ABSTRACT

This article, attending to the periodical codes of The New Yorker and the magazine’s middlebrow brand of sophistication, explores the significance of Maeve Brennan’s satirical stories. While Brennan’s Irish background and Dublin stories have received critical attention, her New York stories have not yet been fully appreciated in relation to her long affiliation with The New Yorker and America’s smart magazine culture. Drawing on scholarship from periodical studies, middlebrow culture studies, and the cultural histories of The New Yorker, this article argues that the publication of The New Yorker provides a rich context in which to better understand Brennan’s satire and self-mockery as social commentaries that probe the middlebrow concerns of class anxiety and imposter syndrome.

A staff writer at The New Yorker from 1949 to the 1980s, Maeve Brennan was best known for her witty observations of city life, her reminiscences of her Dublin childhood, and her satirical stories that poke fun at New York’s upper middle class. A series of stories set in Herbert’s Retreat—a fictional wealthy community—particularly attunes to The New Yorker readership’s interest in the world of sophistication. In her later years, however, Brennan suffered from mental illness, and her literary output diminished. When she died in 1993, her fame had faded, as her writings were buried in the back issues of The New Yorker. It was not until Angela Bourke’s biography of Brennan appeared in 2004 that she began to receive renewed critical attention.1 Recent scholars—mostly Irish and feminist critics—have discussed Brennan’s treatment of Irish diaspora in the United States, her acute attention to fashion, her documentation of the changing cityscapes of Dublin and New York, and how her childhood experience of conflicts bleeds into her later writing.2 These discussions are important scholarly interventions that reinstate Brennan’s literary importance, but what is often left out of the picture is Brennan’s long association with The New Yorker, which largely defined her writing career. The publishing contexts of the metropolitan magazine, its affiliation with middlebrow culture, and its image of sophistication deserve our attention.3 They offer a crucial lens for us to better understand how Brennan uses satire and humor to examine significant middlebrow concerns about class, the modern aesthetic, and her own cultural positioning as a woman writer in the magazine industry.

Brennan’s “Lessons and Lessons and Then More Lessons” encapsulates her engagement with middlebrow culture through the medium of humor and self-mockery.4 In this piece, which first appeared in The New Yorker in 1962, Brennan writes about a surprise encounter with two Catholic nuns in a Manhattan restaurant. Writing in the first-person, Brennan creates a narrator much like herself: an independent professional woman working in New York City, having a quiet time by herself in a restaurant after the lunch rush hour. With a martini and a few books on her table, the narrator casually looks out the window and notices two nuns on the street. The sight of the habit-clad figures reminds the young professional of her education in a Dublin convent school. Recalling the sin-obsessed nuns and the pitiable food, she cannot help but feel grateful for the life she leads now. She writes: “it seemed miraculous to be able to be so free and independent that I could be in the restaurant I preferred and drink what I liked and eat what I liked and read the books of my choice and see two nuns pass and feel nothing except a slight surprise—no apprehensiveness, no wild survey of a panicky conscience, nothing like that.”5 Her self-congratulation, however, is quickly interrupted by the nuns turning toward the restaurant and pushing through the doors. She freezes, observing the pair walking past her down the aisle. After the nuns have settled in their seats, the narrator realizes just how embarrassing her own reactions are: she has instinctively held her menu up to hide her face, while in her other hand she holds her half-emptied martini glass behind the tablecloth. The narrator ends the piece with this repeated phrase: “It was the moment of no comment. It was the moment of no comment.”6

This final sentence shows that the narrator’s embarrassment leaves her speechless. It also suggests that her readers do not need any explanation; they should understand the situation perfectly. In this way, the narrator’s mortified acknowledgment of her inability to shake off her convent education—she is not a real metropolitan after all—is meant to endear her to The New Yorker’s readers. The narrator is not a born martini-drinking, book-reading modern woman; she is someone who has made deliberate efforts to become a New Yorker. It is this process of becoming a modern figure—and the sense of being unable to fully become that figure—that is meant to resonate with readers’ lived experience. The New Yorker in the middle decades of the twentieth century was a middlebrow magazine, targeting a middle-class readership aspiring after high culture. These readers were conscious of their own upward climb and the potential pretentiousness of their pursuit. In “Lessons and Lessons,” it is the crack underneath the narrator’s modern façade—her self-consciousness and self-mockery—that appeals to readers who are on a similar journey toward urban sophistication. In other words, they are not laughing at the narrator; they are laughing with her at their own imposter syndrome.

It is with this understanding of Brennan’s use of humor in relation to The New Yorker’s affiliations with middlebrow culture that we can look at Brennan’s satirical stories from a new perspective. Brennan’s Herbert’s Retreat stories offer a particularly strong case in point. These stories, being light and humorous, rarely attract critical attention.7 When critics do give them a serious look, their focus is often on the Irish characters.8 They also tend to read the stories in their later anthologized version in The Rose Garden (1999), rather than in The New Yorker, where they first appeared. They thereby miss out on the significance of the periodical codes9—especially the magazine’s sardonic tone, its image of urban sophistication, and the smart magazine culture in which it participates.

Critics have considered the extent to which Brennan’s humor harkens back to a particular brand of Irish satire.10 But there is a more direct link in Brennan’s immediate literary environment: the witty women writers at the “smart magazines” in New York.11 The figure of the smart woman writer is often associated with sophistication, but its practitioners, such as Dorothy Parker, Lois Long, and Mary McCarthy often self-knowingly undo this image with sardonic humor.12 As Catherine Keyser aptly demonstrates, these writers “dazzle with epigram and wit, but they also delineate the failures of purported sophistication.”13 Brennan’s “Lessons and Lessons” shows affinity with these women writers in the magazine industry, demonstrating the author’s awareness of her cultural positioning while at the same time poking fun at the poses of modern sophistication: drinking martinis alone in a Manhattan restaurant.

Shifting critical attention from the Irish context to that of America’s magazine culture, we can reposition Brennan within a transatlantic framework, influenced by both sides. This alerts us to the ways in which Brennan develops her satirical bent as a response to her cultural and social surroundings in New York. In 1954 Brennan married fellow New Yorker writer St. Clair McKelway and moved to Sneden’s Landing, an upscale community by the Hudson River, on which Herbert’s Retreat is modeled.14 The setting provides a suitable stage for Brennan to employ her sardonic humor to probe class anxiety and the middlebrow urge to “out-brow”—to distinguish themselves from—the uncultured classes.15 By attending to the periodical codes of The New Yorker in the mid-century, we gain a richer understanding of how sarcasm can be consumed as cultural capital. This article, drawing on scholarship in periodical studies, middlebrow culture, and cultural histories of The New Yorker, considers how Brennan’s humor and self-mockery resonate with the magazine’s ethos of modern sophistication. In particular, I examine how Brennan satirizes middlebrow concerns about taste, cultural capital, and the impulse to be modern. I further consider how such mockery could be rendered as an asset to bolster one’s social status.

THE NEW YORKER, SOPHISTICATION, AND MIDDLEBROW CULTURE

The correlation between middlebrow and magazine culture has been well documented.16 The magazine was in fact a main field for the two “battles of the brows”—the first took place in early twentieth-century Britain, the second in the mid-century United States.17 The New Yorker occupied a front-row seat in the latter.18 A key criticism of middlebrow culture centers upon the ideas of vulgarization and adulteration.19 According to its critics, the middlebrow is neither high nor low; it is “the Betwixt and Between” group that apes high culture and condescends to the masses on the lower social strata.20

Recent critics, however, have directed our attention to the positive values of middlebrow culture. Erica Brown and Mary Grover suggest that the middlebrow “is the product of powerful anxieties about cultural authority and processes of cultural transmission.”21 More specifically, Joan Shelley Rubin argues that the rise of middlebrow culture is linked to democratic values. She writes that the democratization of property and ownership in the late nineteenth century resulted in an emerging middle class; through their purchasing power, they gained access to material finery and cultural sophistication, which had previously been restricted to aristocrats.22 Thus, middlebrow culture embodies social mobility and democratic values; its participants could be vociferous critics of classism and the old nobility’s gatekeeping of taste and culture. Faye Hammill similarly states: “In more affirmative terms, middlebrow culture can be understood as a space where art encounters consumerism, and pleasure combines productively with self-improvement.”23 In this regard, middlebrow culture does not adulterate the standards of high culture and the arts; instead, it makes them more accessible to aspiring individuals who were not born into wealthy families.

Founded in 1925, The New Yorker took on the role of taste-setter in middlebrow culture, using a light approach to informing its readers of the goings-on in New York society. It was during and after World War II that the humorous tone was counterbalanced by journalism, placing the magazine in the liminal, yet richly provocative, space between seriousness and entertainment.24 As Daniel Tracy indicates, magazines like The New Yorker have a “pedagogical role.”25 Ben Yagoda also suggests that The New Yorker aims not only to “amuse” and “delight,” but also to “instruct” its readers.26 In the postwar years, the magazine showed its readers how to navigate the world of sophistication; it also taught them how to be high-minded global citizens.

Sophistication and the middlebrow, as critics have shown us, are highly connected:27 both require complicated negotiation with different cultural strata. The New Yorker’s founder Harold Ross wrote in the prospectus in 1924: “[the magazine’s] general tenor will be one of gaiety, wit and satire, but it will be more than a jester. It will not be what is commonly called radical or high-brow. It will be what is commonly called sophisticated.”28 Ross performs a rhetorical dance here, swaying between two cultural sensitivities. He envisions the magazine to be neither high nor low—not pretentious nor ridiculous. It is simply sophisticated. The word “sophisticated,” however, rejects a clear definition. Its meaning is often suggested by “a constellation of terms”: “worldliness, taste, and distinction.”29 But the origin of the term was pejorative, associated with “disingenuousness or adulteration.”30 As Joseph Litvak argues, “[i]t is not so much that the meaning of the term shifts from negative to positive as that the negative meaning persists within the positive.”31 This is why, although we often use sophistication to mean having good taste and being culturally savvy, its etymology reminds us that it is also an affectation. To be truly sophisticated, then, requires the balancing act of simultaneously acquiring and disavowing—or at least using a tongue-in-cheek treatment of—the sense of worldly posturing. This operation helps to shape The New Yorker’s distinctive voice that aspires after high culture while making fun of it at the same time.

In the postwar era, the magazine’s middlebrow brand of sophistication demanded its readers be enlightened not only in culture but also in geopolitics. As America assumed global power after World War II, its citizens—especially those of a liberal political persuasion—were increasingly aware of their responsibilities for the rest of the world. Mary F. Corey points out that The New Yorker in the mid-twentieth century exhibited a particular mixture of postwar liberalism and middle-class complacency, an “unapologetic conflation of high commerce with high-mindedness.”32 That is, New Yorker readers’ liberal concerns about equality and democracy did not deter them from enjoying their material wealth. In fact, this conflation also turns high-mindedness into a kind of cultural capital; being savvy about global affairs and current political lingo also elevates one’s social standing. In other words, The New Yorker contributed to an emerging upper middle class in the United States who prided themselves on being liberal and modern, a new set of registers that set them apart from the supposedly outdated conservatism of conventional high society.

The idea of modernity, indeed, reverberates throughout the middlebrow cultural sphere. Being modern implies a break from the old; it is a class marker for upwardly mobile people who bring in new dimensions to high culture, as opposed to being its gatekeepers. Faye Hammill, for instance, notices “middlebrow writers’ engagement with modernity, and especially with changing class structures and gender economies.”33 Nicola Humble, from a feminist perspective, makes a similar point that the pursuit of “modernity” allows women to free themselves from the restraints of conventional social mores. Being modern helps them to replace “the more traditional elements of propriety, emotional restraint and class-consciousness.”34 Brennan’s narrator in “Lessons and Lessons,” as discussed above, is exactly a figure whose class status rests more on her modern professional persona than on ostensible wealth. But being modern is more than demonstrating a set of liberal values in relation to gender; it also suggests a fashionable style that could be carefully constructed. As Humble further points out, “[t]he desires to compete with others, and to display the home as modern and fashionable were repeatedly manipulated by writers and advertisers.”35 That is, one could establish a modern façade by consuming fashionable goods and by placing stylish furniture in one’s house. In this sense, being modern, paradoxically, is both an enabling liberal ideology that challenges the old and a trendy style—a new class marker—to “out-brow” the uncultured masses.

From these critical discussions, we see that the middlebrow rendition of sophistication operates on several levels of self-contradiction. It both emulates and ridicules the values of high culture. It challenges old class markers while establishing new sets. Its participants are highly conscious of their social aspirations and the vanity of their upward pursuit. These contradictions give birth to a tendency to use parody and self-mockery to examine peculiar middlebrow cultural conditions. The New Yorker is a master in this regard, with its witty and satirical style of cultural analysis. As Corey indicates, “the fusion of affluence and social consciousness that defined many members of the New Yorker community produced a particularly lively strain of self-recrimination.”36 Yagoda similarly suggests that The New Yorker is “prone to self-consciousness and irony.”37 On the other hand, Daniel Tracy, categorizing The New Yorker and Vanity Fair as “smart magazines,” indicates that one of the characteristics of being “smart” is cleverness and humor.38 The New Yorker, more often than its competitors, adopts “parody” and a “tongue-in-cheek” approach to avant-garde arts and social movements.39 By poking fun at inscrutable experimentalist expressions, the magazine shows its readers that they don’t necessarily have to agree with the standards of high culture. The magazine’s readers, by simply being aware of these fashionable movements, set themselves apart from the “unknowing” crowds, while maintaining an ambivalent relationship with the upper crust. In this regard, The New Yorker’s parody of high culture and self-mockery of its cultural aspirations become the hallmarks of a middlebrow culture it helped to foster.

On the page prior to Brennan’s story “The Anachronism” (1954), a cartoon by Barney Tobey shows two women in an art studio: an art dealer wearing a slick black dress and a stylish hairdo and a potential patron looking surprised at a portrait on the easel. The portrait is of a woman in realist style, a sharp contrast to the abstract paintings that adorn the walls in the background. The customer looks puzzled at these incongruous styles. In the caption, the art dealer explains to the potential buyer: “Oh, didn’t I tell you? He’s got new glasses.”40 This explanation makes fun of abstract art, attributing it to the artist’s poor eyesight, thus downplaying its artistic value. This cartoon is indicative of The New Yorker’s satirical approach to modernism and highbrow art; it takes delight in unmasking highbrow pretensions. The magazine enlightens its readers on high culture, but it refrains from endorsing its values. In this way, the magazine carves out a niche in the literary market, navigating the liminal space of middlebrow culture. The New Yorker’s brand of middlebrow sophistication offers a crucial context in which to appreciate Brennan’s humor and satire.

SATIRE, CLASS ANXIETY, AND MIDDLEBROW MODERNITY

One of Brennan’s early short stories in The New Yorker, “The Joker” (1952), shows how adept she already was at satirizing America’s upper middle class: this satirical bent would recur in her Herbert’s Retreat series and throughout her writing career.41 The story appeared in the December 27, 1952 issue—a Christmas special. As Yagoda notes, The New Yorker observed strict seasonal scheduling in the middle decades of the twentieth century: “stories and poems that took place in or concerned a particular time of year must be published at that time of year.”42 Set on Christmas Day, “The Joker” is seasonally appropriate. The Christmas spirit of kindness and generosity also serves as a potent background against which the story’s protagonist establishes her class superiority through acts of charity.43

“The Joker” centers on Isobel Bailey and her Christmas practice of inviting “waifs” to her house. Isobel employs the term “waifs” to describe people who are lost in life, and she keeps a list of such figures she encounters. On this Christmas Day, she selects three of them from the list as lucky recipients of her generosity. Their Christmas dinner, however, is interrupted when the maid Delia informs Isobel that there is a beggar at the door. Eager to impress her Christmas guests, Isobel instructs the maid to give the man some food in the kitchen: “I want him to have everything we have.”44 To show more kindness to the beggar, Isobel asks Delia to bring a cigar for him. Minutes later, the maid rushes back into the dining room, telling Isobel and her guests that the beggar has gone without saying goodbye; what’s more, he has stubbed his cigar butt in the sauce prepared for the Christmas pudding. Shocked by the man’s rudeness in return for Isobel’s charitable act, the guests offer their sympathy to their hostess. The tables are suddenly turned: the lady of the house finds herself at the receiving end of her waifs’ pity. Unprepared for this turn of event, Isobel excuses herself and retires to her bedroom, where “she wished bitterly that it was time to send them all home.”45

Isobel’s obsession with waifs is a telling example of the middlebrow urge to distinguish oneself from those lower on the economic and cultural spectrum. She often wonders how a person becomes a waif, concluding that there is not a single cause that accounts for one’s descent into waifdom. To describe the stranded life of waifs, she comes up with this metaphor: “waifs were simply people who had been squeezed off the train because there was no room for them. They had lost their tickets. Some of them never had owned a ticket. Perhaps their parents had failed to equip them with a ticket.”46 In this passage, Brennan employs free indirect speech, slipping into Isobel’s mind to reveal her sense of social superiority.

This train metaphor may seem reasonable at first glance, but a closer look at how Isobel applies this theory to her life reveals its ridiculousness. For instance, one of her Christmas guests is her dressmaker Miss Amy Ellis. Miss Ellis dresses nicely and has a respectable job. According to Isobel, however, her arms alone qualify her as a waif: “Miss Ellis’s arms, Isobel saw at once, with a lightning flash of intuition, were the key to Miss Ellis’s character, and to her life. Thin, stringy, cold, and white, stretched stiff with emptiness—they were what made her look like a waif.”47 We see that Miss Ellis’s arms are thin, but how exactly this proves her to be a waif is far from clear. Indeed, it is Isobel’s “flash of intuition,” rather than any logical reasoning, that makes Miss Ellis seem waiflike. In a similar way, another guest of hers, Johnathan Quin, is identified as a waif because of his “battered black shoes.”48 Granted, the shoes reveal Johnathan’s limited purchasing power. But as a young man who recently moved from North Carolina to New York City for a job in journalism, it is understandable that he has yet to establish himself financially. In this sense, Isobel’s characterization of Miss Ellis and Johnathan as waifs only reveals how arbitrary her theory is.

As Alison Light points out, “being ‘middle-class’ in fact depends on an extremely anxious production of endless discriminations between people who are constantly assessing each other’s standing.”49 Waifs, in this regard, are a fictional class conjured up by Isobel, and she uses this elusive category to elevate her own social status. By hosting imagined waifs in her beautiful house, Isobel separates herself from the supposedly unfortunate lower classes, staking a claim as their social superior. Her charity is only a veiled tool for her power play.

Tonally similar to “The Joker,” “The Anachronism” satirizes middlebrow anxiety about class, especially in relation to the idea of modernity. As mentioned earlier, the idea of being modern is paramount in middlebrow culture—it suggests a liberal attitude that breaks free from the constraints of conventional social norms. The idea of being modern, however, also refers to a style or an aesthetic. As Mary Chapman indicates, the magazine as an “advertising-oriented publishing model” promoted a sense of “social mobility” understood in terms of “economic success” and “aesthetic sophistication.”50 Combining economic and aesthetic values, this commercialized rendition of modernity becomes a new class symbol. In “The Anachronism,” Brennan satirizes the furniture design movement “mid-century modern” as a middlebrow obsession. Cara Greenberg tells us, in furniture and home designs, that “modern had become a buzz word” in the mid-twentieth century.51 By incorporating “the biomorphic” and “the machine” looks, the trend creates a distinct mid-century modern aesthetic that differs from early American style.52 The slick and simple look of mid-century modernity, however, lends itself to mass production. Accordingly, the modern furniture movement is finally doomed by “cheap copies.”53 In this sense, modernity, as a commercialized class marker to be consumed and put on, is trickier to harness as it is haunted by its cheap copycats. Admittedly, the confluence of modern aesthetics and consumerism can be traced back to the nineteenth century, but the prominent design movement of “mid-century modern” offers Brennan an opportunity to dramatize the conflict of two styles.

In The New Yorker during this period, we often see advertisers use “modern” in taglines or blurbs to sell their products. It is used to describe a variety of merchandise and services, including exotic cruises, cars, and new houses. For instance, in a 1953 New Yorker issue, a Moore-McCormack cruise company promises to take their customers to “cities as modern as tomorrow,”54 the car manufacturer Lincoln presents its latest model as “powered for moderns on the move.”55 This commercialization of modernity is taken even further in home design. A cross-page advertisement bears the headline: “Two things to own Extreme Modern” (1962).56 On the left, we see a hillside house with a glass exterior described as a “stunningly modern 1-to-5-room home”; on the right is a set of cutlery made by International. The blurb under the silverware suggests that its streamlined design invokes the space age, and the set of cutlery “gives any home a modern touch . . . makes a modern home ultra-modern.”57 This hyperbole implies that there are hierarchized versions of modernity. It insinuates that a consumer can “out-modern” the merely modern by purchasing this ultra-modern set of cutlery.

Against this backdrop, we can better appreciate “The Anachronism” as a satire of the middlebrow taste for trendy, modern style.58 The opening of the story introduces the protagonists and their house in Herbert’s Retreat thusly: “Tom and Liza Frye had an eighteenth-century brick house, painted white and filled with severely modern furniture, and two Jaguar cars, a white one for Liza and a black one for Tom.”59 Not only does the couple demolish an old house for the new, but also their renovation is described as “severely modern”—the adverb subtly hints that their obsession with modern style borders on a pathological condition. We soon learn that it is Liza who is responsible for the modernization of the old brick house. The couple moved to Herbert’s Retreat seven years ago. Tom was born into a wealthy family, socializing in the world of gentlemen’s clubs, while Liza grew up in an unremarkable family that owns a small store. Having visited Herbert’s Retreat as a flower shop clerk, Liza was impressed and enraged by the residents’ self-assuredness and snobbery. After she married Tom, she insisted on moving to this exclusive community to avenge herself. Giving herself and her house an extremely modern look is one way to reinvent herself as an equal to her privileged neighbors.

Brennan describes how Liza takes pride in her renovation of the house, but her intention to impress her neighbors backfires: “[Liza] had torn out the whole riverside wall of her house to install those two outsize picture windows. At night, from the opposite bank of the river, her house appeared to be a glittering sheet of white light—the most spectacular establishment in the community, whether you admired it or not.”60 The replacement of brick walls with outsized windows reminds us of the modern hillside house in the advertisement mentioned above. It is an ostensibly modern feature, offering open space and access to the coveted river view. Spectacular as it might be, however, the glass house is also an affront to their neighbors. That is to say, the house stands out, but not in a good way. We learn later that other houses in the community are mostly in the early American style. Assured of their status, the original residents of Herbert’s Retreat are not as inclined as Liza to pursue the trendy modern aesthetic. In fact, the residents have a penchant for old styles. For instance, in “The Divine Fire Place” (1956), Mrs. Tillbright is proud of her “divine old-fashioned kitchen,”61 and in “The Stone Hot-Water Bottle” (1954),62 Leona’s aunt by marriage, Lady Ailesbury-Rhode, is so taken by the old-fashioned hot-water bottle that she causes quite a storm. In this regard, in contrast to her neighbors’ self-assuredness, which is rooted in established wealth, Liza’s new modern aesthetic appears to be crudely showy.

The clash of the two styles is especially evident in her neighbors’ poor opinion of Liza’s house. One of Liza’s nemeses is Clara, who grew up rich. During a luncheon, Clara proposes to host a copper-themed party for Liza and Tom’s seventh anniversary—as the seventh anniversary is traditionally celebrated as brass and copper. Clara jokingly says that any copper-inspired gifts would appear anachronistically inappropriate for Liza’s impeccably modern house. Clara’s joke is seemingly self-deprecating, suggesting that she is out of step with the trendy style. But it also carries a slight criticism of Liza’s modern taste as a fleeting thing. Ever sensitive to snide remarks, Liza quickly counters that she has in fact planned to use anachronism as the theme of her party. She tells Clara, “As a matter of fact, Tom and I were laughing about anachronisms only the other night. As Tom said, a seventh anniversary is something of an anachronism anyway. The anachronistic lucky seven, and so on. So we decided to celebrate the occasion with our first anachronism.”63 Clara’s joke comes from her old-style assuredness and her contempt for Liza’s newfangled pursuits. Liza, however, misses the point. Instead, she proposes to have their “first anachronism”—an oxymoron intended to turn the old into the new.

What Liza has in mind for a surprise is to recruit a British maid, Betty, whom Clara has mentioned in their talks. According to Clara, the old-fashioned maid wears a servant’s uniform with laced-up boots, addresses people as “M’lady,” and even curtsies. Liza calculates that by having this maid at her party she will certainly be considered the most anachronistic. Betty’s arrival, however, tips the power balance in Liza’s modern house. Liza’s mother, Mrs. Conroy, has long suffered from Liza’s tyrannical insistence on making everything modern. Mrs. Conroy is not allowed to have tea; she hates the tube-like chair in the house; she is also denied an open fire. But when Betty arrives, Mrs. Conroy finds a powerful accomplice. Together, the two old-fashioned women form an alliance of anachronism that encroaches on Liza’s carefully cultivated modern style. Liza’s attempt to incorporate the old into her meticulously modern home turns out to be a total disaster.

“The Anachronism” thus satirizes the absurdity of the middlebrow impulse to be modern through Liza’s deliberate cultivation of a modern style as a class marker. Read among the advertisements that champion the idea of being modern, the story shows New Yorker readers how ridiculous and shallow it is to put on the modern façade as a class symbol. But paradoxically this sense of self-awareness is also an asset of middlebrow culture. Indeed, although Brennan pokes fun at social climbers like Liza, she reserves her most severe criticism for those who refuse to show any sign of imposter syndrome. The contrast between Leona Harkey and Charles Runyon should be examined in this light.

IMPOSTER SYNDROME AND SELF-MOCKERY AS CULTURAL CAPITAL

Of the seven stories set in Herbert’s Retreat, Leona and Charles appear in four.64 We first meet them in “The View from the Kitchen” (1953),65 where we learn that Leona is not a native of the wealthy community. Like Liza, she entered Herbert’s Retreat through marriage: with Tommy Finch, who died in a car accident. Four months after Tommy’s death, Leona remarried. Her second husband, George Harkey, works as a credit manager, a job she openly despises. She only married him because George has inherited a small hut that sits between her garden and the Hudson River. The river view is highly valued in the community. Soon after their marriage, Leona, unable to hold back her true intention, has the hut torn down, extending her garden to the riverside. In the narrative present, she has invited her mentor Charles Runyon—or “Mr God” as the maid Bridie mockingly calls him—to admire the new garden and its unobstructed river view.66 We learn all this through the Irish maids, Bridie and Agnes, who observe their employer and her esteemed guest from the kitchen window. The maids offer sardonic comments on the community’s obsession with the river view and how it takes Leona two marriages to acquire the best view there. Critics have paid attention to how Brennan gives voice to the usually marginalized Irish maids in the story.67 But another issue worth examining is how Brennan satirizes middlebrow culture, using Leona as a representative of the new rich with imposter syndrome and Charles as a self-proclaimed man of taste who capitalizes upon Leona’s class anxiety.

We meet Leona and Charles again in “The Stone Hot-Water Bottle” (1954), where they move from the background to the forefront. We learn more about their peculiar, and sometimes toxic, mentor-mentee relationship. Charles, a critic of theater and literature, “was the only celebrated representative of the world of arts and letters who was familiar to the residents of the Retreat.”68 Opinionated and sharp-witted, Charles takes it upon himself to give Leona guidance on high culture and good taste; in return, Leona shares her wealth with him, offering him a room in her house for his weekend stays. Leona, however, receives Charles’s wisdom with both gratitude and trepidation. She is often scared of falling victim to his “scathing and horribly accurate tongue”; moreover, she worries about losing his favor and the “importance” she has built up for herself by being an associate of his.69 Leona, as a new member of Herbert’s Retreat, feels the need to enlist a culture guru to help her navigate the world of sophistication. To win Charles’s favor, Leona even prepares an old-fashioned stone hot-water bottle, wrapped in a specially made olive-green velvet jacket, just like the one Charles had when he was little. The item becomes Charles’s treasured possession, and later in the story, it is a cause of friction in their relationship.

Unlike Leona, her first husband, Tommy, was born rich. One day, Tommy’s aunt Lady Ailesbury-Rhode plans to visit Leona, setting off her imposter syndrome. The aunt, with a noble title, represents wealth of a long European lineage, as opposed to new money. For Leona, her aunt’s is a social class that she will never be able to reach. We learn from the narrator: “at the bottom of [Leona’s] heart, deeper even than her dependence on Charles, lay an irresponsible, unreasonable fear, carefully smothered most of the time, that someday some distant relative of Tommy’s would turn up and take the house from her.”70 Eager to please the Lady and prove herself a worthy inheritor of the house, Leona turns to Charles for help, asking him to entertain her distinguished relative with his witty conversations. Upon arrival, the Lady requests a hot-water bottle for her afternoon nap after her long journey. Unthinkingly, Leona gives her the stone hot-water bottle usually reserved for Charles. Fascinated by the old-fashioned bottle, the Lady requests to use the same item at night. When Charles finds out, he feels snubbed that Leona gave his special bottle to someone more important than he is. He then threatens that he will leave her residence early the next morning, refusing to attend the party that she has prepared for her guests. In dismay, Leona returns to her room and cries herself to sleep. When she wakes up the next morning, Leona finds Charles already entertaining the guests. The maid Bridie then gives her a note from Charles, which says that he was only joking the night before. Feeling relieved and grateful, Leona goes into Charles’s room, where she finds several unfinished notes in the fire grate. She realizes that these are Charles’s drafted apologies for his tantrums last night. It suddenly dawns on her: “Why, Charles was anxious to stay. He was just as anxious to stay as she was to have him here.”71 The knowledge of Charles’s anxiety empowers Leona. When she joins her guests later, she ignores Charles for the whole time, feeling the upper hand for once in their unequal relationship: “Leona thought she had never had such fun in her life as she was having ignoring Charles.”72

In this ending, Leona not only has the upper hand in her relationship with Charles, but she also becomes more likeable than her sharp-tongued mentor. Her insecurity and eagerness to please those who are above her social station makes her more relatable to The New Yorker’s upper-middle-class readers, who may share her imposter syndrome. At the end, Charles becomes the butt of the joke. Being a cultured and witty conversationalist, Charles earns himself a special place in Herbert’s Retreat as a taste guru and a sought-after party guest. But there is no mistaking that he and Leona are both imposters: while she has money—the real capital—he has good taste, a cultural capital that is more volatile. More importantly, Leona knows she is an imposter, while Charles refuses to acknowledge his humble social background. It is his straight-faced posturing of sophistication that makes him a particularly unlikeable character in Brennan’s satire of middlebrow culture.

In “The Stone Hot-Water Bottle,” we only learn that “Charles edited himself carefully”;73 in another story “The Gentleman in the Pink-and-White Striped Shirt”74 (1955), we are invited into his private domain, where we realize the extent to which he fabricates his sophisticated persona. Charles occupies a room in the Murray Hill Hotel, where he has resided for nearly thirty years. It was once a fine residential hotel, but it is now “run down and shabby”; it nevertheless suits Charles because “it was very cheap.”75 Despite his reputation for having good taste, Charles’s choice of residence says something about his penuriousness, both in terms of his financial means and his character. The story’s main plot focuses on how Charles, being stingy, refuses to pay extra newspaper delivery money. When he forgets to buy the newspaper the night before, he resolves to steal a copy from his neighbor’s door, but he accidentally locks himself out of his own room. It might be a rather overused comic plot device to have someone in their morning robe locked outside their room, but Charles is not our regular bumbling clown. Just as he manages to get help from the elevator boy to return to his room, his neighbor discovers the theft of her newspaper. Charles, being the prime suspect, denies any wrong doings and feigns indignation over the accusation thrown at him. After finishing his breakfast and reading the stolen paper, Charles has to dispose of the evidence outside his room. He decides to hide the paper under his coat when he leaves for a special meeting with Leona, intending to toss the paper in the bin on the street. But the paper leaves a stain on his shirt of pink and white stripes, which is specially made to celebrate the eighth anniversary of his friendship with Leona. He thus makes a fool of himself in front of his mentee.

The title of the story carries a faint echo of Mary McCarthy’s “The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt” (1941).76 Both title characters are aware of how their tailor-made shirts elevate their social status. While Mr. Breen, in McCarthy’s story, is a wealthy man working for a steel company who can afford this sartorial choice, Charles, as a man with mere good taste but no money, wears the fancy shirt as a hollow self-invention. The story reveals Brennan’s special contempt for Charles. Charles’s sin is that he capitalizes upon Leona’s and her friends’ imposter syndrome, dictating to them what good tastes and sophistication are, while living a double life. As Brennan’s narrator explains to us, the residents of the Retreat regard Charles “as their infallible authority on the rules of gracious living and on the shadowy and constantly changing dimensions of good taste.” But they “would have been astonished at the absence of grace and charm in Charles’s domestic arrangements. They might even have been outraged, considering the stringent demands he made on their establishments.”77 Leona and the residents of the Retreat are naïve in trusting an imposter like Charles, but through them, Brennan also shows middlebrow culture’s class anxieties; they are so anxious about learning the ever-changing rules of good taste that they are willing to believe a phony who talks a good talk.

To a certain extent, Charles’s role as an authority on good taste is not unlike the part The New Yorker played in the mid-century, guiding its readers through the world of sophistication. But a key difference between the magazine and Charles is that The New Yorker is capable of poking fun at itself and its middle-class readers. Self-mockery underlies Brennan’s satires of upper-middle-class society’s imposter syndrome, its members’ relentless pursuit of modernity, and their class anxiety. Charles, on the other hand, is an imposter who believes that he is the real deal. He emulates upper-class sophistication, but he fails to treat it humorously, a critical attitude that is middlebrow culture’s positive function, and which is a crucial lesson that The New Yorker teaches its readers. In other words, The New Yorker shows its readers that to be sophisticated is to be culturally savvy but also to know that it is an affectation. The magazine’s self-mockery and sardonic humor unsettle the old standards of high culture, thus democratizing the values of taste and culture. Self-mockery is middlebrow culture’s saving grace, preventing its participants from turning into snobs.

CONCLUSION

In her introduction to the reissued edition of The Springs of Affection, Anne Enright refers to one of Brennan’s notes written when she was hospitalized for mental illness late in life. The note says: “I write every day in the Irish Press and get paid.” Perhaps troubled by homesickness, Brennan imagined a life if she had stayed in Ireland.78 For Enright, this is not just an imagined life, but “[a] perfect life”: “The New Yorker never happened. She was back on the pages her father had made.”79 Indeed, despite its prestige, The New Yorker in the mid-twentieth century was infamous for its heavy editorial interventions.80 One wonders, as Enright did, what Brennan’s life—personal and professional—would have been like if she had worked for a politically charged national publication, such as the Irish Press.

But as this article has demonstrated, Brennan’s long professional relationship with The New Yorker also gave her a unique opportunity to employ her talent as a satirist to dissect America’s middlebrow culture in the mid-twentieth century. Placing her stories back in the context of the metropolitan magazine, we may better appreciate Brennan’s work as original social observations of and probing commentaries on the intricacies—and sometimes hilarities—of middlebrow concerns. In her Herbert’s Retreat stories, we see Isobel’s invention of the “waif” class to elevate her own social status, Liza’s obsession with modern aesthetics as a way to reinvent herself, and Leona’s imposter syndrome, which underlies her unhealthy mentor-mentee relationship with Charles. These stories are astute observations of the absurdity of middlebrow concerns about class anxiety and social propriety. The New Yorker’s readers laugh at these cultural aspirants and their failures, but they are also meant to laugh with these characters at themselves as they recognize their own fumbling pursuit of high culture. It is this sense of self-mockery that redeems the emerging middle classes from being avaricious social climbers. It is also why Brennan reserves her harshest critique for Charles Runyon, the self-appointed fashion guru, the ultimate imposter who emulates not only the upper classes’ tastes but also their snobbery.

In a broader sense, perhaps the self-mockery of imposter syndrome also provides us a better understanding of Brennan’s marginalized position as an Irish immigrant in America, a female writer in a male-dominated profession, and a “traveler in residence.”81 Like her protagonist in “Lessons and Lessons,” Brennan is highly aware of her incomplete project of becoming the perfect modern New Yorker. With witticism and self-knowing mockery, she shows a sophisticated voice that is distinctively attuned to the tenor of the mid-century New Yorker.

NOTES

This project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation program (HORIZON-MSCA-2021-PF-01-01) under grant agreement No. 101060007.

1.

Angela Bourke, Maeve Brennan: Homesick at The New Yorker (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004).

2.

For instance, Ellen McWilliams emphasizes how Brennan represents Irish women’s diasporic experience, Irish maids’ sociocultural position in America’s class hierarchy, and how women refashion themselves at midcentury. Niamh NicGhabhann draws on the idea of “choreographies of place” to consider how Brennan represents the Dublin cityscape. Ailbhe McDaid, on the other hand, focuses on Brennan’s childhood experience of the war and considers the extent to which the metaphors of conflicts and raids creep into her Dublin stories. Ellen McWilliams, “‘A sort of Rathmines version of Dior design’: Maeve Brennan, Self- Fashioning and the Uses of Style,” Women: A Cultural Review 27, no. 1 (2016): 42–61; “‘No Place is Home—It is as it Should Be’: Exile in the Writing of Maeve Brennan,” Éire-Ireland 49, nos. 3&4 (2014): 95–111; “‘Avenging ‘Bridget’: Irish Domestic Servants and Middle-class America in the Short Stories of Maeve Brennan,” Irish Studies Review 21, no. 1 (2013): 99–113. Niamh NicGhabhann, “Choreographies of Place: Gender and the Negotiation of Urban and Suburban Landscapes in Maeve Brennan’s Fiction,” Irish University Review 48, no. 2 (2018): 219–35. Ailbhe McDaid, “‘As Important . . . in My Childhood as the Catholic Church and the Fight for Irish Freedom’: Legacies of Conflict in Maeve Brennan’s Cherryfield Avenue Stories,” New Hibernia Review 23, no. 4 (Winter 2019): 79–99.

3.

The cultural status of The New Yorker in the mid-twentieth century is contested. There is, however, much established scholarship that associates the magazine with middlebrow culture. See, for instance, Daniel Tracy’s “Investing in ‘Modernism’: Smart Magazines, Parody, and Middlebrow Professional Judgement,” Journal of Modern Periodical Studies 1, no. 1 (2010): 38–63; Faye Hammill’s “The New Yorker, the Middlebrow, and the Periodical Marketplace in 1925,” in Writing for the New Yorker: Critical Essays, ed. Fiona Green (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 17–35; Tom Perrin’s “On Blustering: Dwight Macdonald, Modernism and The New Yorker,” in Writing for the New Yorker: Critical Essays, ed. Fiona Green (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 228–48; and Janet Carey Eldred’s Literary Zeal: Gender and the Making of a New Yorker Ethos (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), 47.

4.

“Lessons and Lessons and Then More Lessons,” The New Yorker, November 10, 1962, 155–56. This short piece was later collected in Brennan’s The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from The New Yorker (New York: Mariner, 1998), 221–24, leading to the misunderstanding that this was written under her alias. In fact, the piece did not appear in “The Talk of the Town” column, where Brennan used the long-winded lady pen name. Brennan signed her own name at the end of the piece. To be sure, using her own name does not mean that the first-person narrator in the piece is Brennan herself. But undersigning the piece with her name instead of her New Yorker alias, Brennan gives this piece a personal touch.

5.

Brennan, “Lessons and Lessons,” 155.

6.

Brennan, “Lessons and Lessons,” 156.

7.

Anne Enright, along with many other critics, pinpoints Brennan’s Irish stories as her best, thereby dismissing her Herbert’s Retreat stories in a backhanded way. See her “Introduction” to the reissued Springs of Affection (ix). William Maxwell, Brennan’s New Yorker editor, is less subtle. In his introduction to the US edition of The Springs of Affection, he writes that “[Herbert’s Retreat stories] are satirical in tone, and seem to me to be heavy-handed and lack the breath of life.” Springs of Affection: Dublin Stories, by Maeve Brennan (New York: Mariner Books, 1997), 5.

8.

See, for instance, Ellen McWilliams’s “‘Avenging Bridget’” and Abigail L. Palko’s “Out of Home in the Kitchen: Maeve Brennan’s Herbert’s Retreat Stories,” New Hibernia Review 11, no. 4 (Winter 2007): 73–91. Both essays emphasize the ways in which Brennan empowers the Irish maids who are often neglected or reduced to stereotypes.

9.

“Periodical codes” refers to the material, financial, and editorial practices of a periodical that give it certain qualities that appeal to specific readers and markets. See Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker’s “General Introduction” to their edited collections, The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 1–26, and Matthew Phipotts’s elaboration of the idea in his “Defining the Thick Journal: Periodical Codes and Common Habitus,” Journal of Victorian Culture (2013): [n.p.].

10.

Angela Bourke places the Herbert’s Retreat stories among the tradition of Irish satires, in the company of Jonathan Swift and Oliver Goldsmith. She suggests that Brennan’s portrayal of Irish maids, who often ridicule their wealthy American employers, conveys a satirical intent, but that American readers, unaware of Brennan’s Irish identity, often fail to detect such mockery. See Bourke, Maeve Brennan, 82–83.

11.

George H. Douglas employs the phrase “smart magazine” to describe the periodicals that pay equal attention to intellect and style. They emerged at the turn of the twentieth century and bloomed in the 1920s. These include The Smart Set, the early version of Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker. See Douglas, The Smart Magazines (New York: Anchor Books, 1991).

12.

Dorothy Parker and Lois Long (under the penname “Lipstick”) are Brennan’s fellow New Yorker staff writers, slightly before her time. Mary McCarthy is often associated with the left-wing little magazine, Partisan Review, but she also published extensively in commercial magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar and The New Yorker.

13.

Catherine Keyser, Playing Smart: New York Women Writers and Modern Magazine Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 5.

14.

Brennan lived in Sneden’s Landing from 1954 to 1959, when she and McKelway were divorced. See Bourke, Maeve Brennan, 180, 215.

15.

I borrow the term “out-brow” from Mary F. Corey, who uses this phrase to describe the middlebrow anxiety about social—or “brow”—status, and how the middle classes emulate highbrow taste and style to distinguish themselves from the lowbrow. See Corey, The World Through a Monocle: The New Yorker at Midcentury (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 13.

16.

See, for instance, Joan Shelley Rubin’s The Making of Middlebrow Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), Nicola Humble’s The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 1920s to 1950s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), and Erica Brown and Mary Grover’s “Introduction: Middlebrow Matters,” Middlebrow Literary Cultures: The Battle of the Brows, 1920–1960 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 1–21. More specifically, Alice Wood examines how commercial women’s magazines introduced modernist art as “difficult pleasure” to their middlebrow readers. See Wood, Modernism and Modernity in British Women’s Magazines (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2020), 8.

17.

For a comprehensive account of the battles of the brows, see Cecilia Konchar Farr and Tom Perrin’s article “Introduction: Inventing the Middlebrow,” Post 45, July 1, 2016, https://post45.org/2016/07/introduction-inventing-the-middlebrow/. The New Yorker had a central role in the second battle. Dwight Macdonald’s “Masscult and Midcult” was originally commissioned by The Saturday Evening Post in 1959. The editors, however, felt Macdonald—a frequent contributor to The New Yorker—treated the magazine too kindly, with which Macdonald disagreed. The essay finally appeared in Partisan Review in 1960. For a brief account of the publication history of the essay, see Macdonald, Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain, ed. John Summers (New York: New York Review Books, 2011), 65, where he provides a one-page footnote to defend his opinion of The New Yorker.

18.

Macdonald’s “Masscult and Midcult” is an acerbic attack on “midcult”—a derogatory term he invented for middlebrow culture. For Macdonald, midcult is more dangerous than masscult, because it “vulgarizes” the standards of high culture, 35.

19.

See, for instance, Virginia Woolf’s essay “Middlebrow” in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1942), 176–86, and Macdonald’s “Masscult and Midcult.”

20.

Woolf, “Middlebrow,” 184.

21.

Brown and Grover, Middlebrow Literary Cultures, 1.

22.

Rubin, The Making of Middlebrow Culture, 2.

23.

Hammill, “The New Yorker, the Middlebrow,” 18.

24.

As Fiona Green points out, “global conflict afforded the magazine a business opportunity that would contribute significantly to its mid-century prosperity.” See Green’s “Introduction” to her edited volume Writing for The New Yorker (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 3. For The New Yorker’s transition to serious journalism in the postwar era, see also Paula Derdiger, “Mollie Panter-Downes Brings World War to the New Yorker,” Journal of Modern Periodical Studies 12, no. 2 (2021): 158–77.

25.

Tracy, “Investing in ‘Modernism,’” 44.

26.

Ben Yagoda, About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made (London: Gerald Duckworth, 2000), 21.

27.

See Hammill, Sophistication: A Literary and Cultural History (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010)—especially Chapter Three: “Melancholy, Modernity and the Middlebrow: The Twenties and Thirties.” See also Joseph Litvak, Strange Gourmets: Sophistication, Theory, and the Novel (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), 18.

28.

Harold Ross, “Prospectus—The New Yorker,” 1924, New Yorker Records, Box 2, Folder 3, The New York Public Library.

29.

Jessica Burstein, “The In Crowd,” Modernism/modernity 17, no. 4 (November 2010): 918.

30.

Hammill, Sophistication, 5.

31.

Litvak, Strange Gourmets, 4.

32.

Corey, The World through a Monocle, 39.

33.

Hammill, Sophistication, 122.

34.

Humble, The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 148.

35.

Humble, The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 125.

36.

Corey, The World through a Monocle, 102.

37.

Yagoda, About Town, 57.

38.

Tracy, “Investing in ‘Modernism,’” 47. For more discussions on “smart magazines” and their employment of humor, see Douglas, The Smart Magazines, and Keyser, Playing Smart, especially their introductions.

39.

Tracy, “Investing in ‘Modernism,’” 44.

40.

The New Yorker, January 30, 1954, 19.

41.

The story was set in Bronxville but changed to Herbert’s Retreat when it was later collected in Brennan’s collection of short stories, The Rose Garden. In this sense, “The Joker” could be considered a precursor to the Herbert’s Retreat series that best showcases Brennan’s talent as a satirist.

42.

Yagoda, About Town, 204.

43.

Brennan, “The Joker,” The New Yorker, December 27, 1952, 16–21.

44.

Brennan, “The Joker,” 19.

45.

Brennan, “The Joker,” 21.

46.

Brennan, “The Joker,” 16.

47.

Brennan, “The Joker,” 16.

48.

Brennan, “The Joker,” 18.

49.

Alison Light, Forever England: Femininity, Literature and Conservatism Between the Wars (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1991), 13.

50.

Mary Chapman, “Magazines, Modernity, and the Middle Class,” American Literary History 25, no. 2 (2013): 430.

51.

Cara Greenberg, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s (New York: Harmony Books, 1995), 66.

52.

Greenberg, Mid-Century Modern, 14.

53.

Greenberg, Mid-Century Modern, 48.

54.

The New Yorker, November 14, 1953, 113.

55.

The New Yorker, May 30, 1953, 9.

56.

The New Yorker, May 12, 1962, 24–25.

57.

The New Yorker, May 12, 1962, 25.

58.

Brennan, “The Anachronism,” The New Yorker, January 30, 1954, 20–28.

59.

Brennan, “The Anachronism,” 20.

60.

Brennan, “The Anachronism,” 20.

61.

“The Divine Fireplace,” The New Yorker, April 21, 1956, 34–40 (39).

62.

“The Stone Hot-Water Bottle,” The New Yorker, November 24, 1954, 41–50.

63.

Brennan, “The Anachronism,” 22.

64.

In chronological order of publication in The New Yorker, Leona and Charles appear in “The View from the Kitchen,” “The Servants’ Dance,” “The Stone Hot-Water Bottle,” and “The Gentleman in the Pink-and-White Striped Shirt.”

65.

“The View from the Kitchen,” The New Yorker, November 14, 1953, 40–45.

66.

Brennan, “The View,” 41.

67.

See, for example, McWilliams’s “Irish Domestic Servants and Middle-class America in the Short Stories of Maeve Brennan” and Palko’s “Maeve Brennan’s Herbert’s Retreat Stories.”

68.

Brennan, “The Stone Hot-Water Bottle,” 43.

69.

Brennan, “The Stone Hot-Water Bottle,” 42.

70.

Brennan, “The Stone Hot-Water Bottle,” 46.

71.

Brennan, “The Stone Hot-Water Bottle,” 50.

72.

Brennan, “The Stone Hot-Water Bottle,” 50.

73.

Brennan, “The Stone Hot-Water Bottle,” 41.

74.

“The Gentleman in the Pink-and-White Striped Shirt,” The New Yorker, May 7, 1955, 40–44.

75.

Brennan, “The Gentleman,” 40.

76.

McCarthy’s “The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt” first appeared in Partisan Review in 1941. It was later published as part of her debut novel—or a collection of six interrelated stories—The Company She Keeps, in 1942.

77.

Brennan, “The Gentleman,” 40, 41.

78.

Bourke’s biography of Brennan, as the title Homesick at the New Yorker suggests, shows us that homesickness is a prominent theme in Brennan’s stories, which perhaps reflects her life. In her posthumously published novella, The Visitor, the protagonist’s nostalgia for her parents’ lives is also a dominant theme. See Bourke, 151.

79.

Anne Enright, “Introduction” to The Springs of Affection (Dublin: Stinging Fly, 2016), vii–xviii (xvii). Brennan’s father, Robert Brennan, was a founder of the Irish Press.

80.

When Harold Ross died in 1951, William Shawn took over as editor until 1987. In contrast to Ross’s larger-than-life personality, Shawn was quiet and almost timid. Under his watch, the magazine became known for its heavy editorial intervention in the mid-century. As Yagoda reports, in his effort to avoid controversy, Shawn discouraged “references to sex and bodily functions” (About Town, 296). The gentility that Shawn sought to preserve often translated into conservatism or downright dullness. In 1965, Tom Wolfe published an acerbic attack on The New Yorker, with Shawn as its main target. The article dismisses the metropolitan weekly as a women’s magazine full of “bourgeois sentimentality” (qtd. in Corey, The World through a Monocle, 139).

81.

See Brennan’s “Author’s Note” to The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from The New Yorker, 3.

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