The Snark of Our Elders
One I find particularly interesting for its use of "un-literary" is Bennett on Dickens: "About a year ago, from idle curiosity, I picked up 'The Old Curiosity Shop', and of all the rotten vulgar un-literary writing...! Worse than George Eliot's. If a novelist can't write where is the beggar." Where Bennett's book Literary Taste: How to Form It seems terribly concerned with standards in literature, as the title would suggest, in a quick glance through, I can't see him using the term "literary" anywhere in other than its literal sense -- of or pertaining to the domain of written works. In his snark though, "literary" has become a qualifier signifying propriety in contrast to vulgarity; only the properly written work is truly "literary."
Think about this for a second. Surely it's as strange to talk of "un-literary writing" as it is to talk of "un-culinary cooking" or "un-agricultural farming." The use of the term in this way indicates, I think, a shift in meaning.
It's as if food critics started dismissing badly-cooked food as "un-culinary," dig? Such that properly-cooked food becomes "culinary" in contrast. Only, of course, it's not just about competence versus incompetence, not just about a perfectly-cooked burger versus an inedible duck a l'orange. Because greasy spoon café fare and good old-fashioned pub grub, even soul food from a simple bistro -- these cheap and populist dishes aren't the haute cuisine that really qualifies as "culinary" to the critic. This is the food of fry-cooks rather than master chefs. It's rotten vulgar un-culinary cooking. Unless of course it aspires to satisfy someone applying the culinary aesthetic, to become "culinary soul food" much as a work might be described as "literary SF" or "literary fantasy" -- terms which I increasingly abhor.
I'm really curious to know the roots of this usage, at what point the word becomes a marker of a particular aesthetic, paving the way to the present-day opposition of "literary fiction" and "genre fiction." Is Bennett's use early or had critics been talking of the value of "literary" works over "un-literary" works for a while? My instinct is that it's a Victorian development, a response to the "sensationalist" approaches of Dickens, the popular "sensation novels," Gothic fiction, penny dreadfuls and dime novels. Sadly, I'm nowhere near well-read enough in the criticism of the day to be able to trace the historical emergence of the term in its discriminatory meaning.
Anyway, I can't resist adding my own snark to the linked article. For me, it would have to be on Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust, which would be better titled A Mouthful of Shit, to my mind, given the taste left in my mouth by this technically accomplished but execrable work of self-righteous snipewankery in the name of satire. For what's supposed to be a caustic critique of society it strikes me more as the author hacking crudely at straw men of his own construction, with a scythe of pious spite. Petty agitprop.