AbstractAnnual literary prizes began life in 1903 in France, with the founding of the Prix Goncourt, and they have proliferated there even more than in other nations (Ducas 2013). Yet the prize is not always greeted by its recipient with unalloyed joy: an “antiprize rhetoric” (English 212) is part of the standard response, for to win the Goncourt, for example, “tient à la fois du banc d’infamie et de la légion d’Honneur” (Ducas 183). Though of immense advantage to an author’s career and financial fortunes, prizes are tainted not only by the cynical assumption of a corrupt relationship between publishing houses and juries, but also by the incompatibility between the image of the writer as solitary, authentic and aesthetically ahead of their time, and the fact that prizes mean a large mainstream readership. Prizes, in other words, are demeaningly middlebrow. Women, unsurprisingly, have formed a small minority of prize winners, and when they do win their response tends to be more welcoming than that of their male counterparts. The history of women and prizes, including the women-only jury of the Prix Femina (1905) and the readers’ jury of the Prix des Lectrices de Elle (1969), form the context of this article. Countering the dominant view of prizes, particularly the “feminine” prizes, as favoring a “réalisme accessible au grand public” incompatible with the authentically literary, I use analysis of two (not untypical) twenty-first century winners of, respectively, the Femina (Léonora Miano’s La Saison de l’Ombre, 2013) and the Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle (Claudie Gallay’s Les Déferlantes, 2008) to argue that these can also be sites of the “middlebrow” in a much more positive sense of the word. That is, prizes may consecrate and promote fiction that combines the page-turning pleasure of immersive fiction with serious exploration of historical and ethical concerns, through writing that is at once accessible and formally inventive.
Holmes, D (2016) Literary Prizes, Women and the Middlebrow. Contemporary French Civilization. ISSN 0147-9156 (In Press)