In Confessions of a Middlebrow Professor, W.A. Pannapacker defends cultural strivers and the Great Books in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The rejection of the Great Books signifies a declining belief in the value of anything without a direct practical application, combined with the triumph of a passive entertainment—as anyone who teaches college students can probably affirm.
For all their shortcomings, the Great Books—along with many other varieties of middlebrow culture—reflected a time when the liberal arts commanded more respect. They were thought to have practical value as a remedy for parochialism, bigotry, social isolation, fanaticism, and political and economic exploitation. The Great Books had a narrower conception of “greatness” than we might like today, but their foundational ideals were radically egalitarian and proudly intellectual.
I remember hearing about middlebrows when I was a kid. I had a feeling I was one.