What is a "snob" anyway? How does snobbery relate to literature, and how do you know whether or not you are one?
In Am I a Snob?, Sean Latham explores not only the origins of the term, but what it has come to mean for writers. In his discussion of Thackeray, Wilde, Woolf, Joyce, and Sayers, he shows how these writers exploited the term to further their own reputations, but then experienced an unpleasant side effect: "the seductive allure of the snob." Popularity did not come without a cost.
A Question of Art
It never takes very long before a discussion of literary snobbery incorporates the vision of art: what it really is, how it exists. The debate often comes around to academia, the canon, and accessibility. On the one hand, writers may seek to be purveyors of good taste, and creators of works that are both aesthetically pleasing and of the highest literary quality.
But, who decides what's good? And, does popularity ruin a good writer? In his depiction of the various exemplifications of snobbery in modernist literature, Latham attempts to show how Wilde and Thackeray both fled from the "snob" aesthetic, while Woolf appropriated it, Joyce attempted to exploit it, and Sayers incorporates snobbery into her popular genre fiction.
An End or a Beginning
When we get past all the Marxist terminology and vacillations between class, commodification, and aesthetics, we reach a point of acceptance, as Latham says: "As critics, readers, and teachers of modernism, we must agree with Woolf that yes, we are snobs."
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