114 Handwritten: [November 1939].
Dear Miss Woolf,
You are in 'the trade'; I am not. Presumably, therefore, you know far more about it than I do,--the omissions in your pamphlet on reviewing are intentional. But permit me to recount: the early 18th c. essayists endeavoured to guide the public taste not only in manners, but in reading--Cf., for example Addisson's Comments on Paradise Lost in the Spectator. This was not reviewing in the special sense; it was criticism. But it was a public attempt to guide taste. Later in that century, the earliest reviews were founded: The Critic; The Monthly, the first Edinburgh Review. But these were bookseller's organs; little more really than extensive blurbs, & the public had little faith in them. In 1802 Frances Jeffrey & his colleagues changed the whole face of the matter by founding the second Edinburgh Review which was so completely free from the booksellers that although it was published by Constable, it could damn Scott's Marmion which the luckless Archibald also published! Here began modern reviewing. Once more a conscious effort to guide public taste, & to relate the book to the moral & social currents of the time. And as much as possible to relate it to literary history, the 'eternal standards.' How successful the E.R. was I need not tell you, for the whole nature of the periodical--'policy'; payment; editorship; etc--was therein founded. The reviewers discussed the books. Unlike the overworked modern reviewer, they did not review all, but only the best books, & that slowly (quarterly publication) & at length (many articles over fifty pages). They too addressed themselves to the author--Jeffrey above all. They gave him this competent advice which he so much desires. But most of all, they reached a wide public. They publicized the books!
How much does an advertisement cost in the Times newspaper? A review costs a copy of the book. You know, surely, how little effect advertising has upon book sales. But you also know that irate authors clamor because their publishers have not sent more copies for review, have not appropriated more money for direct advertising. This aspect of the matter is very unliterary, no doubt, but it is one of the actualities. Will your proposal meet the demand?
Secondly, have you sufficiently considered the readers? Your private conference would tell me nothing, however much it told the author. Even Mr. Woolf's note does not stress this enough. To me the Times Lit. Supp. is a digest; it acquaints me at least with the multiplicity of books I simply cannot read. How are you going to give me that knowledge if you abolish the reviewer? 'Gutter' he may be, but this function he does perform.
Last of all, would this saved space be hoarded until the end of a period & then be devoted to adequate criticism? Is that not rather like saying "I will put aside ten minutes every day until I've saved a week"? The periodical press has other things to do. Is the issue 'burning'? Good--discuss it. Is it a week old? It's ancient history.
You have two alternatives, it seems to me, to the present inadequate system. The first you say will not prosper financially: that is, a return to the quarterly review wherein the outstanding books of the quarter can be criticised by competent authorities at length. The second I say the public will not trust--the publisher's prospectus (cf. Jonathan Cape's Now & Then). The former would (one hopes) support itself--or why not have it subsidized by the Booksellers Association?--& the second would be supported by publishers with money now spent on advertising. But the present author is free! Is the problem a literary or a financial one?
Pardon me for talking so long; thank you for raising to the light a problem which interests every serious reader. I hope something comes from your initiative.
W. Denham Sutcliffe
Letters from agents, editors, publishers, etc., Letters about various books
W. Denham Sutcliffe (1913-1964) was a 1937 graduate of Bates College (where he had to interrupt his studies for a year and a half to earn his tuition) and was a Rhodes Scholar, which explains his Oxford address. According to Harley Henry, who edited a collection of Sutcliffe's essays (What Shall We Defend? 1973), Sutcliffe taught at Kenyon College in Ohio from 1946-1964, grew up in Blackpool, England, and Richmond, Maine, and wrote a doctoral thesis at Oxford on English book reviewing in the 18th century. He also edited the letters of Edwin Arlington Robinson to Harry de Forest Smith (Untriangulated Stars, 1947).
Sutcliffe is responding to Woolf's "Reviewing," which had appeared as a Hogarth Sixpenny Pamphlet (#4) on November 2, 1939. Woolf's reply to Sutcliffe, dated November 16, 1939, is in L6 370-71 (3567).
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|Title Annotation:||LETTERS FROM READERS|
|Publication:||Woolf Studies Annual|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2006|
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