Since reading the two Robert Darnton articles, What is the History of Books? (1982) and “What is the History of Books? Revisited (2007), I can honestly say that I now look at texts in a completely different light.
As a result, I would like to share a few thoughts on Virginia Woolf and her interesting, perhaps unique, relationship with book production and distribution. N.B. My other module is on Woolf.
In 1915, Virginia Woolf, and her husband Leonard, moved to Hogarth House in Richmond, Surrey. Leonard believed that a move away from the city might improve Virginia’s mental health, deeming the stress of the urban environment an exacerbating influence.
There, they purchased a small hand-printing press for £19, and in 1917, the famous Hogarth Press was born. In that same year, they published Two Stories, by Virginia and Leonard, respectively.
The Hogarth Press went on to provide a vital publishing platform for many now-celebrated writers, such as Katherine Mansfield, Sigmund Freud and T. S. Eliot, as well as the majority of Woolf’s short stories and novels.
Woolf’s relationship with publishing raises interesting questions when compared with Darnton’s article. What happens to the Communications Circuit when certain stages are removed? Or the process is simplified?
Moreover, what effect does self-publication have on the nature of literature? We live in an age where self-publication, via online portals, is available to everyone. What does this process of democratisation do to literature?
In class, we briefly discussed E. L. James and her path to publishing the 50 Shades trilogy, from Twilight fan-fiction forum to global literary stardom. If self-publication wasn’t as widely available as it today, would the book have made it to press?
What’s clear is that despite a decline in the materiality of book production, book history remains as fascinating today as it has ever been, and it will be interesting to see how the field responds to future changes.