ABOUT THIS BOOK
Today The New Yorker is one of a number of general-interest magazines published for a sophisticated audience, but in the post-World War II era the magazine occupied a truly significant niche of cultural authority. A self-selected community of 250,000 readers, who wanted to know how to look and sound cosmopolitan, found in its pages information about night spots and polo teams. They became conversant with English movies, Italian Communism, French wine, the bombing of the Bikini Atoll, prêt-à-porter, and Caribbean vacations. A well-known critic lamented that "certain groups have come to communicate almost exclusively in references to the [magazine's] sacred writings." The World through a Monocle is a study of these "sacred writings."
Mary Corey mines the magazine's editorial voice, journalism, fiction, advertisements, cartoons, and poetry to unearth the preoccupations, values, and conflicts of its readers, editors, and contributors. She delineates the effort to fuse liberal ideals with aspirations to high social status, finds the magazine's blind spots with regard to women and racial and ethnic stereotyping, and explores its abiding concern with elite consumption coupled with a contempt for mass production and popular advertising. Balancing the consumption of goods with a social conscience which prized goodness, the magazine managed to provide readers with what seemed like a coherent and comprehensive value system in an incoherent world.
Viewing the world through a monocle, those who created The New Yorker and those who believed in it cultivated a uniquely powerful cultural institution serving an influential segment of the population. Corey's work illuminates this extraordinary enterprise in our social history.
An excellent and innovative study of the New Yorker during its halcyon years, the late 1940s and the 1950s. Though Corey writes from an academic vantage point and looks at it in the light of subjects (race, sex, class) fashionable among her colleagues, she grinds none of academia's axes; she is scrupulous, thoughtful and fair.
-- Jonathan Yardley Washington Post
[Corey] has written a comprehensive, captivating study of recent American cultural and social history as reflected by one of our literary icons. In her thorough, fascinating study of The New Yorker in the decade following WWII, Corey explains the relationship between the magazine and its readers...The World Through a Monocle offers a rich view of how social forces and editorial purposes evoke and sustain each other.
-- Jeremy Caplan Boston Book Review
I found [The World through a Monocle] stimulating, not just in thinking about how to think about The New Yorker but about magazines in general...[Corey] applies her synthesizing vision to questions that editors and writers don't have the time or the disposition to think about very often. What is the overall message of a magazine, including its advertising? What is its attitude toward women? What is its implicit class voice?...I admire this book. It has the smell of honest intellectual effort to it, a whiff of Dwight Macdonald and Mary McCarthy, two writers who overcame misgivings similar to Ms. Corey's to become important New Yorker contributors...She is a capable writer. And reader. She uncovers The New Yorker's ideology without trampling those cool columns of elegant prose. She fights it, but like Ninotchka, she has a taste for bright, twinkling prose.
-- D. T. Max New York Observer
[Mary Corey] sees the midcentury New Yorker as a symptom of a country learning to live with contradictions and self-deceptions, where 'affluent consensus' hid social injustice, and sophistication pretended to be democratic. Corey writes about midcentury America with the political correctness of the '90s in mind, but with a lively style and light touch, reminding us how the magazines we read and the TV programs we watch say more about us than we notice.
-- James Sloan Allen USA Today
A sprightly survey of the New Yorker and its cultural influences in its heyday.
-- Boston Globe
[A] fascinating and meticulously researched study of the New Yorker and the role it played in our lives--specifically the early 1950s. The World Through a Monocle reveals societal reverberations far beyond the magazine's half-million circulation…Corey has successfully dramatized the postwar turbulence and the role played by an amalgam assembled by Ross that became our town crier at midcentury.
-- Jerold Hickey Boston Sunday Globe
As a detailed look at how the magazine shaped the attitudes of the liberal upper-middle class, Corey's book is illuminating...After reading The World through a Monocle, we may never again read an issue of the New Yorker without sensing Corey somewhere nearby, checking out the subtext from over our shoulder.
-- Daniel Cooper San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle
[A] fascinating book...[The New Yorker] was a dominant influence on the social and domestic attitudes of the haute bourgeoisie, and in this realm it merits all of the high seriousness Ms. Corey can muster, which is plenty.
-- David Brooks Times Literary Supplement
The World Through a Monocle is a rare, relatively cheerful history of the twentieth century, as it concentrates on one of the most prosperous periods of the wealthiest nation at the time. Although it examines a world of 'unprecedented prosperity,' the book also uncovers the subtext lurking just beneath the rarefied world depicted in the magazine to show the injustices toward non-whites and less privileged classes endemic to that society. Those who love New York history, urban history, or social science will find The World Through a Monocle as enchanting as many do the magazine itself.
-- Celeste Sollod Foreword
The conclusions [Corey] has drawn from poring over the crumbling pages of all those half-century-old issues [of the New Yorker] are revelatory: Her investigations into the magazine's attitudes toward atomic science, McCarthyism, race relations, class, gender and alcohol uncover a bad case of moral jitters throbbing under the confident surface of mid-century privilege. Corey zeros in on the class biases of affluent liberalism with icy astuteness...Corey's argument begins with her own brooding puzzlement over the New Yorker's strange mixed marriage of social consciousness and luxury advertising, a contradiction its readers felt in their own lives...And so ending with the Port Huron Statement of 1962--the very moment when all those contradictions that one embarrassed generation had swept under the rug were yanked out to air by the next--is a brilliant stroke. In a flash you see the direct line from suburban liberalism, well-meaning but smug, to the tormented and guilt-ridden New Left. The arc of her argument is beautiful.
-- Craig Seligman Salon Online
As Mary E. Corey reveals in her probing history of the magazine's distinguished days of the late 1940s and '50s, The World Through a Monocle, the old New Yorker is at least as troubling as the new: If the current incarnation could stand an occasional brain transfusion, in the 1950s it was sorely in need of consciousness raising...Corey researched the demographics of the readers, the products of the advertisers and the juxtaposition of articles and ads, then analyzed the subjects of articles, in-depth profiles and fiction. She emerges with a telling portrait not just of the magazine, but of an era.
-- Pat Arnow Raleigh News & Observer
Corey scours the writing, cartoons, cover art and advertisements of the period to examine the inherent contradiction, never fully resolved, between personal (usually WASP) privilege and social justice, as illustrated by the magazine's portrayal of blacks, women, servants, communists, alcohol, and the atom bomb.
-- Globe and Mail [Toronto]
A critical book that uses the New Yorker of the '40s and '50s as a mirror held up to the prosperous, newly suburbanized Cold War middle class: the world that the magazine was able to treat sceptically only in its cartoons.
-- Douglas Fetherling Ottawa Citizen
Intelligently written, [The World Through a Monocle] draws a portrait of the changing tone of a magazine and the audience who read it.
-- Connie Martinson Beverly Hills Courier
Corey's lucid and imaginative prose and balanced treatment make for effortless, satisfying reading.
-- J. A. Dompkowski Choice
A refreshing contrast to the recent outpouring of gossipy New Yorker memoirs. Corey's engaging study of the magazine's cultural impact sets out to establish how, at the height of its influence after WWII, the New Yorker reflected in miniature the deeply conflicted aspirations of its cosmopolitan, liberal readers...Corey combs through fiction, cartoons, ads, journalism and commentary, revealing how the magazine became both a road map for an anxious, elite community of readers and a reflection of the cultural fault lines that divided them...Her adroit close readings vividly capture how the magazine served so effectively as a fun-house mirror of a culture in flux, one that few worldly, upper-middle-class households could do without.
-- Publishers Weekly