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Music Hall & Modernity: The Late-Victorian Discovery of Popular Culture, by Barry J. Faulk; pp. xii + 244. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004, $42.95
This study of the late-Victorian music hall is a puzzling mixture of suggestive insights, assiduous scholarship, special pleading, and theoretical turgidity. Its argument proceeds from a number of loosely intermeshed premises that provide the informing principles for the whole book. Most would have benefited from more rigorous analysis, which would have prevented their becoming collectively something of a conceptual straitjacket, restricting rather than facilitating the convincing deployment of core ideas.
The main article of Barry J. Faulk's faith is that by the 1880s music hall was seen by many middle-class critics as having become "cleansed and capitalized" (4) as it moved up the social scale; he suggests that this "narrative of vernacular decline" encouraged the emergence of "a new kind of professional critic" (4). Thus Faulk sees professional music hall criticism that "privileged the trained and …