In praise of Furrowed Middlebrow (or: fighting negativity with positivity)

evenfieldSuch a flurry of blog posts recently! It’s become rather uncharacteristic, but I felt I had to post this one soon. It’s something of a call to action.

We are very lucky, in the bookish corner of the internet, that we are mostly immune from trolls and cruelty and unkind comments. Particularly blogs which focus on middlebrow literature or books from the mid-20th century – we are collaborative, interested, bookish folk who enjoy reading together and discovering new titles, as the response to the 1947 Club beautifully illustrated.

It thus surprised and upset me to see an attack on a new venture. That venture is the brainchild of Scott at Furrowed Middlebrow, along with Dean Street Press – they have recently reprinted books by Rachel Ferguson, Winifred Peck, and Frances Faviell. Any reprints are exciting to me – particularly when it’s an author like Rachel Ferguson, whose work I really like but which is impossible to track down. Nobody is better qualified, either in expertise or enthusiasm, than Scott. It’s all rather wonderful.

BUT – somebody going under the name of ‘Lally’ (though name may change?) has taken against it. She has gone systematically through all the Furrowed Middlebrow titles leaving 1 star reviews on Amazon. The reviews are all one or two lines, were mostly added on the day of publication, and is very unlikely that she has read any of the books. It’s spiteful, unkind, and unnecessary.

The publishers probably don’t feel they can address this – it might look petty. But I have no gains in this fight – so I can.

bewildering-caresI’m not suggesting we go on a witch-hunt to unveil Lally. (It’s also, by the way, pointless down-rating or commenting on her reviews, as she then edits the reviews to remove the comment/down-rating.) But let’s fight negativity with positivity. If you’ve read any of the books in question (you can see them at the links above, or most of them on Amazon here) then please do rate and review them – I’ve done that for the one I have read, A Harp in Lowndes Square. We may be ambivalent about Amazon, but these ratings do matter. If any of the titles appeal, do what I’ve done and order them (some more Rachel Fergusons on the way!) – either ebooks or paperbacks.

Let’s not let spite win. Let’s turn this on its head. Let’s celebrate publishers who rescue these older titles, and show that enthusiasm on the internet can outweigh unkindness.

Phew, I feel like I’ve given a rallying speech! It was always kind of inevitable that my political voice would emerge in support of the middlebrow, wasn’t it?

UPDATE: the response has been wonderful – I knew all you lovely people would want to help support this initiative! I’m also pleased to say that many of Lally’s 1 star reviews have crept up to 2 star and 3 star reviews.

43 thoughts on “In praise of Furrowed Middlebrow (or: fighting negativity with positivity)

  • October 18, 2016 at 7:51 pm
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    I may be naive but I am constantly amazed at the vile, cowardly garbage that people will leave behind them on the Internet. WHY would anyone interested in middlebrow lit stoop to this??!!

    I hope there is a ‘positivity backlash’ that has quite the opposite effect that Lally intended. I know I have been rallied & now intend to buy a book and post my (positive) rating!

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  • October 18, 2016 at 8:01 pm
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    Thank you for speaking out about this, Simon. I’m in the middle of reading one of them right now, Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck, and I’ll definitely post a review on Goodreads (I’m loving it, by the way). I will also feature it on my Istagram page.

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  • October 18, 2016 at 8:13 pm
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    Also, all those reviews are on Amazon UK so I’ll try to post mine on there (if I can??) rather than my usual Amazon US.

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    • October 19, 2016 at 5:14 am
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      You can leave a review on Amazon UK instead of Amazon US. I just did for The Dancing Bear. First review I’ve ever left on Amazon but couldn’t let this Lally get away with such nastiness!

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      • October 19, 2016 at 5:50 am
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        Thank you for letting me know, Lynaia! I’ll make sure to do that as soon as I finish the one I’m reading. :)

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  • October 18, 2016 at 8:32 pm
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    I bought a couple of titles and am hoping to get round to them soon. It’s a great project to get these books back into print, nobody has to read them, and I really don’t understand the thinking behind those one star reviews, though as some of the comments relate directly back to Furrowed Middlebrow I assume it’s some sort of personal vendetta. Unnecessary, and hopefully it’s backfired.

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  • October 18, 2016 at 8:47 pm
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    I’m so sorry to hear about this. I’m halfway through Frances Faviell’s A Chelsea Concerto at the moment and will be sure to post my review on Amazon when I’ve finished.

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  • October 18, 2016 at 8:49 pm
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    What a vile person! I must admit they read like the reviews of a crank and hopefully most sensible people will see them like that, particularly when set against the articulate and thoughtful reviews of the books which are up there. Scott should be lauded for this enterprise – truly the interweb has some nasty idiots lurking in it. Off to buy a book and leave a positive review….

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  • October 18, 2016 at 8:58 pm
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    I changed my name on Amazon because I got some horrible abuse for being a book blogger, but that someone could be so systematically negative amazes me. I’ve written a brief review of A Footman for the Peacock which I read a while ago, and I shall try to do the same for others soon.

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  • October 18, 2016 at 10:25 pm
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    I’m afraid I haven’t read any of these books so I can’t help, but I wonder: is it possible to report this to Amazon? If you are right and all those reviews were posted on the day of publication so they can’t possibly be valid, Amazon should accept a complaint and remove her account. (I’m pretty sure they do this at Goodreads if it’s brought to their attention).
    Speaking for myself, I’ve never taken any notice of star ratings or one-liners at Amazon. Usually I’m there because I’ve read a great review *on a blog* so I reckon reviews there are part of an effective strategy, and they should all be linked to each other, so that the reader of the blog can see that each positive review is supplemented by other voices also saying that it’s a good book.

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    • January 31, 2017 at 2:27 pm
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      Yes, I agree – it does seem like a clear case could be made to Amazon here.

      On the flip side – if her comments are unnecessarily negative and indicate she hasn’t read the book at all, then that’s going to invalidate any reputation as a reviewer for most people likely to want to read the books.

      Good to read that everyone rallied round effectively too.

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  • October 18, 2016 at 11:57 pm
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    You can report abuse to Amazon; see directly below the offending comment,
    Although it does seem that whatever is bugging this person has backfired, as thoughtful reviews are coming in from people who clearly have read the books.

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  • October 19, 2016 at 3:09 am
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    Well done, Simon. It’s right to stand up to a bully.
    As our First Lady, Michelle Obama, said: “When they go low, we go high.”
    I’m on it!

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  • October 19, 2016 at 3:20 am
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    Well said, Simon! One of the reasons I love book blogging is how positive and supportive we are as a community. I think this is a call to arms we are all happy to answer.

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  • October 19, 2016 at 3:53 am
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    Done. 0rdered one and will leave a nice review when I’ve read it. So very in usual to see you cross Simon, you are a naturally peaceful and equable person, so I say to myself if Simon is annoyed it must be serious! M x

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  • October 19, 2016 at 3:55 am
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    Done. 0rdered one and will leave a nice review when I’ve read it. So very unusual to see you cross Simon, you are a naturally peaceful and equable person, always fair and always diplomatic in the course of your not inconsiderable book blogging life, so I say to myself if Simon is annoyed it must be serious! M x

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    • October 20, 2016 at 12:06 am
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      Thank you Merenia! I did feel uncharacteristically cross and wanting to do-something-about-it. I think it was because it was so unkind and so unnecessary, to a fledgling imprint.

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  • October 19, 2016 at 6:51 am
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    Simon, I have read – and loved – A Chelsea Concerto and The Dancing Bear, both by Frances Faviell. I will leave positive reviews of both on Amazon, and encourage other to read both books. As eye-witness documents of WWII in Chelsea and its aftermath in Berlin, they are remarkable documents that deserve to be widely read and appreciated
    Rhona

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  • October 19, 2016 at 8:38 am
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    Thank you for this, Simon. It needed saying and you said it brilliantly.
    A friend whose first novel was thus unfairly reviled suffered because of nasty trolls. It took courage to continue.
    I note the gorgeous Ravillious artwork. If the stories match up, these will be winners.

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  • October 19, 2016 at 9:23 am
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    I would love to read some of these books.

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  • October 19, 2016 at 9:32 am
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    I’ve bought three so far, read one – A Chelsea Concerto – and loved it. Scott should be getting our gratitude and praise for getting these books reprinted. Yes, I’ll join your campaign.

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  • October 19, 2016 at 9:44 am
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    I have reported Lally.

    I left a comment on A Harp in Lowndes Square this morning challenging the over-short review which gave no comment on why she disliked the book so much – but also the original review stated ‘much beloved of snobbish bloggers’ and I said that was unacceptable. I clicked to track it – but…

    Now click on Lally and Lally comes up as ‘Susan’ whereas earlier today it said ‘Lally’ when you clicked to see all her reviews.

    Her review of A Harp in Lowndes Square has been edited and now reads completely differently and my comment does not appear. I left a new comment asking why she changed it and reported it to Amazon.

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    • October 19, 2016 at 10:31 am
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      Exactly the same thing happened when I commented on one of her reviews. She must be hovering over her keyboard, watching the website 24/7. Very weird!

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    • October 19, 2016 at 10:33 am
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      She’s edited said review yet again! My comment deleted. Have left another. Reported to Amazon again.

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    • October 27, 2016 at 11:40 am
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      Lolly/Susan is now Vanessa! Curiouser & curiouser.

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      • November 7, 2016 at 1:48 am
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        She’s now Dorothy! Why keep changing her name? I find this whole thing oddly fascinating from a psychological point of view.

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  • October 19, 2016 at 9:56 am
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    How absolutely awful. I have been the victim of nasty trollish reviews on my own books, and it’s really upsetting as well as unnecessary (people saying the images don’t display well in a book with no images, etc – why???). This has reminded me to pop over and put my review on Bewildering Cares. From Anabel’s experience above, it seems easier to post nice reviews than to try to stand up to this person directly, but how odd that they spend so much time working on being so nasty!!!

    And well done, Simon.

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  • October 19, 2016 at 1:28 pm
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    For everyone’s info ‘Lally’ is now ‘Susan’ in these reviews.

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    • October 20, 2016 at 12:36 pm
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      For everyone’s info ‘Lally’ is now ‘Susan’ in these reviews. This is now ‘Roger’… it is very easy for reviewers to morph their identity name or indeed come in under a new account. Positive reinforcement is indeed the only way. Many many thanks to Simon.

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    • October 22, 2016 at 3:25 am
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      Noooooo! Why can’t she choose a different name, not mine? :(

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  • October 19, 2016 at 2:21 pm
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    Thank you, Simon! I ordered three of their titles and will be posting reviews about them soon :)

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  • October 21, 2016 at 2:55 pm
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    Is Lally/Susan now “Vanessa”? S/he is quite persistent.

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  • October 21, 2016 at 3:22 pm
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    Yes, I believe she is “Vanessa” now and many of her previous reviews are so negative that one suspects some sort of personal Vendetta. I have preordered Chelsea Concert and the Footman and will make my own judgments. Looking forward to seeing more titles from the Furrowed Middlebrow Press! with only 5 copies of Chelsea Concerto in the entire US, I had given up hope of ever getting to read it, but thanks to FMP now it is possible!

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  • October 21, 2016 at 4:03 pm
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    Sounds like a disgruntled girlfriend/employee/friend/neighbor/competitor.

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  • October 21, 2016 at 7:34 pm
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    I’m really stunned. The only thing I can imagine is that this is someone who doesn’t like ‘furrowed middlebrow’ – though that is unbelievable to me. I’ve been so pleased that these books are being published, and so amazed that in England such things can happen.

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  • October 21, 2016 at 8:18 pm
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    Well without ‘Lally’ I wouldn’t have come across these books but have now downloaded samples of some Winifred Pecks and if I like them will definitely buy (and review) them! Well done on highlighting this, so sad some people get a kick out of things like this.

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  • October 22, 2016 at 3:30 am
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    Lally/Susan/Vanessa may be following Simon’s blog and our comments. Poor unhappy creature.

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  • October 22, 2016 at 7:06 pm
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    Excellent call to arms..and I shall be joining in the charge – two books on order and I’ll review on Amazon. But I must say that Lally/Vanessa is providing a good deal of entertainment…for how long is she going to go on rewriting her ‘reviews’, I wonder? Loved the one that described one of the books as both ‘raw and distressing’ and ‘tedious’ – but that’s been superseded now. And can’t say that i noticed the ‘product placement’ in ‘Evenfield’.

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  • October 23, 2016 at 3:44 pm
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    Thanks so much for your support, Simon, and thanks to everyone who has responded. I’m overwhelmed by the response! We’ve been traveling ever since a friend told me about the reviews, but I could never have come up with such a perfect response anyway. No idea who Lally is, by the way, but you have to give her credit for persistence! I really appreciate all the support.

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  • October 31, 2016 at 12:08 am
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    I have not read these authors, but I must say I love the covers. I hope I can find them in the states. Shame on Lally/Susan/Vanessa!

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  • November 9, 2016 at 4:48 pm
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    I am loving these books. Came to them through Dean Street Press, but noticed the bad reviews right away. The good news is that they are thin and spiteful-sounding (s/he needs to try harder, lol) so even before I twigged they were a vendetta I thought they were ineffective. It is good to have a thoughtful point of view counteracting these star-crossed titles, though, so I am doing my best to make an effort to leave honest reviews that make it clear that I’ve read the book.

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