Cheap Modernism: Expanding Markets, Publishers' Series, and the Avant-garde.
In "Modern Fiction," Woolf famously describes her messy vantage point "in the crowd, blind with dust" and decrees that "it is for the historian of literature to decide" from a "sufficiently lofty pinnacle" about the state of modern fiction (CR 1). Lise Jaillant's brilliant new book attains this superior vantage point onto a vast throng of competing publishers' series and offers a thoroughly researched topographical view of the historical development and cultural importance of this phenomenon, while also giving a thick account of the "dust" on the ground kicked up by authors and publishers negotiating the bustling marketplace for cheap reprints of modernism. Jaillant attains this balance between a long, broad historical network and thick local examples through her ambitious structure of five archivally researched chapters, each featuring major avant-garde modernists and documenting those modernists' involvement in seven publishers' reprint series. Jaillant covers an impressive terrain and gathers together materials from a trove of geographically-dispersed archives: she situates the prefatory introductions by T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf commissioned by the Oxford's World's Classics Series; then she moves to the circulation of the subversive texts by James Joyce in the Traveller's Library and D. H. Lawrence in the New Adelphi Library; the third chapter focuses on the publication of Wyndham Lewis's Tarr in the Phoenix Library; the fourth chapter extends the focus to "the continental diffusion of Anglophone modernism" (19) through Tauchnitz and Albatross; and the final chapter focuses on the Hogarth Press's Uniform Edition of Virginia Woolf's works.
While there have been many excellent studies of individual series and on single publishing houses--Jaillant's first book on the Modern Library Series is a sterling example--Jaillant rightly claims that Cheap Modernism is "the first study of European uniform reprint series that widened the market for modernist texts" (1). Jaillant adds to the growing scholarly conversations about modernism's imbrication within the marketplace and fills an important gap by focusing on book publication rather than the bulk of this new work, which has focused primarily on periodical print cultures. Jaillant argues persuasively that the cheap reprint series she focuses on "sold modernism to a wide audience--thus transforming a little-read 'highbrow' movement into a mainstream phenomenon" (1). Cheap Modernism always helpfully quantifies its claims and clarifies its key terms: here Jaillant specifies that by "'wide audience', [she] mean[s] thousands of readers--much less than a mass-market readership, but much more than the small coteries that had read texts by Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and others in their original context of publication" (1). Cheap Modernism shows us how the readership for modernism expanded from "high" to "low" markets and also "spatial[ly]--since publishers' series were distributed within and outside metropolitan centres in Britain, continental Europe and elsewhere" (1).
Cheap Modernism demonstrates stylistic mastery of the book history genre--Jaillant avoids the dry recounting of costs and editorial ambitions and manages to convey an impressive amount of knowledge about each series she covers without getting bogged down in an avalanche of details. Jaillant keeps her reader engaged by continually drawing us back into her larger story and keeps the cultural stakes clear throughout. She also includes welcome moments of humor: when discussing the J. M. Dent's Wayfarers' Library, which focused on publishing 'clean' modern literature "excluding controversial or pessimistic texts" (14), Jaillant made this reader snort with laughter: "In other words, any middleclass household could display these books without anxiety: there was nothing too risque to shock the vicar" (15).
The introduction provides useful context and positions the cheap reprint series of modernism into a larger narrative reaching back to the late eighteenth century to trace how a landmark copyright case and changes in printing technology and costs worked to establish the long history of the rise of the cheap reprint series. Jaillant connects the legal and technological developments with changes to education which paved the way for the shift from the more lurid, entertaining railway series to the more soberly packaged classics that were spurred by the shift in 1880: when "school attendance became compulsory for all children until the age of ten, opening up new markets" (8). While Jaillant's main focus is on series within Britain, she also incorporates the histories of cheap series in France and Germany.
Cheap Modernism continually attends to the material format of the books themselves to consider how their physical dimensions enhanced their links to cosmopolitanism and travel as "geographical mobility was linked to upward mobility" (9). For readers fascinated by the material forms of bookishness, Jaillant's carefully researched book constantly satisfied cravings for details about the dimensions and designs of the books she covers. I was thrilled by her continual linkage of these physical properties to advertising copy, which she argues often made use of the book's proportions and prettiness to sell these reprints as visible testaments to the consumer's cultural capital: "The World's Classics was described as 'the cheapest, prettiest, and handiest form in which you can obtain the great classics of literature' [... Readers] were encouraged to see the series as a coherent whole designed to be displayed on the shelf as a sign of taste and social respectability" (12).
Of most particular interest to Woolf scholars are the first and final chapters, which focus explicitly on Woolf's engagement with mass readerships and with growing canonicity through Publishers' reprint series. Chapter One focuses on introductions that Oxford World's Classics commissioned from Woolf and Eliot that made older books "new" and modernist by association, while also "transforming the image of these modernist writers from obscure avant-gardists to members of the artistic establishment" (18). Jaillant shows how Woolf's introduction to Sterne's Sentimental Journey in 1928 conferred a doubleness of prestige: "The 'consecration' process worked in two ways: writers of introductions brought new prestige to old books (and to the World's Classics series), and in turn, these classics increased the cultural aura of already-distinguished authors" (26). Jaillant argues that this kind of introduction was only useful to Woolf at that particular point in her career--in the late twenties when she was still trying to reach a wider audience of common readers especially in America--as afterwards she and Leonard both rejected subsequent opportunities and instead developed their own cheap series to help Woolf's work circulate to larger markets. In Chapter Five, Jaillant focuses on the Hogarth Press's "Uniform Edition" as an understudied development in Woolf's reaching a wider transatlantic readership. The Hogarth Press had offered Woolf "exceptional creative freedom," but had also made her books initially only available in "the sphere of small presses with limited market opportunities" (120). Leonard and Virginia used the Uniform Edition to lower the price point and used the "collected"-ness of the series to rebrand Woolf and re-circulate her work more widely and also to solidify her status "as a canonical author whose work deserved to be collected and preserved" (121). Jaillant places this achievement within a meaningful larger context by showing how many of Woolf's modernist contemporaries failed where Woolf succeeded--she documents the struggles of Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein here to control their own canonicity through a collected edition: "While other modernists depended on publishers to market them as important writers, Woolf used her own press to canonise herself" (122). Jaillant documents how "among her modernist peers, Woolf was therefore in the unique position to directly shape the literary canon--not as an author, but as a publisher (134).
While Jaillant's book is much more informative than it is polemical, she does insistently challenge critical discussions about modernism as a "Battle of the Brows" and wants to make the interaction between "high" and "low" a lot more fluid and uses Hogarth Press advertisements of Woolf's "high" modernist works alongside popular genres like detective fiction to show how "Woolf's positioning in the literary field was characterised by hybridity rather than radical separation from lower cultural forms" (128). Jaillant fights against a misguided view of the Hogarth Press as only a coterie publishing house and to reconsider how "Woolf--as author and publisher--fully exploited the commercial opportunities offered by the 'middlebrow' cultural sphere" (129).
Cheap Modernism is ambitious and impressive: Jaillant's archival work traces a global network of cheap reprint series and places them into a larger history of mass market editions--from the Railway editions of the nineteenth century to the rise of Penguin and paperbacks that took over afterwards. This book makes a substantial contribution to modernist studies with its historical scope, the number of presses and authors it covers, and the range of archival materials that it collects. These materials--including advertisements, letters from authors and publishers and printers, dust jackets, and early reviews--allow her to consider multiple facets of the print marketplace as she moves with dexterity between production, circulation, and reception. Cheap Modernism is a valuable resource to scholars and students of Woolf and of modernism more broadly--an informative study of the reprint series that helped modernism become "mainstream" (3).
--Jennifer Sorensen, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
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|Publication:||Woolf Studies Annual|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
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