Friday, October 21, 2011

A Room (and a Printing Press) of One's Own

I've been reading about Virginia Woolf's life and how she and her husband decided they needed to self-publish. In 1917, that meant buying a printing press. (Too bad she missed the e-book revolution by a hundred years or so.)

Check out this great site at Yale University called The Modernism Lab and this fascinating piece by Jessica Svedsen about Virginia and Leonard Woolf starting Hogarth Press. Their reasons for starting the press will sound all too familiar to ebook writers.
Leonard recalled that one of the major reasons for beginning the Hogarth Press was to publish small books that would otherwise have little chance of being printed by established publishing companies—small volumes that “the commercial publisher would not look at” (Woolf, Leonard 234).  The majority of Hogarth authors were a part of the Woolf’s Bloomsbury circle—Clive Bell, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Roger Fry, Katherine Mansfield, Vita Sackville-West—and they were allowed to escape from the unpleasant pressures of editors and publishers.
Of course the notion now that “the commercial publisher would not look at” writers like T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Katherine Mansfield, or Virginia Woolf sounds completely crazy. But escaping the pressures of the editors and publishers in 1917 sounds more than reasonable, even to the present day.

Virginia Woolf being 1) a woman writer and 2) a highly experimental writer, meant she had two strikes against her from the start in terms of getting a publisher and her husband Leonard understood this. Thank goodness they decided to start Hogarth Press. It meant we know Virginia Woolf's work, just the way she wanted to present it.

Photo Credit: The painting is "Portrait of Virginia Woolf" by George Charles Beresford via Wikipedia

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