 2014
Format:Paperback
I reviewed John Carey's later book 'What Good are the Arts?' very negatively on Amazon a few years ago, and have had mostly negative comments for my pains. This book, which at least has a more intelligent premise (to examine attitudes of 20th century intellectuals towards 'the masses'), is even worse. I expect a kicking.

This is possibly the most asinine book by a tenured academic that I've read since Rudiger Imhof's 'The Modern Irish Novel', which had the great disadvantage of being written by someone for whom English is not a first language. Professor Carey's book is much better written than Professor Imhof's, but whereas Prof Imhof's took a few really stupid axioms (for example, that good modern fiction contains extended passages of description, and is not mostly composed of dialogue) and developed them with ironclad logic, Prof Carey's takes a few sensible axioms (for example, that modernist intellectuals were uneasy about the general public) and fails to develop them at all. Every page is infested with weasel wordage, unexamined assumptions, misrepresentations of the works being discussed and, in general, the kind of slack reasoning and absence of argumentative rigour that, if tried on by the average undergraduate, would have seen the young John Carey slinking out of college with a bare pass, if that.

Geoff Dyer has written an excellent review of the book, demonstrating the essentially corrupt and self-serving nature of Carey's thesis; for example, anyone Carey doesn't like is considered an 'intellectual' and therefore suspect, but anyone he does like, such as the poet and translator Edwin Muir, or the University of Chicago Press-published academic Helen McGill Hughes, is excused from the charge of 'intellectual' and considered just a reliable source.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The literary student's essential 18 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
John Carey is an inspired teacher with a light touch; enlightening information seeps into your brain as he entertains you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Page Turner 18 May 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book arrived well within the expected time, and was in good condition.
Going by the title, it does not sound like a 'page-turner' but it was; It was also very unsettling in that, ideologies thought to be acceptable only in certain countries, were in fact widespread.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars surprisingly funny 24 Oct 2007
Format:Paperback
This is probably politically incorrect but I found this book very funny in parts as it mirrors to some extent contemporary concerns about dumbing down. The shock & outrage (described by John Carey) felt by the intelligentsia at the thought of (for instance) the working class being encouraged to read is funny but also very chilling and echoes many of the ill informed leaders carried by many (so called) newspapers 100 years later. A thought provoking and unsettling read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helpful with my Thesis 16 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very interesting, well researched book, which has been very helpful whilst writing my PhD thesis. It takes an innovatory look at the intelligentsia at the beginning of the twentieth century and their attitude to the emerging mass culture.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and challenging
This is a very selective and partial account of the elitist views of a few key Intellectuals during the period in question. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Paul Thomas Phillips
3.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, interesting and flawed
As an ardent reader of modernist literature, a book which took such an iconoclastic approach to some of my most loved literature was always going to cause a stir with me. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Ryan N.
2.0 out of 5 stars Slummingly Selective
John Carey, the Populist Proselytizer, fervently wishes all artists were lovely people, considerate of others, apostles of equality, multiculturism and general all-round niceness. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Tod Hackett
3.0 out of 5 stars Has its moments - but lazy and unfair
The first thing that I feel I should mention is that this work, in which John Carey is highly critical of the deliberate obfuscation of modernism, which Carey claims was a strategy... Read more
Published on 7 Aug 2006 by Ms. C. M. Elvey
5.0 out of 5 stars The 'Intellectual Elites' view YOU the masses with fear & suspicion.
Carey is an excellent author (and speaker) he never gets over heated, pompous or partisan.
This book outlines how the intellectual elite of the 1930s viewed thier fellow man,... Read more
Published on 27 Feb 2002 by ISCA
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that gives an answer to the way we are
John Carey has given us an insight to the reason why we are the way we are. Prejudice has always been a part of this country's social fabric and the middle classes are as guilty... Read more
Published on 16 Jun 1999
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