Thomas Walker’s The Original 1835

Here is the first of an irregular series describing individual Victorian periodicals.

The title of the first is The Original. A lively, unillustrated 3d weekly 16-page miscellany (though its first issue comprised 12 pages and its last just 4),  it ran 20 May 1835 – 2 December 1835 for 29 numbers, coming out every Wednesday for 3d and also monthly in a wrapper (its last number, the 4-page issue, cost only a penny). It was published by Henry Renshaw, 356 Strand, London and printed by Ibotson & Palmer, Savoy Street.

The Original was directed mainly towards the male upper middle classes “aloof from sect and party” (no.1 p.2), concerned, as its “Preliminary Address” states, with “whatever is most interesting and important in Religion and Politics, in Morals and Manners, and in our Habits and Customs”, leavened with anecdotes and autobiography, in an attempt to raise “the national tone in whatever concerns us socially or individually”.

It was written entirely by Thomas Walker, the son of a Manchester manufacturer and Whig reformer. Walker was born in 1784, gained his B.A. and M.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1808 and 1811 respectively, and was called to the bar in 1812. In 1829, he became a police magistrate in Lambeth court. Six years later, he began The Original for, he claimed, two reasons. Firstly, it would provide “a constant and interesting stimulus to my faculties of observation and reflection” – in other words, it would act as a kind of public diary – and secondly, it would provide for the reader “an alternative diet of sound and comfortable doctrines blended with innoxious amusement” (“Preliminary Address”). Walker was, however, unable to maintain a constant flow of new material and reprinted material from works he had already published, the most substantial of these being the pamphlet Suggestions for a Constitutional and Efficient Reform in Parochial Government (1834).


In social and political terms, the periodical criticises both Tories and Whigs in the interest of “Truth”, both being presented as oligarchic at bottom. True democracy, Walker opines, implies attrition of centralised government and devolution to the parish level where future men of state can be trained. Walker is staunchly against the Poor Law and indiscriminate charity of all sorts, positing bad morals on an individual level as the root of poverty in Britain, citing his experience of the courts as evidence. In this sense,  it is a typical Whig/Radical miscellany of the 1830s.

The most famous and influential section of the miscellany in the nineteenth century and beyond was, however,  “Aristology; or, The Art of Dining”. Beginning in number 13 and continuing until number 22, it received particular favour in the Quarterly Review. It was eventually published separately in 1883 with the rather unlikely suggestion it become a school textbook, edited by no less than Sir Henry Cole, founder of the Albert Hall, the Royal College of Music – and the National School of Cookery. It is possible to see the influence of Brillat-Savarin’s famous Physiologie du Goût (1825) in Walker’s mixture of charming anecdote and pseudo-science. However, recipes are conspicuously lacking: unlike Brillat-Savarin, Walker concentrated on refining the delights of consumption rather than production. His work relates to the gastronomic literature associated with gentlemen’s clubs such as George Vasey’s Illustrations of Eating (1847) and J. Timb’s Hints for the Table (1859) rather than to practical cookbooks such as Esther Copley’s Cottage Comforts (1825), Acton’s Modern Cookery (1845) or Beeton’s Household Management (1861).

To the media historian the most interesting parts of The Original comprise an irregular series of addresses to the reader in which Walker describes in detail his processes of composition in the tone of intimate letters to a friend. This ironic and stylish self-reflexivity is actually, as Walker explains, the result of the pressures of periodical publication: he can’t think of what else to write about except the problem of what to write. Typical of the romantic journalist, this, like the pieces on dining, is a variant of the “subjectified occasionalism” discussed by Carl Schmitt almost a century ago whereby  “The romantic subject treats the world as an occasion and an opportunity for his romantic productivity” (Schmitt, p. 17). One may disagree with Schmitt’s condemnation that the author may “take any concrete point as a departure and stray into the infinite and incomprehensible – either in an emotionally fervent fashion or in a demonically vicious fashion, depending upon the individuality of the particular romantic” (p. 17) but the widespread attempt to capitalise on – even monetarise – individual bodily experience is certainly characteristic of the time. The political implications of such a valorisation will be one of the tributaries that feed into individualism (about whose elater development I have written elsewhere). 

The last issue of The Original comprises mostly an “Address to the Reader” in which Walker begs leave to resume his periodical “the first Wednesday in March”, for “London living and authorship do not go well together”. He had become a celebrity: “My writings have latterly drawn upon me more numerous and cordial invitations than usual.” He was never able to fulfill this promise: after a short illness, he died in Brussels on 20 January the following year.

Useful Bibliographical References

Waterloo V: 3647 (NB information there erroneous)

editions 2-4, 1836, 1838, all published by H. Renshaw. I have not seen the 3rd edition. American editions were published certainly from 1837 e.g. by E.L. Carry & A. Hart in Philadelphia.

Walker, Thomas, The Original, 5th edition, edited and arranged under distinct heads, with additions by William A. Guy, M.B. Cantab, FRS, Renshaw, 1875

[Hayward, Abraham], review of The Original,Quarterly Review, February 1836

[Hayward, Abraham], The Art of Dining; or, Gastronomy and Gastronomes, Murray, 1852

Schmitt, Carl, Politische Romantik, 1st edition 1919; 2nd and revised ed. 1925;  trans. as Political Romanticism by Guy Oakes, MIT Press, 1986

[Walker, Thomas], Aristology, or The Art of Dining, with Preface and Notes by Felix Summerly (i.e. Sir Henry Cole), G. Bell & Sons: London, 1881 (subsequently, with “The Art of Attaining High Health”, ed. by Philip B. M. Allan, P. Allan & Co.1921; also with a Preface by Brooke Crutchley and illus. by Lynton Lamb, in a limited edition of 500 copies, CUP, 1965)

“Walker, Thomas, 1784-1836” in the DNB.

Lynette Hunter, “Proliferating Publications: The Progress of Victorian Cookery Literature”, in Luncheon, Nuncheon and Other meals: Eating with the Victorians, ed. C. Anne Wilson, Alan Sutton, 1994, 51-70.

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: a Study Guide. Annotations 2

A continuation of notes on Camera Lucida to help elucidate the text. Part 1 of the notes can be found here, while the general introduction giving brief contextual notes can be found here.

Part II: Section 25 (page 63)

Carefully compare the opening of section 1. What more do you learn about the purpose of this book here?


Barthes’s conception of “hysteria” is very Lacanian. A hysterical symptom (e.g. fantasy pains in a limb which has been amputated) is a mark of mourning for the lost state of plenitude and bodily integrity. It relates to the form of the body as it is imagined (imaged – seen – by the mind) not the body as it is or seen by others.

67: beginning of section 28

Note: the position of this section corresponds closely to the “Golden Mean” (media aurea). Find out what the “Golden Mean” is. Why might it be important here?


Another of the several references to Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. (1913-1927). Note the many similarities with Camera lucida.

»  The Proust is written as an interior monologue in the first person and is in many respects autobiographical, tracing the gradual self-awareness of the narrator.

»  The novel is concerned with seeking the buried memory released by everyday incidents (the famous madeleines – a kind of biscuit – that start the whole story off). Time is a key concept, both as a destroyer and as producer of memory. The sequence of time is perceived in the light of the theories of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, whom Proust admired, (and which are also heavily influential on psychoanalysis). Time is not psychologically measurable by the clock or calendar: sometimes it goes fast or slow, and maybe not in a straight line (since moments from the past can suddenly emerge and have a huge effect many years later without ever having emerged before). Moments of the past and the present have equal reality.

»  Proust also explored subconscious motivations, and the irrationality of human behaviour, particularly in relation to love.


Labyrinth – The princess of Crete, Ariadne, is in love with the hero Theseus, sent to the island as part of the annual human sacrifice to the monstrous Minotaur who lives in a labyrinth deep underground. Ariadne helps Theseus kill the Minotaur by supplying him with a thread by means of which he can find his way out of the labyrinth.


What does Barthes resist in the definitions of the “Family” he refers to here?

What connection (again!) is made here with the “image”?

76 – under cover of method

What terms you have read about before (at length) do the binary opposites “banality” and “singularity” recall?


noeme – Greek philosophical term for “concept” or “mental image” that is derived from sensory experience and so is not “pure thought”: Barthes is probably thinking of Aristotle.


What is the difference between cinema and the photograph here?


note how the language of resurrection, which has already appeared earlier, begins to become more common – how stressed is it?

Albertian perspective – Alberti, Leon Battista (1404-1472), Italian architect and writer, who was the first important art theorist of the Renaissance. Developing the work on mathematical laws of linear perspective which the architect Brunelleschi had studied, he wrote a treatise called Della Pittura (On painting; 1436) which set down the laws of perspective for the painters of his own and succeeding generations until the late nineteenth century.

Sontag, Susan – famous American critic of film, photography and cultural theory and an expert on Barthes (she actually edited The Barthes Reader in 1987, a selection of texts by Roland Barthes, from which Camera Lucida is interestingly omitted). She is most famous for her 1964 essay on “camp” which propelled her to international fame. And which already showed the traces of Barthes’ influence.


Bouvard and Péchuchet – 2 comic characters in a novel by Flaubert that Barthes has mentioned in many of his works as types of the stupid and pedestrian bourgeois (they are one of the leitmotifs that artfully characterise Barthes’ oeuvre as an oeuvre). What is his attitude to wards them in Camera Lucida?


How is language different from the Photograph?


thesis – a statement concerning reality

physis – nature in pure form, reality itself – important term in Greek philosophy and tragedy.

How does Barthes define “realism” here?


What is the distinction Barthes is making between cinema and photography here?


“History” as a discipline that depends on research in archives, evaluating different forms of evidence etc. is regarded as having an origin in the nineteenth century. Before that “histories” were chronicles, anecdotes (more or less fabricated) or genealogies used to prove the legitimacy of kings and princes. Barthes regards all history (irrespective of when or where it was written) as ideologically motivated. On p. 94 Michelet, a nineteenth-century historian and one of the founders of the historical method, will be mentioned. Barthes had written extensively about his ideological presuppositions in an earlier book.


Donald Winnicott: British paediatrician who analysed the effects of maternal deprivation in children: the catastrophe Barthes refers to is the absence or death of a mother figure in early childhood.


compares the religious meditation in solitude – devotio moderna – in the Middle Ages with the solitary perusal of photos today


What does Barthes mean when he says that only in private is his image “free to abolish itself”? (see above also pp. 10-15 on the pose)


compare p. 5. In fact the structure of this book can be compared to an elaborate musical form (cf. p. 27 which provides a clue). Part 2 has been recapitulating and developing part 1. Some recapitulations are more obvious than others.


Golaud & Mélisande. A reference to the Belgian Maeterlinck’s symbolist play (which the French composer Debussy turned to his only complete opera) Pelléas et Mélisande. Golaud finds Mélisande in a wood and marries her, in love with her beauty (her image). She never says where she comes from or who she is beyond her name, or whether or not she and Pelléas (Golaud’s half-brother) had an affair or not. At the end of the opera/play, she becomes pure image, a dead body, without ever saying anything to confirm or deny Golaud’s suspicions about her.


“no one is ever anything but a copy of a copy, real or mental” – where have you heard or read (something like) this before?


What is the Photograph able to reveal now?

How is this the corpus that Barthes has been trying to assemble?


The camera lucida was a more sophisticated later development than the camera obscura (see p. 10). It allowed the painter to see simultaneously the subject painted and the image projected onto the canvas. Barthes (of course) is correct historically in linking the camera lucida to the photogaphc camera: Henry Fox Talbot, an artist and one of the pioneers of Photograph, tried to use chemical means to fix the images projected by his camera lucida.

(how many pages before the end is this term introduced? How many after the beginning did you find camera obscura ?)


Strangely at this extremely late stage a new term is introduced. Which concept /term does it recall – and vaporize?

Masks – where have you read about masks in this book before?


another difference between film and photography?


Kristeva, Julia – Bulgarian who defected to France in the 1960s and has become one of the most notable psychoanalysts and literary critics of the century. La verité folle refers to her article “Le vréel” published first in 1979 – just before Camera Lucida was written (translated as “The True-Real” in The Kristeva Reader ed. Toril Moi 1986). The article concerns the idea that a sign can be linked simply to another sign without any reference to its referent (i.e. the thing it refers to). So “cow” would not refer to an animal but may simply be linked to another signifier, say, “wit” which might be connected to “time” which might be associated with “egg-cup” to produce the “sentence” “cow wit time egg-cup”. Obviously this is meaningless according to conventional logic since it refers to nothing at all. However, mysticism and madness might find a kind of truth in it. In terms of image, hallucinations work in the same way (p. 114). (Note that for Kristeva, Barthes, Derrida and Foucault madness is often a positive value since it is interpreted as a resistance to the violence of the patriarchal culture of the twentieth century. Following Lacan, these thinkers often consider madness as the result of an overwhelming confrontation with reality – against which most of us build elaborate and “rational” defence systems). You may like to compare it to Baudrillard’s notion of “simulation” too: how are they the same and different?


ecmnesic – “a form of partial amnesia, in which the memory of events prior to a particular period in the patient’s life is preserved in its entirety, whereas the memory of events subsequent to that period is completely abolished” (see footnote to p. 250 in the Penguin ed. of Freud’s Studies on Hysteria – though Freud took the term from a French psychiatrist, Pitres)


ecstasy – “exit from the self” – according to many religious traditions union with God. Of which concept is it a variant?

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: a Study Guide Annotations 1

The following notes are intended to help the reader understand Barthes’ references, technical terms, themes. The previous post provides very briefly the context for this text.

The page numbers below refer to the translation of La chambre claire by Richard Howard, Jonathan Cape (now Macmillan), 1982.

page 4

Barthes needs a “corpus” or collection of texts in order to classify them, which is the basis of scientific understanding. NB. Word-play corpus/ corpse/ [dead] body. The term “body” and all cognates are one of the main strands that weave in and out of this text.

Tuché – the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan borrows this term from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, for whom it means “chance” or “accident”: the point is that reality is accidental and has no “meaning” or narrative – it just “is”. The following references to Buddhism and to the English mystical commentator Alan Watts are all connected to this idea.


antiphon – the first of the many musical references that Barthes uses in this text: look out for others. What may be the function of such references?


mathesis – mental discipline, knowledge or science


eidolon – Greek word for “image”, “likeness”, but also “spectre” or “ghost”. Note the large number of words with the same root eid– that appear in this text. “Idol” (which is etymologically connected to eidolon) with its erotic and religious connotations does not appear, but seems to be hovering just out of sight like a ghost…

terms you need to remember the meanings of in this work:

What is the Operator? __________________________________________________

What is the Spectator?__________________________________________________

What is the Spectrum?__________________________________________________

NB the word-play spectacle/ spectre throughout


camera obscura – an arrangements of lenses and mirrors in a darkened room or box invented in the sixteenth century. Artists used it to project images onto canvas on which they would base their pictures. Note how Barthes introduces the idea of the camera lucida by means of a kind of a binary opposite, the camera obscura.


zero degree – a reference to Barthes’ own first published volume Writing Degree Zero (orig. 1953 as Le degré zéro de l’écriture) – “degree zero” here means “without meaning”, “purely for and in itself”.


parenthesis – see note to page 20 below


eidos – According to Plato the “eidos” is the real image of something (usually translated in English as “Idea”). It exists in the realm of the eternal and so is not perceptible by the senses. In Husserl (see note to p. 20) it means the same as “essence”, which can be arrived at by pure consciousness. I’m not sure which sense is uppermost in Camera Lucida.


Rue St. Rustique, Montmartre

Atget, (Jean) Eugène Auguste (1856-1927), French photographer, now recognised as one of the major figures in the history of photography. In about 1898 Atget began his photographic career; within a decade he had produced some of his most impressive documentary series on Parisian life—tradespeople, architecture, shop windows, parks, cafés, and markets. He’s most famous for his pictures of empty Paris streets.

Rue St. Rustique by Atget,  March 1922


The task of phenomenology is to study essences, such as the essence of emotions. Although Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, never gave up his early interest in essences, he later held that only the essences of certain special conscious structures should be studied by phenomenology. As formulated by Husserl after 1910, phenomenology is the study of the structures of consciousness that enable consciousness to refer to objects outside itself. This study requires reflection on the contents of the mind to the exclusion of everything else. Because the mind can be directed towards non-existent as well as real objects, Husserl noted that phenomenological reflection does not presuppose that anything exists, but rather amounts to a “bracketing of existence” (compare the “parenthesis” Barthes refers to on page 14), that is, it sets aside the question of the real existence of the contemplated object.

What Husserl discovered when he contemplated the contents of his mind were such acts as remembering, desiring, and perceiving and the abstract content of these acts, which Husserl called meanings. These meanings, he claimed, enabled an act to be directed towards an object under a certain aspect; and such directedness, called intentionality, he held to be the essence of consciousness. Transcendental phenomenology, according to Husserl, was the study of the basic components of the meanings that make intentionality possible. Later, in Cartesian Meditations (1931; trans. 1960), he introduced genetic phenomenology, which he defined as the study of how these meanings are built up in the course of experience.

NB the author of the book that Camera Lucida is in homage to (Sartre) was key in the introduction of phenomenology to France during Barthes’ youth.


Greuze, Jean-Baptiste (1725-1805), French painter. He studied art in Lyon and in Paris, where he became a leading genre painter who concentrated on sentimental moralistic scenes and portraits.

The Village Betrothal by Greuze

26 – 7 and many pages following  concern two of the most cited terms from Camera Lucida

  • The studium of a photograph comprises those aspects that we learn to appreciate through enculturation. We ourselves bring “studium” to a photograph. It is part of our consciousness.
  • The punctum of a photograph comprises those aspects that wound or puncture us like Cupid’s arrow. Beyond our conscious control, the “punctum” seems to leap out of the photograph into us. The same points don’t always continue to wound us.


What is surprising about the connections made with photography on this page? Can you relate it to film?


“noise” (“in cybernetics”) here = interference or static that surrounds a radio signal and makes it less clear

What does Barthes mean when he writes, “Is not the very capacity to perceive the political and moral meaning of a face a class deviation?” (it should become clearer if you read the few sentences following that one). Do you think what he says is true? Why?


fantasmatic – producing fantasies

NB the recurring theme of the “Mother” – is it related here to the studium or the punctum?

What is a “unary photograph”?


Do you find Barthes’ refusal to regard Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs as merely pornographic and unary convincing? Why (not)?


metonymy – substitution of attribute or associated object for the thing itself. In Lacan such substitution of one object for another marks the movement of desire along a chain (we desire one thing, then another, then another…). Metonymy is a structure that enables the psychoanalyst to follow the chain of the analysand’s desire and thereby to understand his/her unconscious. The punctum as metonymic is thus clearly marked as beyond the conscious control of either the Spectator or the Operator. (cf. Derrida’s supplement – this is referred to on p. 47).


myth of Orpheus –  Orpheus was the mythical musician who tried to bring his beloved back from the dead. The gods of the underworld permitted this so long as he did not look behind him towards his beloved who was following him.


satori – a Japanese term that means “enlightenment” and “nothingness”. Barthes had written a book on Japan: The Empire of Signs. (see also later the reference to the haiku, a very strict Japanese verse form of 17 syllables)

pages 55-6

What are the differences, according to Barthes, between cinema and photography?


….and the pornographic and erotic?


Palinode = recantation or “a singing over again”. It also means a retraction of a thesis. But it also recalls Palinurus, a character who, right at the end of Vergil’s Aeneid Book V, falls overboard just before the hero Aeneas lands his fleet in Italy (his destination) and descends into the underworld to meet his dead father. Palinurus is commonly interpreted as the necessary human sacrifice for a journey to the land of the dead. Aeneas meets him in the underworld and promises him a magnificent monument even though his body is lost for ever: a tomb without a corpse = a sign without a meaning. NB cf. also Socrates’ recantation in Plato’s Phaedrus.

Now move on to the next post for the rest of the notes.

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: a Study Guide. Before Reading the text

Introductory Remarks

before reading Camera Lucida

What follows in this and the following 2 posts comprises material I’ve found helpful to students to whom I’ve taught this text. The posts consists of a brief introduction to remind students of the context within which Camera Lucida needs to be read, followed by two posts of annotations that explain the references and highlight terms important to remember. Were Camera Lucida out of copyright, it would be a wonderful project to generate a proper intertext with students along these lines.
Note that this is not at all a summary such as can be found on the relevant Wikipedia page or by Kasia Houlihan. It is rather a guide to reading what can seem an opaque text.
There are fewer images than usual in this and the following posts for the very reason that Camera Lucida concerns images and how we react to them.

Camera Lucida is Barthes’ last work and is in many ways a summa of poststructuralist theory. It is a summa of Barthes’s life and work too. It was written after the death of his mother and before he died (perhaps committed suicide) in a traffic accident. It is Barthes at his most stylistically virtuosic and moving, a marriage of extreme aesthetic sensibility and emotion. Much concerned with “image”, a key concept in analyses of postmodernism, it also combines theory and fiction, “science” with autobiography.

Here are a few of the tenets of post-structuralism relevant to Camera Lucida. What’s important is that Camera Lucida identifies them, plays along with them so as to make them seem like “rules” — and then breaks those rules and shows their inadequacy in the very act of applying them so as almost to come up the other side and return to what looks at times like a sentimental humanism.

Þ      Images, like symbols in general, always mark the absence of the object they refer to. This idea derives from Lacanian psychoanalysis (which has influenced a great deal of French post-structuralism). We only need a symbol or image for something when we don’t have it itself (why look at a photo of your beloved when s/he is standing before you?)

Þ The effect that the object is present when we see an image of it is therefore illusory. The effect is found not only in emotional thought (when we look with delight at the photograph of an absent beloved and imagine that he or she is here with us now or that we are there with them) but also in what is supposedly pure rationality, philosophy. This is the fallacious “metaphysics of presence” that according to Derrida has bedevilled Western thought since Plato.

Þ The “full meaning” of something is the effect that we really and completely know what symbols or words (or a series of words) mean. This is the verbal equivalent of imagining that our beloved is present when we see a photograph of him or her. Since this is an illusion, according to post-structuralism, we cannot know what anything means completely. For that reason we cannot talk of the “essences” of anything or anyone (“The essence of Man is to….” “The essence of Woman is to…” “The essence of Photography is….”) or talk in vast generalised statements without qualifying them very specifically.

Þ Assuming that full meaning always eludes us can also lead to a kind of giggly naughtiness with words that is supposed to make the reader aware that the same set of symbols can mean many different things simultaneously. Thus we find lots of puns, and other kinds of word play that are not representable in sound but only graphically.

You’ll soon find that Camera Lucida is no ordinary theoretical text. For a start the word “I” appears on the very first page. It tells a story indirectly like some kind of experimental novel. If you treat it as a fictional text, the following questions become relevant.

  • Who is the “hero”?
  • What is he trying to do?
  • What is his quest?
  • How self-aware is he?
  • What does “working through” mean (in psychoanalytic terms)? What is the hero “working through”? Does he succeed?

Camera Lucida refers to many other texts (as all texts do) but it seems to me that one of its most obvious palimpsests [1] is the classical Roman poet Vergil’s epic poem the Aeneid.

To judge the truth of this

  1. compare the number of books in the Aeneid with the number of sections in the Barthes
  2. consider the position and meaning of the word “palinode” in Camera Lucida (see the notes in the next posts for where this occurs)
  3. above all, compare the story-line of Camera Lucida with Book VI of the Aeneid

The Aeneid is both an epic and a poem. Try bringing the techniques you have learnt for reading poetry (extreme attention to detail, style and structure) to reading Camera Lucida.

NB another classical text you may like to read in conjunction with Camera Lucida is Plato’s Phaedrus – available online at

The comments and observations in the following posts are my own (though of course derived from a variety of sources). They do not claim in any way to be authoritative or complete. All I have done is to supply indications regarding some texts to which Camera Lucida refers more or less explicitly, together with suggestions about how the work may be read (drawing attention to word-plays, recurrent terms, themes, etc.).

There is no reason for there to be only one answer to any of the questions: many are there to help you by pointing out terms whose meaning readers of Camera Lucida will need to remember to read the rest fluently.

The next post will explain references, suggest certain terms be noted and remembered so as to help with following the argument, and offer questions to reflect on.

[1] A palimpsest was in medieval times a manuscript that had been cleaned of writing so that new writing could be placed upon it. In modern literary terminology it refers to a kind of sub-text that lies underneath a text and to which it makes reference, usually covert and indirect.

The Book in the Twentieth Century Part 4: war and competing media

This historical definition of the twentieth century as related to book publishing  over the last two posts has covered 6 elements. Before ending this series, I want to cover two more areas: first, the vital importance of war to publishing, and secondly, and inevitably, the relationship of book publishing to other media, a crucial characteristic of twentieth-century publishing.

We may not like to think this, but war is a time when information storage and retrieval and transmission of all sorts leaps to prominence, whether it be the effect of the Crimean and Peninsular wars in the nineteenth centuries on demand for newspapers, the effect of WWI on increasing demand for published images of the war and on staff shortages at printing works – which obviously caused its own problems – or what I’m going to write about here, the effect of WWII on the book as we know it.

In many ways, WWII is just as important as anything previously mentioned in previous posts.

First, it promoted the idea of a national literature. In America, for instance, it had an enormous impact on the consolidation of the canon of Great American Books. In 1941 was published one of the foundational books that defined what was to be included in the American canon – and of course excluded from it. This was F.O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance, a volume that effectively set the syllabus for schools and universities for decades to come.

If this was what we may call a top-down effect, there was also some influence of what people were actually reading on what academics decided should be canonised: Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby had sunk without trace, an utter flop on its appearance in 1925. Chosen for free distribution amongst the American forces during WWII partly because the copyright was very cheap, The Great Gatsby began to be read by large numbers of people for the first time. Following the war, academics who had read it when serving in the forces started to publish on The Great Gatsby and Fitzgerald in general.

That very brief paragraph and the previous blog’s pointed opening with the Penguin “forces edition” of A Room of One’s Own can only open the subject up for discussion rather than explore it in detail – I shall certainly return to it at a later date – but it is important to acknowledge the very obvious fact that historical events, of which war is a very powerful example, impact enormously on the configuration of the book publishing industry.

During the war there was enormous demand for reading matter: people not only wanted information on specific subjects such as the military – no fewer than 229 new titles were published on military matters in 1943 alone, as opposed to only 62 in 1937 – but people had long empty periods of waiting between scenes of action and long evenings to kill with not much to do because of blackouts and rationing.

The publishing industry found in fact that due to rationing of paper it was unable to meet demand. Fortunately for publishers, it had a ready-made lobbying body in the Publishers Association which succeeded in preventing the imposition of Purchase Tax on books and in negotiating on a national scale the Book Production War Economy Agreement. This latter determined both the quality of paper and the size of type in order to produce savings.

Paper rationing – which came to an end only in 1949 – was instrumental in establishing the dominance of the paperback for the production methods used for paperbacks actually used less paper than their equivalent in hardback. Furthermore the pared down visual style imposed by wartime restrictions was highly influential on later developments in design.

The final element in my analysis of the “twentieth century” in publishing terms is competition between media technologies. For books and the literature they carry cannot be separated out from other media. We need in theory to consider film, radio and TV. I’ve no intention of going into the interaction of these media in any detail here, but there are some points I feel it’s important to make.

These media have all interacted in complicated ways with literature: not only is there the obvious phenomenon of the spin-off, the film of the book, the talking book (on radio, tape or CD), the radio play of the book and so on, but also these other, electric, media have all affected printed book “literature”. The influence of film on literature is well documented, especially in the eraly twenteth century, from Kafka, Thomas Mann, Joyce to Fitzgerald (at the end of the century and at the obvious level of cultural reference, one recalls the importance of Rogers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music (1965) in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997)). More importantly from my perspective is the dating of the electric  media’s  influence on considerations of literature. While film had been widely consumed since the early years of the twentieth century, radio from the 1920s, from the 1950s it was TV that proved to be the rival technology to the book. Consumed sitting in the home, TV became a rival not to radio (one could by the 1950s listen to radio all around the house) but to the book. The similar physical postures involved in the consumption of  TV and the book put them into competition.

It’s important to remember how poor people were before the war. Over the 1920s and 30s leisure accounted for less than 5% of national expenditure. Such poverty unsurprisingly hampered media expansion. It was the post-war boom that saw the greatest changes in media consumption – I’ve already mentioned the importance of the 1950s for the transformation of book production methods. In many ways the nineteenth century ended 50 or even 60 years too late as the old production methods were replaced wholescale by the new only after the second world war.

Now at exactly this time we see the birth of modern media studies – a birth largely and paradoxically in book form: not only Marshall McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy of 1962 and his Understanding Media of 2 years later, but work on the history of popular reading by Margaret Dalziel, Richard Altick, Louis James, Mary Noel and others. Richard Hoggart was considering The Uses of Literacy in 1957 just two years after ITV started in London and the BBC killed off Grace Archer in an attempt to prevent the curious tuning in to the upstart channel. Of course, there had been studies of mass or popular reading before – one thinks of Q.D. Leavis’s ill-informed and inaccurate (but very influential) Fiction and the Reading Public of 1932 ‑ but what was new at this time was the extent of interest in and concern over the new media and a corresponding re-evaluation of the old. No longer did “English” and “American Literature” remain with their sights on a few canonical classics, but the field began to widen to include texts not previously considered “literature”: not only was contemporary popular culture analysed (Barthes’s journalism collected as Mythologies in 1957 remains a key example), but popular fiction and even journalism began to be studied historically. Important for me, this is the period when the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals was born, and when the interdisciplinary Victorian Studies was first published. Television was not of course the only or even an obviously direct or major propellor of these paradigm shifts in the study of literature, but the incursion of popular entertainment into the home, once the province of the book, must surely have contributed to the gradual (and by no means inevitable or certain) democratisation of literature that the following years witnessed.

What, we may well ask, will the twenty-first century do to the book?

When I wrote the first version of these past 4 blogs as a lecture in 2000, I thought that perhaps we were entering a similar phase to the 1950s and 60s of new technology and new awareness: the world wide web was only 7 years old and everyone was excited about the possibilities for new configurations of meaning. A lot of writing appeared about that.
Thirteen years on and the www is now post-pubescent, well through its university course and thrilled less with new configurations of meaning than new possibilities for consumption. The paper book seems an antiquated medium from which targetted ads are excluded. Will that be sufficient reason for its survival?

History of the Book in the Twentieth Century Part 3: the age of the conglomerate, and the revolution of 1935

In the previous post I covered the first 4 of 8 elements of media history. Here are two more.

If many very small publishers have survived into the twenty-first century (even and because of the internet and new digital printing technologies), nevertheless a distinguishing factor of the twentieth century, especially the latter part, concerns ownership of the media. I’m thinking here of the sublime growth of international conglomerates and transnational book production in line with just about every other manufacturing industry.

Ever since Paul Hamlyn in the 1950s escaped the restrictions of paper-rationing still in force in Britain by having his books manufactured entirely in Eastern Europe, book production has become increasingly international. Even in the long gone 1999, it was quite normal for an author to key in her work in London on a word processor, send it to a publisher whose office may be in New York who sends it to be typeset in Hong Kong, printed and bound in Singapore, for distribution to an Anglophone but world-wide market. What once were comparatively small publishing houses of perhaps 50 or so staff which carried the name of their founding father whose descendants headed the business are now huge transnational and transpersonal conglomerates.

It was the 1980s, the era of “deregulated” mergers and acquisitions,  that saw the virtual elimination of the “gentleman publishers” and the restructuring of the whole publishing industry. The restructuring was due not only to deregulation, however, but also and not least by how the contemporary decreased funding of education led to a correspondingly decreased (and less seasonally reliable) demand for textbooks and library books within the UK. The demand was not only smaller but less predictable. Then again, the appreciation of sterling against the currencies of countries to which Britain had been exporting in large numbers since the 1950s made exports expensive and difficult.

Macmillan’s is a good example of a firm to illustrate how the industry was restructured in the second half of the twentieth century.

The brothers Alexander and Daniel Macmillan, originally from the Scottish island of Arran, had founded the company in 1843. They aimed mainly for a target audience with a large degree of cultural capital, publishing Charles Kingsley, Thomas Hughes, Lewis Carroll, Tennyson, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells and so on. In the twentieth century Macmillan’s published Ouida (to whom they were very generous in her declining years), Yeats, Sean O’Casey, John Maynard Keynes, and many other well-known names. The talent-spotting talent of the Macmillan family, their canny awareness of the coincidence of cultural and financial capitals, was not confined to literature – Grove’s Dictionary of Music was theirs for instance. The firm rose through the generations throughout the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth, reaching its apogee in Harold Macmillan. After having served as Prime Minister, he withdrew from politics in 1965 and took on as now Macmillan’s website tells me, “a leadership role at the publisher. He instituted an ambitious program that led to international expansion. The Education Division grew significantly and standard reference works and scientific magazines were also added to the list.” (see Macmillan’s interesting inhouse timeline and also Elizabeth James’s Macmillan: A Publishing Tradition 1843-1970, 2002)

Although the family still have a substantial interest, now however Macmillan’s is owned by the enormous German media company Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrink – which owns the German national Die Ziet, which its website tells me is “Germany’s largest opinion forming newspaper”. It also owns Germany’s equivalent of the London Evening Standard the Berlin Der Tagesspiegel, 5 different German fiction imprints, a Swiss fiction imprint and 2 New York based houses Henry Holt and no less than Farrar Straus and Giroux, 8 local newspapers in Germany, 2 companies that make documentaries for TV, shares in a large number of radio stations, and various subsidiaries that publish on the internet and on CD. Macmillan’s itself has numerous subsidiaries in 70 countries, the result of Harold Macmillan’s global expansion plans. Since 2000 it has run an academic imprint called Palgrave, the result of the merger of the Us  St Martin’s Press and the UK Macmillan’s.
Another and even larger conglomerate is Pearson’s. Pearson’s own Penguin and Longman and Simon and Schuster and produced the late twentieth-century hugely successful TV series Baywatch, The Bill and Zena Warrior Princess; it owns the Financial Times, The Economist; it runs Thames TV, has a large stake in Channel 5 and is the world’s largest education publisher. It has for some decades now invested heavily in the new electronic media, esp. the on-line provision of share prices.

In other words, the late twentieth century saw the triumph of large-scale industrial publishing. There are many issues involved in the creation of these huge conglomerates with their stress on marketability and share prices. One is how it has generated a vigorous resistance to the whole notion of the industrialisation of knowledge. Already in the 1890s small scale presses had been set up, but their energy and usually socialist and artisanal ideals had all collapsed by the early 1960s. Does this indicate the dominance of books tailored by market researchers, the heartless triumph of the machine – and offer opportunities for paranoia about who controls the knowledge available to us?

While made-by-committee books based on detailed market research certainly are published, it’s a universal axiom that the indefinable flair of individual editors and their relationship to individual authors is still key to publishing. As one textbook on publishing says “Good personal contacts are paramount” (Giles Clark, Inside Book Publishing, Routledge 1994: 67 – the site associated with the book is very good). One thinks of the disaster that brought Dorling Kindersley to its knees with its manufactured Star Wars book: phantom menace the item indeed was. It managed to sell only 3 million of the 13 million Star Wars books it had printed and this was the main contributing factor to the heavy losses it posted in May 2000 of £25 million. DK was bought out by Pearson plc, joining it to the Penguin Group.

Furthermore, it’s absurd to think of these conglomerates as efficiently organised from the top down: there’s no controlling dictator at the top who manipulates our minds through controlling what we have access to. I was told a few weeks ago by an editor for Palgrave that although the von Holtzbrink family own large shares in the conglomerate that bears their name, they’re only interested in seeing the balance sheets every 5 years or so. Individual editors operate independently and are, rather, assessed at the local level on the overall profit distribution of the books they have commissioned. Power is diffuse and capable of many different variations, allied to many different tastes and value systems.

While there are certainly issues of control over what becomes available to us to read – the ongoing Assange case is proof of that (and see eg the debate over Canongate’s publication of his unauthorised biography in 2011) –  most us as readers don’t notice much of the above: we don’t feel constrained by what is available to us except by price. And this brings me to my next point.

From the point of view of most British users of books,  issues of ownership are less important than the format revolution of 1935. Indeed, for most book readers today the twentieth century really began that year. 1935 was the year that Allen Lane started the Penguin paperback. Taking advantage of the monotype printing I’ve mentioned in a previous post, a  technology that had been commercially developed in the 1920s, Penguin changed the face of publishing for ever.

Again though, the idea of the paperback was by no means new – books stitched in paper covers date from the late seventeenth century; in nineteenth century France most books were published in them to allow for binding according to the consumer’s choice.

Allen Lane was the owner of The Bodley Head Press, which he inherited from his uncle John Lane who had gained notoriety in the 1890s for publishing The Yellow Book, the showcase of aestheticism. By the mid 1930s however, The Bodley Head was in trouble financially: Penguin was a desperate attempt to save it. Allen Lane got the idea of the look for the series from Germany, where a paperback series called The Albatross had been started up by an English man named John Holroyd-Reece to rival the old-established form of Tauchnitz who had been publishing paperback reprints for almost a century. Penguins were, however, by no means straight imitations of The Albatross.

While early Penguins, like Albatross, were paperback reprints with visually distinctive covers of works originally published by other forms  – as Phil Baines’s beautiful Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005 shows us – Lane planned to sell Penguins very cheap: at 6d. Most revolutionary of all, he distributed them through outlets other than standard bookshops: Woolworth’s played a large role in the success of the Penguin imprint. Penguin’s revolution in fact lay not in its material identity as a cheap distinctive paperback but  in establishing the book both literally and metaphorically in places in the market it had never before settled in. It paved the way for the supermarket books we know today.

For the next 20 years Penguin dominated the paperback market in the UK and helped normalise the format to such an extent that for most of us now the paperback IS the book.

What once was a technology meant for disposable reading, ephemeral in its structure, transitory in its nature, came in the twentieth century to represent the quintessence of the book, the repository of (what we like to think of as) non-ephemeral knowledge.

History of the Book in the Twentieth Century Post 2 : Technology, Ownership, Regulation, Distribution

In the previous blog I promised to cover 8 routes through which print history and the twentieth century could be connected. Here are the first 4.

1st, print technology, that which enables literature to transit from author to reader.

The Walter Press, adopted by The Times in 1866 (from Frank Leslie’s Magazine 1877 – and


In the 1950s printing machines whose designs dated from the 1850s were still in general use. Yet paradoxically, printing technologies that in some ways are most characteristic of the twentieth century were first developed in the late nineteenth.

The two great revolutions in printing of the years between 1900 and 1950 were linotype and monotype. The Linotype machine was 1st installed on the New York Tribune in 1886; Monotype was invented 3 years later in 1889 but only commercially established in 1897.

image from


Perhaps you can see from the illustration how monotype employs a paper tape with holes in it as an intermediate storage and transmission technology between the keyboarding and typesetting. The idea derived from looms for weaving cloth interesting enough – the same technology that Charles Babbage used in his mechanical prototype of a computer. These technologies, esp. monotype, tripled the speed at which books could be produced and formed the basis for the revolution that was to happen in the 1930s with Penguin (on which see more later). But even more advanced technologies were invented in the late nineteenth century which were to be used commercially for books only from the 1950s. The 1890s saw patents for devices that set type photographically, but nothing came of them for almost 60 years with the introduction of the Intertype Fotosetter in the USA in 1945. This photographic technology in turn enabled the ever-faster production of books after WWII .

A 2nd way twentieth-century publishing can be said to start in the late nineteenth is not purely technological but concerns conventions of literary property – who owns the text transmitted? I’m referring to the formulation of international copyright, most notably with the Berne Convention of 1885, through which a uniform international system of copyright was initiated. During the course of the twentieth century the convention underwent several modifications, including what is called the Rome revision of 1928 whereby the term of copyright for most types of works became the life of the author plus 50 years. This had in fact already been adopted in 1911 in Britain. In EU countries this has subsequently been modified to 70 years after the death of the author.

Copyright is incredibly important to the publishing industry: it is indeed its cornerstone without which there could be no publishing industry, but again with new technologies of the last 40 or so years – starting with photocopying – it is undergoing a period of enormous stress. Perhaps in future times the twentieth century  will be characterised as the period of efficient copyright – certainly more efficient than for any time before it, and perhaps after it too.

A 3rd conventional continuity from the nineteenth century concerns censorship, particularly the persistence of the Obscene Publication Act. This dates from 1857 with a famous – or infamous – modification in 1868 that defined obscenity as that which exhibited a tendency to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences”. (Justice Cockburn in Regina v. Hicklin, a bookseller in Wolverhampton — see  Victorian Print Media pp. 101-104 for extracts from this and other obscenity  triala). Obviously, this had enormous impact on what could and could not be published in Britain. Lawrence’s open discussion of sex in The Rainbow in 1915 notoriously led to the seizure of 1,011 copies during a police raid on the London offices of the novel’s piblisher Methuen. It was banned by Bow Street magistrates after the police solicitor told them that the obscenity in the book “was wrapped up in language which I suppose will be regarded in some quarters as artistic and intellectual effort”.

Bodley Head edition of Joyce’s Ulysses, (1936) – from


Then there’s Joyce’s Ulysses, published in Paris, which was seized by customs officers when it dared cross the channel into Britain (though curiously Bodley Head didn’t get prosecuted for publishing it in Britain in 1936). Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness had caused its publisher Jonathan Cape to be brought to court in 1928.

In 1959, there was a further and vital modification to the law of obscenity: now the work in question had to be taken “as a whole” and the interests of “science, literature, art of learning” could be adduced to defend a work from the charge of obscenity – “expert opinion” could be called. The following year the case of Regina v. Penguin Books over the publication of the unexpurgated Lady Chatterley’s Lover was a test case of this new law. Penguin won. Since then the question of obscenity has been continually debated, with concern in Britain at least has been far less over literature, however, than with film and video and, more recently again, the internet (see e.g. a recent article in The Guardian).

If then in three major respects twentieth-century publishing seems a continuation of nineteenth, in another it can be said to start perfectly on time on 1 January 1900 with the Net Book Agreement (NBA), signed by members of the then recently formed Publisher’s Association. The NBA concerns distribution. Again its roots go back to the nineteenth century — but it can also be regarded as a decided rupture with it.

The NBA  was designed to prevent booksellers selling at suicidal discount yet price wars had erupted when in 1894 the lending libraries Mudie’s and W.H. Smith’s rebelled against taking three-volume novels. Publishers were forced to publish novels in one volume and more cheaply. This in turn meant that cheap books flooded the market and booksellers sought to undercut one another. Unsurprisingly, this spelled disaster for many booksellers (as well as publishers). Many booksellers went bankrupt. This in turn meant fewer outlets for the retail of books and the consequent risk of a decline in the market because of distribution problems – for if booksellers closed because they had been trying too hard to undercut their competitors how were publishers to get their wares to the consumer? Hence the need that some publishers felt to save booksellers from bankruptcy. The NBA was one solution. Through the NBA, the publisher allowed a trade discount to the bookseller only on condition that the book was sold to the public at not less than its “net published price” as fixed by the publisher. In Britain, a first attempt to introduce the net price principle by booksellers in the 1850s had been condemned to failure by supporters of Free Trade; but in the 1880s it had  been successfully adopted in Germany. Encouraged by this toward the end of the century some British publishers, led by Alexander Macmillan, began to replace the variable discounts they gave to booksellers by fixed prices. To press for the new system, the Associated Booksellers of Great Britain and Ireland had been formed in 1895, and the Publishers Association was created in 1896. These two organizations then worked out the Net Book Agreement.

If the twentieth-century British book trade can be said to be the century of efficient copyright, it is just as much the century of the NBA – indeed it only collapsed in September 1995 through pressure from a complex of sources including rulings by the European courts about what constituted cartels and pressure from the Office of Fair Trading.

The industry itself had also  changed though. The import of cheaper books from the US via Europe because of the strength of the pound, and not least the enormous growth of bookseller retail chains like Blackwell’s, Dillons, and Waterstones which by 1996 had grown to take over 30% of the U.K. market. These chains – in ever-reduced numbers amongst themselves – became the pacesetters in the new deregulated market that emerged in the 1980s. They were able to launch full-scale retail marketing of the sort that had previously only been seen in UK supermarkets, such as price promotions on certain brands (or imprints, in the case of books), loyalty cards and hence database marketing based on analysis of what specific kinds of customers were buying where and when. Regulation (“deregulation”) encouraged the consolidation of the chains:  complaints to the office of Fair Trading by more than 600 small publishers that Waterstone’s was abusing its (dominant) position in the market by seeking greater discounts from publishers were dismissed.  More recently again, of course, Amazon has increased its market share of literary distribution to previously undreamed of heights. Are monopoly, oligopoly and cartels the inevitable end of a deregulated market as we saw in the Hollywood film industry of the 1930s before the Paramount decrees, where the studios controlled distribution, exhibition and production?

(to be continued in our next…)

Literature in Transit: Histories of the Book in the Twentieth Century Book. Part 1 – Definitions

This month’s series of blogs will concern how we can think of changes in book publishing in the UK over the course of the twentieth century.
It’s really a set of pedagogical blogs, offering a framework to students for how to think through long term changes in the media industries. The eight categories I’ll propose I’ve used successfully as a checklist for students to write their own histories of specific media. I’ve treated publishing as a model case study so that students in groups can produce something on their own chosen medium by following the same set of headings.
It’s worked pretty well: students like the prescriptive structure and group work.
One possible heading that isn’t here is the changing nature of how publishing (or any other media industry) is financed. I tried to include it once but students didn’t get it: it’s just too complicated at this level when taught with other headings. I left financing models out of subsequent frameworks and, perhaps wrongly, it will be omitted from this set of blogs too.
First of all, though, I wanted to explain the importance of paying careful attention to the title of the question, which is why I start with a few basic definitions from which the rest of the “essay” should depend.

This series of four blogs will be almost entirely concerned to think through the terms of the title Literature in Transit: Histories of the Book in the Twentieth Century.

For what can we mean by “Literature” in a century that saw Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and Barbara Cartland? Why should it be “in transit?” Why are we concerned to look again at the idea of the “book” in this electronic age when “books” are dying out? Perhaps most bizarre of all, I also want to query what we mean by “Twentieth Century“.

Defining the terms of my title will, perhaps curiously, enable me to sketch a history of book publishing mainly in Britain in the twentieth century, up to and including the internet revolution. It will also enable me to reflect on what we need to study in any large-scale historical analysis of a communications medium.

First of all then, we need to consider what a book might be.
I’m taking it to be a specific kind of information storage and transmission technology, and in that sense comparable to music recording or film. Of course it’s very different from them as well: it’s a material thing that has a specific and material history. Yet we mustn’t forget that it is fundamentally an earthly avatar with a traceable biography – a life indeed – of a much more intangible and abstract concept. If today we don’t often think of the book as a storage and transmission technology – while we do think of computers in that way – it’s because the book has become naturalised, simply part of our everyday lives, so old it doesn’t need to be thought about except in rare instances like Craig Raine’s famous 1979 poem “A Martian sends a Postcard Home”:

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings —
they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain.
I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.

In the 1990s the new technologies of information storage and transmission woke us up to the fact that the book is just one manifestation of a more abstract concept. Today these technologies enable a text such as this where the history of the the book avatar is discussed. It’s only when lay people outside the book production industry are compelled to compare the book with other avatars of the same concept that we begin to reflect on the specific technologies of the book, its form, its history and its effects.

Literature I take to be the subset of information that comprises combinations of letters of the alphabet. This is what the original term letteraturameant in Latin – a writing formed of letters of the alphabet. The term applied to Greek or Latin as opposed to the Egyptian hieroglyphic mode of information storage or, as the philosopher Cicero suggests (following Plato), human memory. Literature may be encoded in books that appear on the market all at once or in other avatars of information storage and transmission such as periodicals, newspapers and pamphlets, and indeed now on the internet and in our computers. In defining literature by taking shelter in the etymological, I want to avoid for the moment the difference between high- and low-status information, Literature with a capital L and with a lowercase l. Again I think that it’s the new developments in information technologies that bring that distinction between high and low to the fore and lend it a particular urgency, especially for those of us involved in education.

Transit derives, of course, from the Latin verb “transire”, to go across, to pass from one state to another. In using it in my title I’m also thinking of the crossing that comprises the notion of the medium through which an author communicates with a reader. But of course “in transit” also suggests that the technology that enables literature is changing, passing from one state to another. At least since Marshall MacLuhan in the early 1960s we’ve thought about how the medium might be related to the message, how not only the medium itself alters but how this has an effect both on how the message is conceptualised by the author and by the reader – the message changes as the medium does. I won’t be writing about this much, but I will give a simple example – the novel as we commonly think of it depends for its existence upon technologies in paper production, cutting and binding as well as printing, not to mention technologies of distribution that allow publishers to get their wares to the consumer. They also depend upon a set of conventions about what certain kinds of information physically comprise. For most of the nineteenth century most novels published in book form were in 3 volumes and hardback.

Novels for us have become one volume – and not only that but paperbacks. I’ll be describing that particular technological transition from hardback to paperback in a later post. I just want to signal it here as probably the most important development in the twentieth-century material book as far as the reader is concerned.
A second association of “transit” that I want to foreground is the increasing perception of the motility of the written word. Once the dominant notion was “In scripta manent” – things remain through being written down – one thinks of the Ten Commandments carved in stone, immobile, resistant to the gnawing of time and the creativity of memory. The orthodoxy in the early twenty-first century is, however, that the printed word is always and everywhere in a transitional state. Texts are no longer considered self-contained units of meaning; rather we think of that each word as in a constant state of moving towards other words and states. Stasis, like fullness and completeness of meaning, are only illusions.

It may seem rather  absurd to query what an apparently simple term like the “Twentieth Century” means. The terms refers to a simple period of 100 years from 1900-1999. Yet my question derives from a consideration of periodisation in history, a question that anyone familiar with the defintion of, say, “Romanticism” and “Victorian” will know well. What does an arbitrarily defined chronological period mean in relation to events that actually occur? In this case, is the history of the book really to be bound by a hundred cycles of a planet around a star? George Eliot began Daniel Deronda with comments on the “make-believe of a beginning”; so here I began to query the notion that the twentieth century, in book publishing terms at least, lasted the 100 years between 1900 and 1999. As I will be suggesting, it can be argued that the twentieth century in publishing terms began in the late nineteenth, in the 1880s or even the 1850s. Alternatively, we might say that it began as late as the 1950s. It may have ended in 1992 – in which case it might be very short indeed, less than 40 years.

Now there are an enormous number of ways the twentieth can be related to the other terms in my title. I’ll be looking at just eight of the most important over the next three blogs.

Hollywood’s Grandmas Part 3

There is no sustained recent work on either Harriet or Leon Lewis, although there is a brief post on the both at and another on Leon (whose real name was Julius Warren Lewis) at John Adcock’s Yesterday’s Papers site.  Harriet has not benefited from the recent revival of Southworth and other American women writers. Most of the information about her in my London Journal book therefore came from the letters in the Bonner file in the New York Public Library. Brief obituaries of Harriet appear on 21 May 1878 in The New York Times (p.1), and The New York Herald (p.5) and a particularly affectionate one in the New York Ledger itself (4 June 1878, p. 4), largely devoted to reproducing extracts from Harriet’s last letter to her editor Robert Bonner, with whom she entertained a very good relationship.

Leon and Harriet had married in 1856 when she was 15 and he 23 with already a very colourful career behind him. Leon was to run off with another 15 year old soon after Harriet died, aged 37, of a botched gynaecological operation). The copious letters from Harriet and Leon suggest that Leon blusteringly carried on the business and squandered their money while she laboured over the novels – including some under his name.

Yet it is a letter from Leon to Bonner that is particularly interesting for its revelations of how American writers dealt with the transatlantic market.

9 April 1873

Dear Mr Bonner

We hasten to return by first mail the London letter and to reply to the question with which you accompany it.

You refused us the proofs 4 years ago, saying (in substance) to Mrs L. that if she were to have them she would be likely to give undue prominence to the thought as to how the stories would suit over there, etc. (which, by the way, was a mistaken estimate of her character).

We or you or all of us have consequently had some $1500 or $2000 yearly less income during the period named than we might have had. Mr Johnson, of the London Journal, and others have repeatedly written to us to this effect, but we never replied to more than one in ten, and then only to say (you having refused us proofs) that they were not at our disposal, etc.

The next thing in order of course were offers for original stories – i.e. for manuscripts – but a like answer was returned, although the offers made exceeded any sums that had ever been paid anywhere by anybody for anything in the line of stories.

And under this state of things it became a question with Sunday English publishers as to which of them would derive the most benefit from republishing from the regular Monday Ledger Mrs L.’s stories.

That is a race of printers of which we do not propose to constitute ourselves the time-keepers. We can do no less, however, than except Mr. Johnson, of the Journal, from the general condemnation. True, he reprinted the stories without authority and without paying for them – (since he could’nt [sic] have them for pay) – but he has done so under certain conditions which command attention from their rarity:

1st – He has given the name of Mrs L. and even given her a standing qualification of “celebrated American authoress”

2nd – The London Journal is of ten times more literary importance and pecuniary value than all the rest of the story papers of the British Empire kingdom [sic] put together. The sum of $3,750,000 (£750,000) has been vainly offered for it to our own certain knowledge. [Here an unidentified extract from a book or magazine is pasted into the letter claiming the excellence of The London Journal. The sum Leon quotes is absurd]

3rd – During our stay in London in ’71, (as we must have told you upon our return) Mr Johnson called upon us at Morley’s [Hotel], offered us every civility, private boxes at theatres, invitations and introductions, etc. and upon the last day of our stay pressed upon Mrs. L a roll of bank [sic] of England notes, as an acknowledgement of the good he had derived from the stories, even in the face of sharing them with everybody else and under all the adverse circumstances – at which time he renewed his offers for proofs, as also for stories written expressly for him.

And now is this Mr Fiske [Amos Kidder Fiske (1842-1921), editor of the American fiction paper, The Boston Globe] more to you than we are that you should “aid and abet” him with the proofs you have so expressly refused to us, and so drag our names into a wretched squawk of a paper that could not possibly last three months, and during this period exist only in obscene contempt? After all you have been to us and we to you – after all we know of your heart and brain – we shall require your written declaration of preference in favour of Mr. F. before we will believe it!

Excuse scratches. We write in haste to catch the mail.

Ever yours,

Leon and Harriet Lewis

For all Leon’s protestations, The London Journal must have been supplied with advance copy of Harriet’s novels since 1869 (when Leon had first asked Bonner for proofs of her novels). Even more consistently than Southworth novels, Harriet’s appear in the New York Ledger and The London Journal at the distance of only a few weeks at most – anyone could work out that for that to happen advance sheets must have been sent across the ocean. No wonder Leon doesn’t want to be a timekeeper in what he calls the “race of printers” – Bonner no doubt had already made his calculations and come to the logical conclusions.

Leon’s also anxious to redefine the tag he claims The London Journal gave to Harriet. This was – he’s right – placed under her name in all of her novels  until Edda’s Birthright, published in The London Journal and the Ledger 3 months after Leon wrote the letter transcribed above. But the tag of “celebrated American authoress” was only part of a longer notice. What the notice actually said was that The London Journal’s was “[t]he only edition in this country sanctioned by this celebrated American authoress”. The full tag was less a celebration of Harriet than an assertion of right.

The tag had been prompted in the first instance by the appearance of Lewis novels in The London Reader, a magazine run by no less than George Stiff, the former owner of The London Journal, from right next door. While almost all London Reader serials are anonymous and with altered titles and sometimes names of principal characters changed, it’s hard to trace the originals, yet it had carried novels with Leon’s signature in 1866-7 (The House of Secrets, 4 August 1866 – 12 January 1867) and in mid-1867, followed by one with Harriet’s, The Golden Hope. More recently, the Reader had somehow published The Hampton Mystery, a version of Harriet’s first novel in The London Journal, The Double Life; Or, The Hampton Mystery a fortnight earlier than the magazine which was published literally next door, The London Journal – which was, it seems, now forced into declaring that it alone had the only sanctioned edition. Since the original had been published in America at exactly the same date as in Reader, it was impossible for Stiff to obtain a copy and put it into print by anything other than advance sheets. Later, Harriet’s Tressilian Court (1871) will likewise appear in The London Reader a week before The London Journal’s version, and Lady Chetwynd’s Spectre (1873) at exactly the same time.

What’s happening here? One possibility is that Stiff was raiding the mail intended for his former magazine and now rival next door. While he’d certainly done this sort of thing before, there are other possibilities too.

It is clear from the Bonner letters that Leon was a spendthrift and a gambler. After Harriet had procured fame and a good deal of money for them both since first appearing in the Ledger in 1862 (aged 15 and already married to Leon), he had sunk very deeply into debt. Bonner, who was clearly very fond of Harriet, kept lending the Lewises money which she would pay back by writing several serials simultaneously for him under both her and Leon’s name (romances under hers, adventure stories under his): eighty-one numbers spread over five novels managed to pay off $6075 at half rates. It seems to me very likely that the Lewises sent The London Journal AND The London Reader – and quite possibly other magazines that I have yet to discover –  advance copies of Harriet’s works to increase their already huge but always insufficient income.

What I’ve hoped to show in this and the previous blog posts is that in the cases of these three women – May Agnes Fleming, E.D.E.N. Southworth and Harriet Lewis – one cannot talk of “piracy” in the sense of a foreign publisher robbing an author. Two of the women had “exclusive” contracts with their American publishers which they broke quite legally by dealing also with publishers in Britain. Even when apparently straight piracy occurred, as with some novels by Southworth and Fleming, the writers still benefited from this in the end.

As we have come to realise more and more, nineteenth-century women writers were by no means all victims of a male publishing establishment. These three indeed, through translation, achieved a global circulation far beyond the transatlantic anglophone axis that I have focussed on here. In that sense they prefigure Hollywood by a good two generations – they are Hollywood’s grandmas indeed. The implications of that must await another set of posts.

Hollywood’s Grandmas Part 2

In 1855, Robert Bonner of the New York Ledger (NYL) started serialising “Fanny Fern” (Sara Payton Willis). He advertised that she was paid  $100 per column so that readers could gauge the exact amount she got paid – and could value her writing accordingly. It was at this point that sales – and the profits – of the NYL rose to unprecedented heights. This sent a clear signal across the Atlantic that America, with whom a copyright agreement still did not exist, could now provide rich and proven fodder for the cheap periodical market. The result was that The Family Herald pirated Fanny Fern’s two serial novels from NYL in 1855-6 and other papers widely plagiarised and imitated her columns.

portrait of Southworth from Sarah J. Hale, ed. Woman’s Record (1853), p. 794; also 1855 ed. from women/portraits/southworth.htm

The London Journal, The Family Herald’s main rival, didn’t want to publish the same thing at the same time and so researched the American mass market. It discovered a tale called The Lost Heiress that the Saturday Evening Post had just published. The London Journal started running it a month after Fanny Fern’s novel had begun in The Family Herald, having changed the title from The Lost Heiress to The True and False Heiress. It published the serial anonymously until its very last episode, when it revealed the author to be E.D.E.N. Southworth. The serial was apparently very successful.

Back in America, this was noticed by Robert Bonner who invited Southworth to write exclusively for the New York Ledger. She started her series of exclusive” novels for him in 1857 and became one of the most widely read and reprinted authors of the entire nineteenth century. This in turn caused the Ledger’s sales to rise ever higher and The London Journal and other penny periodicals to print more of her stories.

As for why I’ve put 1883 as the terminus of my study you may think that’s curious when copyright plays such an important part in my narrative and the US started regulating international copyright in 1891. But two of the authors I’m focussing on were dead by then – and there are reasons why Southworth appeared in the British mass market periodical much less after 1868. When in 1883 The London Journal made the serious mistake of trying to serialise Zola and lost a large number of readers, they chose to rescue the situation by serialising a Harriet Lewis novel even though she had died 5 years previously. What the original of that novel is I haven’t been able to establish. But I can say that as far as I been able to discover, it hadn’t been published in Britain before and that her name was considered a remedy for the ills of declining circulation. It’s possible of course that she never wrote the London Journal serial: they might have only added her famous name to it. Be that as it may,  what appear in Britain are only reprints of works by these three women. 1883 therefore marks a watershed insofar as works new to the market are concerned.

The above is all background to the question I really want to address in these three blog posts which is whether the literary property of these American women was “pirated” – stolen morally (if even if such action was legal) – by the British periodicals.

To answer the question is actually rather difficult, for it depends partly on the definition of the term “piracy” and partly on information that is lacking. There is little doubt that Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Fanny Fern’s writings were pirated in Britain in the same way that the French novels of Sue and Dumas had been in the 1840s. But the cases of the writers I’m talking of present complications.

While I only want to talk of the three novelists in The London Journal I’ve mentioned, May Agnes Fleming, EDEN Southworth and Harriet Lewis, they will provide varied examples of how American women writers were not simply melodramatic victims of wicked men in Europe. Rather I’ve found that, unlike Isabel Archer in Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady they could actually benefit from and actively manipulate the system of transatlantic cultural exchange.

image from singleitem/collection/ ceww/id/385/rec/18

First then, May Agnes Fleming. Her first two novels in The London Journal were pirated in a quite straightforward sense, yet this surprisingly worked to her advantage. In 1868, Fleming had signed an exclusive contract with the Philadelphia fiction weekly Saturday Night. The following year The London Journal took from it a novel originally called The Heiress of Glengower, renaming it The Sister’s Crime and publishing it anonymously. Several papers in America pirated it in return, unaware that it was already copyright in America. It was so popular that when it was legally stopped in the American papers, a “bidding war” for the author resulted. The outcome was victory for Fleming: she accepted the offer of the New York Weekly which immediately tripled her income, later signed a contract that gave her 15% royalties on the sales of her novels in volume format, and, from 1872, made an arrangement to send The London Journal advance sheets for £12 per instalment. Altogether, this gave her $10,000 a year. She didn’t do too badly out that initial piracy.

E.D.E.N. Southworth’s relation with The London Journal was even more complicated. Her first three novels in the magazine were pretty certainly pirated and, like Mrs Stowe before her, she came to England to stop this – for residence in Britain gave copyright protection. However, in the year Southworth came, 1859, although she was under exclusive contract to Robert Bonner, she must have arranged to give advance sheets of her most famous novel, The Hidden Hand, to the former owner of The London Journal, George Stiff, as it appeared in another magazine of his, The Guide, only a week after it came out in the New York Ledger. When Stiff rebought The London Journal he continued his relationship with her. The next year, 1860, The London Journal would publish two more novels by Southworth again only a week after their New York appearance. Hypocritically, in an open letter to readers of the Ledger (10 March 1860) Southworth had just complained about being plagiarised in Britain . In 1861, a novel of hers even appeared in London before it came out in New York (Eudora).

Sailing ever closer to the wind, she wrote Captain Rock’s Pet especially for The London Journal. After this, none of her novels appear in it for two years. Stiff had again sold The London Journal and instead, some of her novels appear in his new magazine, the London Reader anonymously. The next Southworth novel in The London Journal, Sylvia (1864), was probably pirated, as it is a version of Hickory Hall, a serial that had appeared in the National Era in 1850. But such is impossible in the case of her next three novels in The London Journal, Left Alone, The Manhater and The Malediction. These again all appear either a week before or a week after they are printed in the Ledger. Southworth’s last novel in The London Journal, The Double Life (1869), is a version of another National Era serial from twenty years previously, which may again suggest piracy. Perhaps Bonner prevented her from sending more advance sheets. Southworth wrote a particularly strong declaration of loyalty to him dated 12 January 1869, which may be read as finally accepting that she really was under exclusive contract to him. Perhaps it is because of this that The London Journal turned to another and younger New York Ledger staple, also under supposedly exclusive contract to Robert Bonner, Harriet Lewis.