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The multimedia afterlives of Victorian novels: the readers library photoplay editions in the 1920s.

The theatrical and photoplay edition: historical contexts

In December 1923, two brothers, Ralph Hall Caine (1884-1962) and Derwent Hall Caine (1891-1972), sons of the best-selling Victorian novelist and playwright Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine (1853-1931), embarked on a ground-breaking new venture: the Readers Library Publishing Company. Derwent was to be Managing Director, and the books were to be printed by elder brother Ralph's firm, the Greycaine Book Manufacturing Company of Watford, and retailed for sixpence in old British currency.

Operating out of its first headquarters off Leicester Square in London, The Readers Library was not at first glance particularly unusual in that the first fifty or so books on its list are all re-prints of out-of-copyright works from previous centuries. Cheap reprints of out-of-copyright novels and plays had, after all, been around for over a hundred years, and reissues of copyright novels and plays which had done the rounds for a year or so at a higher price and were ready for the cheaper market had been around at least since the 1890s. The first series of the Readers Library contained both types--both old staples by authors like Bunyan, Dickens, Dumas and Eliot, and newer novels ready for the mass market such as the thrillers of Edgar Wallace and three of the best-selling melodramas of its founders' father, Hall Caine. These cheap reprints--including more recent novels --continued to be a part of the series list throughout its life, accompanied by short author biographies and adorned with dramatic cover illustrations (Plate 13).

Very occasionally, the series also included a new popular novel such as Edgar Wallace's The Black (1929, No. 283) or an anthology of new short stories such as Agatha Christie's 'The Under Dog' and E. Phillips Oppenheim's 'Blackman's Wood, published together in Two New Crime Stories (1929, No. 287.) It even contained The Readers Library Cookery Book (1928, No. 202), written by Judith Ann Silburn. Crucially, though, these sorts of books were not going to make the series stand out: it was to depend on another tactic entirely. Caine the elder's own texts--as I have argued elsewhere (1)--saw as much life (and made as much money) in their theatrical and cinematic as in their literary incarnations, and all three versions frequently circulated simultaneously and were often explicitly marketed as cross-referential. This kind of intertextuality makes an important appearance in the Reader's Library series and, as I will demonstrate, became a defining feature in its success.


In this paper I want to explore the significance of intertextual references in this period by drawing on a methodology that has recently emerged in contemporary Film Adaptation Studies. While the debates of the last twenty years or so that have informed this methodology can sometimes be seen as reductive for literary, theatre and early-film historians in their tendency to assume i) that the novel is almost always the 'originary' text; ii) that literature and theatre were uniformly stable, 'highbrow' cultural forms in relation to film until the arrival of TV in the 1950s; and iii) that adaptation is a one-way street, in its most recent manifestation the model offers some enticing hermeneutic possibilities. Among these is the investigation of cross-media adaptation as 'a prime instance of cultural recycling, a process which radically undermines any linear, diachronic understanding of cultural history, proposing instead a synergetic, synchronic view.' (2) I have found this model useful for a number of reasons, but primarily because it encourages us to move beyond a teleological view of performance (and indeed literary) history which has held critical sway for far too long, eliding much of the complexity of cross-media inter-relationships and thus drastically oversimplifying the experiences of audiences and readers in this period.

The idea of 'cultural recycling' is not in itself new: Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin began investigating what they called the 'remediation' of texts back in 1999, driven by the rapid rise of the World Wide Web as a new medium through which old texts can be reborn, redistributed, and re-experienced. (3) Their model has considerable advantages even over some later Film Studies models in that it claims to refuse an easy teleology between 'origin' (the source text) and its later 'idealisation' in another medium (the moment when it is re-encountered by a reader, viewer or gamer) in favour of a privileging of the interaction between the two (elegantly implicit in the root of the word 'remediation'). However, while the break from the tedium of the 'authenticity' thesis was very welcome, it came with its own set of problems, most particularly for cultural historians who are likely to be surprised by the authors' confident assertion that through 'remediation [...] one medium is seen by our culture as reforming or improving upon another [...] the assumption of reform is so strong that a new medium is now expected to justify itself by improving on a predecessor [...] Photography was seen as the reform of illusionist painting, and the cinema as the reform of the theater.' (4) Their thesis works best when it concentrates on the contemporary; most film and theatre historians would not recognise this insistence on reform in an early film culture which in reality had to fight long and hard for cultural acceptance as an art form, and for some years did so by relying on--and even aping--earlier, more 'legitimate' media such as literature and the theatre by borrowing its stories, its settings, its props, and its stars. Nor would many literary historians be comfortable with blanket assumptions about the eighteenth and nineteenth century novel's supposed easy dominance over earlier art forms such as drama and poetry. We have long been aware that history and notions of progress are neither so simple nor so smooth. But Bolter and Grubin are not alone: theories which acknowledge that adaptation's complexities have a long history have been hard to come by, and this is largely what makes Aragay and Lopez's model of synergetic synchronicity so attractive. Though the examples they use are recent, their hypothesis is at least sensitive to historical forces.

One other recent approach which has done much to consider the relationship between novel, drama and film with full acknowledgement of its historical complexity has been provided by David Mayer. In his detailed and nuanced study of film director D.W. Griffith's relationship with the theatre, Mayer rightly takes to task theorists such as Vardac who have suffered from the sort of historical blindness which plagues Bolter, Grubin, and countless Adaptation Studies scholars. 'One of the serious faults that Vardac acquired from his sources,' Mayer insists, 'is a crippled understanding of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and therefore he treats this period of time as a vast, undifferentiated lump. Vardac, the sources he has consulted, and his adherents are largely unable to see subtleties, nuances, developments (not necessarily 'progress') and changes in the Victorian stage [...] What [Vardac] does not recognise is the extent to which there was a long period of exchange in technology and effects between the stage and film [...] there were no fixed boundaries but, rather, a continual series of fluid interchanges.' (5) Mayer's account also fully acknowledges the usefulness to theatre historians of these interchanges between drama and film in the traces they leave of one another's existence, from which we can learn much about audiences of the past. As he points out, the simultaneous or previous circulation of the play from which some films were adapted was essential to its meaning: 'Without that prior knowledge of its plot points, many of these filmed adaptations are unintelligible.' And as a result 'Such films consequently offer substantial evidence that audience members who could afford to do so habitually attended both live theatre performances and exhibiting films.' (6) Griffith's films also, as later chapters of Mayer's book amply demonstrate, offer substantial evidence that readers of the adapted novel (including Griffith himself) habitually mobilised a different though not necessarily contradictory set of meanings from theatre-goers, making film-viewing part of a complex experiential exchange.

Taking my cue from Mayer, I aim to do two things here. I want to add further detail to his arguments about the importance of the close relationship between plays and films in the teens and twenties through a focus on different examples, and I want to suggest that this can reveal important historical information which is not normally accessible to us through other means. By analysing one common though neglected example of the 'cultural recycling' of nineteenth and early twentieth century texts in a literary form that depended for its success on its readership's familiarity with the stage as well as the cinema, I aim to offer some new insights into the reader/viewer/audience relationship in a period of rapid technological change in the entertainment industry. In so doing, I hope to add to what Jacky Bratton, drawing on different types of evidence in the search for a historiography of the theatre, has usefully called 'an act of re-telling and imitation [which] is especially significant for the theatre, a kind of history that is perceived as a possible continuity in an evanescent tradition' (7)

The early years of the Readers Library: theatrical connections

The photoplay edition's early years have been surprisingly neglected by historians. There are a few works on the phenomenon, but these tend to be bibliographies or collector's guides, often of particular genres, and provide little useful critical or theoretical analysis. (8) Yet such series, starting in the US around 1912 and thereafter spreading across Western Europe, are a goldmine of intertextual references with their feet firmly planted on the nineteenth-century stage (as the common use of the word 'photoplay' instead of 'film script' on their covers implies), and they were extremely successful for a number of years.

The Caine brothers boast on their dust wrappers that they sold large numbers of these little books, claiming at one point to be selling ten million copies a year. (9) This figure seems a little difficult to believe. While certainly designed for the mass market, the books nonetheless share many stylistic features with other sixpenny libraries of the 1920s and 30s, such as the Collins Novel Library. And there was a lot of competition in this period for the cheap novel market. In a lecture delivered at Stationer's Hall in 1938, Chatto and Windus publisher Harold Raymond reminisced about the state of the book trade after the First World War when he first started in publishing as a de-mobbed soldier. In 1919, he remembers: 'I found a stock of over three-quarters of a million sixpenny (paper-covered) novels lying dormant on Chatto's shelves' (10) and he spent a lot of his early career trying to shift them. As he goes on to explain, dozens of new publishing companies started up after the War, and new ventures such as the arrival of Penguin increased competition at the lower end of the market. (11) Sixpence was worth a lot less than before the war, and publishers needed bigger sales in order to cover rising production costs. For one thing, authors who had patriotically agreed to a royalties freeze or reduction during the war were now demanding a higher cut: Raymond reports that the average royalty payable on a sixpenny edition rose steadily from under 1% in the decade before the war, to 4% in the decade afterwards. Publishing also became more people-rich as the soldiers returned: as Raymond told the assembled company at Stationer's Hall, during the twenty years after the war Chatto's output did not increase significantly, but its staff numbers doubled, increasing costs still further. (12)

There is considerable evidence to suggest, though, that despite these conditions and this competition, the Caine brothers, while perhaps not selling in the tens of millions as they claimed, nonetheless did very well with their Readers Library. The John Hetherington Collection at the University of Reading Library contains some 350 Readers Library editions, starting in 1923 and continuing, as far as it is possible to ascertain from the extant copies, at least until 1935--a remarkably long life for a cheap reprint series in this period. (13) Some of these books exist in multiple separate editions, demonstrating that the most popular went through as many as ten editions in a single year. This is proof enough of healthy sales. Yet I have found no announcements of or advertisements for the Readers Library in the trade papers of this period. So how did the brothers manage this level of turnover and enduring popularity in the face of fierce competition for the sixpenny reprint market? The answer, I think, lies in their inspired decision early on in the series to include a number of novels which had started life in or been successfully adapted for the theatre, and, sometime around the middle of 1925, to start to issue film tie-ins, the first time in British publishing (as far as I am aware) that this had been done. Of the 350 extant copies, 35 are explicitly announced as theatrical tie-ins, bearing such inducements as 'Adapted from the play by ... ' 'The story of the play', or 'From the Famous Stage Play' and providing the names of the principal actors. Of these, most were successful early 20th-century plays, but some--particularly opera titles such as La Boheme (No.198), Madame Butterfly (No. 386) and The Merry Widow (No. 166)--were old staples from the 19th century. Each of these was in itself an adaptation from an earlier serialised story or play, (La Boheme from an 1851 novel, Madame Butterfly from an 1898 short story and The Merry Widow from an 1861 comedy play), and, like the theatrical tie-ins drawn from modern plays, they are here all novelised or re-novelised as part of a rich intertextual mosaic. Indeed, the brothers deemed the theatrical connection so important that they frequently referred to a novel's stage life in their introductions: the Editor's Note to Compton Mackenzie's The Passionate Elopement (No. 284) concludes with the words '"The Passionate Elopement" was first written as a play, which is still being acted every week by his sister, Miss Ellen Compton, who runs the Compton Comedy Company.'

Crucially, too, as the presence of many of Hall Caine's own novels in the series indicates, of those Victorian reprints which are not explicitly signalled either on their covers or in their introductions as having a theatrical connection, many had in fact been successfully staged during the nineteenth century, and the 'theatrical' or 'playgoers' editions which these adaptations had spawned had been an important addition to many a publisher's list. Mrs Henry Wood's East Lynne (No.68), as Sally Mitchell has suggested, was staged so many times that it was probably seen by audiences in Britain and the US an average of once a week for over 40 years.14 Later editions in the Readers Library refer on their dust-wrappers to the Fox film version of 1931, but the first editions predate this film version and at 256 pages of 8-pt font (the length of most of the books in the series) may even owe their abridged storyline to one of the numerous stage versions rather than to the original text of the novel (c. 600 pages).

The Caine brothers--and their novelist/playwright father who, according to the early dust jackets, was instrumental in selecting the first titles--knew they were catering to a visually literate readership with a well-developed appreciation for the stage. Indeed, a contemporary review of Caine's novel The Manxman (1894; reprinted as No. 265 in the RL series) noted that 'if there is one feature more noticeable than another about this last and best of Mr Hall Caine's many romances, it is the remarkable subserviency of the whole plan of work to stage effect. From first to last the author has been dominated by a theatrical instinct [...] The Manxman, indeed, is one vast play cast into the mould of a novel' (15) It is probably, therefore, no coincidence that another of the early books in the series was dramatist Charles Reade's Peg Woffington (first published 1853; reprinted in 1924 as No. 63 in the series), the novelisation of his successful play Masks and Faces (1852), centring on the eponymous eighteenth-century actress heroine. This was in some ways an odd choice in purely economic terms since it was a far less successful and well-known book than his It is Never Too Late to Mend (1856) and The Cloister and the Hearth (1861) which do not appear in the Reader's Library at all. Its presence can be explained only by the editors' understanding that in order to maintain the interest of a twentieth century audience, an old-fashioned novel needed to appeal to cross-media tastes.

Hall Caine himself made a fortune out of adaptations of his novels, and his astute control over his own literary career almost certainly enabled his sons to benefit from this experience in their new publishing venture, as well as providing them with a sure-fire seller in the shape of reprint rights to some of his best-selling books. Caine also knew everybody--authors and dramatists such as Shaw and Stoker; actor managers such as Henry Irving; film directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, and politicians as high up as Lloyd George. Through his contacts, his second son Derwent managed a fairly successful early career as an actor in the 1910s, and upon his removal to New York during the First World War (ostensibly on health grounds) Derwent took over the management of his father's theatrical and film contracts there. (16) It is beyond doubt that Derwent's performance and management experience--and his father's numerous contacts and revered name in both the theatre and film industries--helped him to continue to choose potentially lucrative cross-media titles long after his father had ceased to be much involved. (17)

Modernising the series: photoplay editions

It is likely, then, that it was Derwent's experience with film companies on his father's behalf that inspired the series' next move. The Readers Library Film Editions, commencing around the end of 1925, look much like the original re-print or theatrical tie-in novels in the series. In some cases, particularly in earlier editions, they only mention the film in a brief editorial note, or (if they had gone to press in an edition which pre-dated the cinema release), carry a sticker on their covers announcing the new film. But, increasingly, from the mid to late 1920s the Film Editions make a concerted effort to identify themselves more closely with the movie. Later editions carry a cover illustration (usually a drawing taken from a photograph) depicting the film's main star(s), and contain an 'Editor's note' eulogising the story or the star(s) or both, along with around 8 stills from the film with captions (indeed, one of the reasons 'Photoplay' editions have interested scholars at all seems to be the presence in them of stills from long-lost films) (see Plates 14, 15 and 16).

The film editions seem to have been selected with mass appeal in mind. By far the greatest number are popular melodramas or action movies, a fact that complicates the common construction of early film as a new art-form characteristically trying to hitch its dubious wagon to the legitimating star of canonical literature.18 Legitimisation of their work in the face of strong moral opposition to the new art-form certainly informed many early film-makers' decisions, but early film, like the nineteenth-century literature whose production modes and codes it initially borrowed, was nothing if not flexible in the face of competition, and that meant niche-marketing for a variety of audiences using a variety of genres, each with its own attached cultural value. The Reader's Library adhered to this hallowed tradition of flexibility, refined over the preceding century as mass-markets became a possibility for the first time. The series might have begun with canonised classics, and indeed it continued to include them, but it also included literature cut from a very different cloth: the Diary of Samuel Pepys (No. 339) and Dickens's The Pickwick Papers (No. 341) rub shoulders with a novel so risque--Ex-Wife Anonymous (No. 331)--that it was itself published anonymously. And above all, in order to maintain its competitive edge in a crowded market, the series always also kept a keen eye on other entertainment forms, and its success in this regard surely demonstrates the sophistication of an early twentieth century reader's effortless ability to cross media paradigms, not just once but several times.




Reading the Readers Library

The series depended, in effect, on synergy and the presence of a circularity of affect between media, quite contrary to the linear model sometimes posited by scholars which sees an adapted text as producing 'a retroactive transformation of the original'.19 The film tie-in, as the editors themselves seem to have been well aware, by definition recognised that its readership was less interested in the 'transformation' of a text that attracted them than in the absorption of all its available forms into a whole: 'Interest in a film is by no means exhausted merely by seeing it' they write in their foreword reproduced in all the Film Editions. 'The two arts, or forms of expression, the picture and the written word in book form, react one on the other. Imagination, stimulated by the film, is yet not satisfied until its story is wholly absorbed. In a word, the film-goer wishes also to read the book of the film, and the reader to see the picture.' (20) Nineteenth-century writers were well aware of this circularity, Dickens being only the most famous adaptor or co-adaptor of his own works who appears on the list (with--in this period--Hall Caine not far behind), and in neither case did adaptation adversely affect sales of the 'original' text. Quite the reverse, in fact.

But this series can, I think, reveal still more about a reader's ability to 'adapt' to an adaptation, and still more about long-past theatrical and filmic tropes. The text of a given re-printed title in the series--as in many another cheap series--was seldom the same entity as the original (whether that was play, novel or film). This was not in itself unusual. Most nineteenth- and early twentieth-century cheap re-print series publishers chose their titles by three main criteria: i) uniformity of length so the set looked good on a shelf; ii) improvement of the purchaser's literary education or supply of cultural capital (the word 'classics' often appended to these series' titles, implying pre-selection by a discerning editor of taste on the reader's behalf); iii) an intrinsic moral guardianship, which meant the series could be trusted as family reading without the concerned patriarch having to vet each title. (21) By the 1920s, the last of these criteria was already somewhat outmoded, but the first two categories remained intact for many publishers. As a result, most publishers' series produced between the 1870s and the 1930s devoted a lot of attention to their books' uniformity of size, and therefore the appropriate lengths of their selected texts. Multi-volume publication was one way of ensuring that all texts fitted neatly between their pre-prepared covers; expurgation (whether on moral or on spatial grounds) was another. What a reader of these series books got then, by and large, was a package that bore less of a relation to the original than might be implied by its title.

The Caine brothers added another dimension which is of relevance to the ways in which a reader might receive, and a historian might learn from, a 'recycled' text of this type. Re-casting a text with an eye on the stage, the cinema, and/or a given literary tradition might--and almost invariably did--mean additions to a book's paratexts, as I have shown. Cover images depicting dramatic moments from the story; editors' introductions referring to the text's stage or cinema life; cross-media references such as movie-company names or the names of movie stars prominently displayed on the covers (see Plate 17); script or re-writing credits displayed along with the name of the original author; and plates of movie stills, all directed the reader to think of the work's multimedia incarnations.


But, unlike modern movie tie-in editions, which are likely to be nothing more than a re-issue of the original novel with a photograph of the film or TV actors on the front to entice new readers, in the photoplay edition the adaptation process continues beyond the paratexts and into the text itself. I have already indicated that the series edition of East Lynne is half the length of the original novel and suggested that it is possible (given the Caine family's familiarity with the theatre) that it was drawn from a shortened stage version. The same is true of every theatrical or film edition I have examined; all are cut down versions of the original, and generally advertised as following the play or the photoplay rather than the novel. For example, Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace (No. 170) runs to 447 octavo pages in 10-pt font in the Warne's Crown library series of 1890, but the Readers Library smaller format editions of the same novel published in 1926 and 1928 contain only 256 pages in 8-pt font, and of these 8 are stills. The Manxman itself, issued to tie in with Hitchcock's 1929 film version, is 348 pages in the Readers Library edition (8 of which are stills), but 439 in the Heinemann original. Gone from the Readers Library edition are the longer moralising narrative passages so typical of Victorian fiction; the new edition focuses instead on the dramatic scenes that made it into the film itself, though some non-visual elements such as the back-story (provided by inter-titles in the film) remain. This is in essence a hybrid text, not a straight re-issue.

What the brothers realised their readership wanted, it seems--and what they determined to give it--was a property that was truly intertextual; that fulfilled a desire that was now, in the early twentieth century, very different from that created by a classic title and author's name alone. And what remains to us as historians, perhaps, is the rich potential of a set of material texts whose function it was to help recreate a past dramatic event--not just in dialogue, but also in prose pictures ('the picture' reacting with 'the written word')--in the mind's eye of its reader.

Changing times, last years, and material traces

Many unanswered questions remain about this series and the ways in which it worked. The Caine family archive on the Isle of Man is vast, but largely uncatalogued and incomplete. Derwent himself (suspiciously but typically) burned a large proportion of the correspondence relating to his own business activities before the estate could be dispersed after his father's death in 1931, and according to the records of Companies House, the papers relating to the Readers Library Publishing Company were at some point removed after the company was dissolved (though they were unable to tell me exactly when this took place.) Unfortunately, subsequent heirs have continued to destroy sections of the papers which were not safely lodged at the National Manx Museum, and according to Caine's biographer, Vivien Allen, some of these related to the Readers Library. (22) I have, therefore, been unable to ascertain the extent of the series' success with readers from the usual sources such as how much money it made, how many copies it sold, or what its profit margins were. We do not know how much the brothers paid their ghostwriters or cover illustrators, or how they negotiated the inclusion in their books of copyrighted elements such as film company logos. But from the letters and accounts which remain, it is possible to piece together a picture of the brothers and, in a much smaller way, the company, which tells us that its demise was probably less to do with failing reader demand than with human fallibility, and this should encourage us to consider its cross-media formula as a revealingly winning one.

Ralph, the illegitimate elder son, was a gambler in his youth. (23) Derwent was a hypochondriacal womaniser, and equally hopeless with money. (24) The relationship between the two men was marked for years--ever since their boyhood--by an intense rivalry, and this threatened to affect the Readers Library in 1926 when Ralph was accused by Derwent of plotting to get him removed as Managing Director. (25) Ralph had made a concerted effort to reform when he started Greycaine and he later became a successful politician, but while he had some influence as a board member of the Readers Library, he was unfortunately not a daily presence. Derwent, though, as Managing Director had a far more hands-on influence over the company's fortunes, and unfortunately he never did manage to change his ways for very long. In 1922, a friend of Hall Caine's wrote to him praising Ralph's abilities and adding that the work of a new publishing venture would probably be good for Derwent too: 'under this present scheme Derwent, thanks to you, is intended to secure a good footing, and if in addition to flair he can add tact, it may turn out a success.' (26) The evidence, what there is of it, does not inspire confidence. Tact was never Derwent's strong suit and he created mayhem in the company in the late 1920s when he sacked a long-term employee unfairly and without warning and almost caused a strike. (27)

There is little if any extant evidence about how the Readers Library titles were financed or marketed, how well the series (genuinely) did and for how long, how copyrights were secured for recent novels and screen-plays, or what happened to the film tie-in idea after 1935, the date of the last extant copy of this type. (28) As far as it is possible to ascertain, by the late 1930s the brothers had sold out and the Readers Library briefly became a juvenile imprint. The London address on the imprint page of a copy of a juvenile title by May Wynne called 'Peter', the New Girl (RL Juvenile Series No. 32) is identical to that on the imprint page of the last of the film editions, but the name of the printing company is no longer given as Greycaine--perhaps indicating the removal of Caine family involvement.

A few facts do emerge, though, both from the family correspondence and from further investigation elsewhere, and they indicate an important geographical spread. The books were sold largely through Woolworth's in the UK, and were co-published by Tapley and Co. in New York, thus maximising the potential market and demonstrating how truly transatlantic the media trade was at this time. In addition, the series had an important European market: in 1928 Ralph struck a deal with Hachettes in France, whereby 50,000 each of ten titles would be distributed through the French bookseller's 18,000-odd shops and stalls. (29) Derwent thought the idea a waste of time because as part of the deal they had to spend a great deal of money on advertising the French titles, but in the event (probably because he missed the Paris meeting) he was over-ruled. (30) It seems, though, that other forms of expenditure could be minimised. The problem of copyright in 'photoplays', for example, was got around by the (re)novelisation of the story, rather than the re-printing of the script. The potential problem of the inclusion of stills was likewise avoided by a lucrative loophole in the law: there was no copyright in film stills in the UK until 1957 (the Copyright Act of 1911 covering merely the script and the film in its entirety, not portions of it), so the brothers could use as many of them as they liked.31 And production costs--despite the brothers' insistence in early editions that they would always go to press with quality in mind, using good paper and attractive bindings--were evidently kept to a minimum; it is clear from one edition in my own collection, for example, that even at the height of the series' success, corners were being cut and Greycaine were not doing the job as well as they might; my copy of No. 284, The Passionate Elopement has a blurred cover illustration in which the three colours which were a series trademark have not been correctly lined up during the printing process. The result is a cheap and shoddy-looking book, something that would surely ultimately have had an effect on sales (see Plate 13).

Further study which I have not the space here to undertake (for example the close comparison of a theatrical tie-in with an extant play script) might show us much more about how close the relationship actually was between a re-cycled novelisation and its dramatic forbears, and thus provide us with important insights into a long-past theatrical or cinematic event beyond the extant lines of dialogue or cast lists which are so often all we have. The tie-in might even give us information about historical performances for which we have no other details. Certainly, given its editors' knowledge of nineteenth-century theatre and early film, and their commitment to helping readers to experience these events more fully, it seems reasonable to suggest that the extant texts in the Readers Library and other series like it could form a useful resource for historians, and that it is one which might repay closer attention.

We will never know for sure how readers engaged with these books, of course. Was it a different experience reading the novelisation of a 'talkie' in French, for example, before dubbing was possible and non-English versions of British and American films continued to use sub-titles? But one reader at least has left interesting traces of how he used one of them to supplement his own experience of a dramatic event. In the John Hetherington collection, the copy of Blackmail (No. 285) has a note written on the fly-leaf by its owner, one N.R Hetherington (probably a near relative of the collector's) which reads: 'The film "Blackmail" was a very notable event. Film first, and book written later. Seen as a film at the Kingsway, Kings Heath, Birmingham, about 1929 [...] Talkie part broke down halfway through and I later bought book to find out what happened. After god save the king audience stayed on and demanded free seats for another showing which manager refused.' We could, I think, see this as quite compelling evidence of what is indeed a 'synchronic' relationship between media in this period; for this reader, at least, a tie-in book was an important addition to the film experience, so much so that it enabled him or her to record, as well as to supplement, his/her memories of the event. It is a tantalising possibility that other audience members/readers might have left similar traces in other copies.

As Jacky Bratton has observed, anecdotes can often be of more use than many historians think; they might be hyperbolic, or imperfectly remembered, but they provide us with the flavour of a particular human experience at a particular historical moment which would otherwise be lost to us, and this is of inestimable value for scholars dealing with fragmentary evidence. Handled with critical sensitivity, theatrical or photoplay editions might also be seen 'as a possible continuity in an evanescent tradition.' They certainly lend weight to recent methodologies which acknowledge the complexity of audience/reviewer responses to adaptation beyond the simple desire to repeat; indeed, they suggest that when viewed as part of a complex set of intertextual cultural practices, even evanescent dramatic events may have left illuminating traces beyond those to which we normally turn.


(1) Mary Hammond, 'Hall Caine and the melodrama on page, stage and screen. Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, 31:1 (2004), 39-57.

(2) Mireia Aragay and Gemma Lopez, 'Inf(l)ecting pride and Prejudice: Dialogism, Intertextuality, and Adaptation', in Aragay, ed. Books in Motion: Adaptation, Intertextuality, Authorship (Amsterdam and New York, 2006), p. 203.

(3) Jay David Bolter and Richard Grudin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge, Ma., 1999)

(4) Ibid., pp. 59-60

(5) David Mayer, Stagestruck Filmmaker: D.W. Griffith and the American Theatre (Iowa, 2009), pp. 27-8

(6) Ibid, p. 50

(7) Jacky Bratton, New Readings in Theatre History (Cambridge, 2003), p. 106.

(8) Emil Petaja, Photoplay Edition (New York, 1976), Rick Miller, Photoplay Editions: A Collector's Guide (Jefferson, NC, 2002), Arnie Davis, Photoplay Editions and other Movie Tie-In Books (Portland, 2002), and Thomas Mann, Horror and Mystery Photoplay Editions and Magazine Fictionizations (Jefferson, NC, 2004).

(9) The claim was a crucial factor in the editors' design. In the foreword to the RL edition of Margaret Kennedy's The Constant Nymph (No. 123 in the series), blank spaces for current sales numbers and series lifespan have been left in the stereotype plate in the sentence 'already, in less than--years that these books have been on the market, upwards of--million copies have been sold in Great Britain alone,' to be filled in cheaply at a later date without re-setting the whole plate. In this case, the numbers are 'three years' (rather lopsidedly inserted, with some white space left on either side which reflect future optimistic assessments of the series' potential longevity) and 'thirty million copies'. This space disappears in later volumes, but the practice of claiming large sales continues.

(10) Harold Raymond, Publishing and Book-selling: a survey of Post-War developments and present-day problems (from a lecture delivered in the Stationers' Hall, London, on 21st October 1938), foreword by Hugh R. Dent (London, 1938), p. 10.

(11) Ibid., pp. 22-3.

(12) Ibid., p. 13.

(13) I am grateful to Mike Bott, formerly librarian and archivist at Reading University, for his help with the research on this series.

(14) Sally Mitchell, introduction to Mrs Henry Wood, East Lynne (1861; New Jersey, 1984) p. xiii.

(15) Review of The Manxman. No date or publisher. Hall Caine scrapbook No. 1, p. 57. Papers of Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine (1853-1931), National Library & Archive, Manx Museum, Isle of Man. Ref. F65--Acc 11377.

(16) Vivien Allen, Hall Caine: Portrait of a Victorian Romancer (Sheffield, 1997), pp 360-61.

(17) The family correspondence and extant business papers housed at the Manx Museum on the Isle of Man, Caine's adoptive home, show Caine keeping an eye on his sons' business venture, but once the series had taken off he was extremely busy with other projects in spite of his age and somewhat withdrew from his involvement with the series. Indeed, he pre-deceased it.

(18) Recent studies have recognised the complexity of cultural forms in this period, of course, but even so, Aragay herself rather uncritically accepts Timothy Corrigan's

assertion that it was in the 1950s that 'Literature began to loose [sic] its hierarchical control over film.' Aragay, ed. Books in Motion, p. 14.

(19) Jose Angel Garda Landa, Adaptation, Appropriation, Retroaction: Symbolic Interpretation with Henry V', in Aragay, ed. Books in Motion, p. 181.

(20) The editors (Derwent and Ralph Hall Caine), jacket blurb for film editions.

(21) For a ground-breaking overview of the rich cultural histories revealed by the phenomenon of the publisher's series, see John Spires, ed. The Culture of the Publisher's Series, 2 vols. (Basingstoke, 2011).

(22) During an email correspondence in early 2005, Vivien Allen told me that the Readers Library section of her 1997 biography of Caine owed a lot to a box of papers found under a bed at Greeba Castle, his Manx home. Subsequently, however, the house was sold and this box destroyed by his heirs. I am extremely grateful to Ms Allen for her help with this paper, which has benefited a lot from her memory of the contents of that now-lost box.

(23) Allen, pp. 280-81.

(24) Hall Caine raised Derwent's illegitimate daughter Elin, b. 1912, as his own child. Derwent refused to acknowledge her during his lifetime (Allen, p. 349).

(25) Allen, p. 405.

(26) Letter from Doubleday to Hall Caine, 7/12/22. Hall Caine Papers, National Library & Archive, Manx Museum, Isle of Man. Box 65, Ref. 9542

(27) Allen, p. 405.

(28) The difficult work of dating the extant copies in the University of Reading library was performed by Richard Wilson of the Dragonsby Press, Lincolnshire, in 2000. I have drawn gratefully throughout this paper on his painstaking list of the series' constituents, adding to it as necessary from my own research in the Reading Library and the Hall Caine archive, on the Internet Movie Database, and among my own collection of Readers Library books.

(29) Letter from Ralph to Hall Caine, 26/7/1928. Hall Caine papers, National Library & Archive, Manx Museum, Isle of Man. Box 64, Ref. 9542.

(30) Letter from Mary Hall Caine to Hall Caine, 27/9/1928. Hall Caine papers, National Library & Archive, Manx Museum, Isle of Man. Box 64, Ref. 9542.

(31) I am grateful to Tim Padwell, Copyright Librarian at the National Archives, Kew, for this information.
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Author:Hammond, Mary
Publication:Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film
Date:Dec 22, 2010
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