Mainstreaming the Avant-Garde: Modernism in Life Magazine (New York, 1883–1936)

  • Céline Mansanti University of Picardie Jules Verne


This paper explores the relationship between literary modernism and mainstream culture within a little-studied American magazine, Life (New York, 1884-1936). It does so by looking at three ways in which Life presented modernism to its readers: by quoting modernist writing, and, above all, by satirizing modernist art, and by offering didactic explanations of modernist art and literature. By reconsidering some of the long-established divisions between high and low culture, and between ‘little’ and ‘bigger’ magazines, this paper contributes to a better understanding of what modernism was and meant. It also suggests that the double agenda observed in Life – both satirical and didactic – might be a way of defining middlebrow magazines.

Author Biography

Céline Mansanti, University of Picardie Jules Verne

Céline Mansanti is a junior professor at the University of Picardie Jules Verne (Amiens, France). She is interested in the cultural history of the United States and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century and works on the production and representation of modernism in magazines and newspapers. Her PhD, La Revue transition (1927-1938), le modernisme historique en devenir, was published in 2009.