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Title: Wireless women : women writers and literary discourse at the BBC, 1922-1956
Author: Thomas, L.
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis explores the interaction of four female writers with the monopolistic and paternalistic BBC during the first half of the twentieth century. Radio was the dominant information technology in Britain from the BBC’s inception in 1922 until 1956, when television licences overtook radio licences for the first time. This was a period of rapid development in technology, listenership, and ideology for the Corporation. Existing scholarly work has tended to focus on the way that mid-century writers were imaginatively influenced by broadcasting, attending to instances of radiophonic style in their literary and creative work. What is not yet understood is the role that gender played in brokering professional relationships between prominent writers and the BBC as it sought to become a cultural authority on literary discourse. In this thesis, I argue that the Corporation relied on successful, socially elite women writers at moments of tension and growth for the broadcaster. The BBC believed women writers were more amenable to its mission of cultural uplift and would appeal to a wider audience than many of their male peers. However, while the Corporation wanted women writers to provide quaint talks on approved topics, once in the BBC’s studios, the wireless women in this thesis set out to redefine literary discourse on-air. Vita Sackville-West imbued the early years of radio with an aristocratic validity and developed a rebellious reading manifesto in her book reviews from 1929-1932. Una Marson leveraged her social network to support BBC broadcasting to the Caribbean during the Second World War, developing an inclusive West Indian identity that was founded on the dissemination of diverse voices. In the immediate post-war period, Rose Macaulay justified the BBC’s decision to stratify its programming into three distinct strands, defending, as she did, the existing cultural hegemony beyond the BBC’s own expectations. And finally, Elizabeth Bowen reluctantly legitimised the Corporation’s educational agenda, following the 1944 Butler Education Act, despite arguing against the academisation of literary education in Britain. Together, the women of this thesis expanded their broadcasting remits from within the BBC, broadening the parameters of literary discourse on-air to acknowledge and display their professionalism, legitimacy, and influence as wireless women writers.
Supervisor: Plock, V. ; Potter, S. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Radio studies ; BBC ; Vita Sackville-West ; Una Marson ; Elizabeth Bowen ; Rose Macaulay ; Women writers ; Literary marketplace ; Broadcasting ; Womens professionalism ; Women writers stylistic voices ; Caribbean ; Book reviews ; Education ; Class ; Social elitism ; Literature and radio ; Literary discourse