Modern Print Artefacts: Textual Materiality and Literary Value in British Print Culture, 1890-1930s 9781474413480

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Modern Print Artefacts: Textual Materiality and Literary Value in British Print Culture, 1890-1930s

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MODERN PRINT ARTEFACTS Textual Materiality and Literary Value in British Print Culture, 1890–1930s

Patrick Collier

EDINBURGH University Press

Edinburgh University Press is one of the leading university presses in the UK. We publish academic books and journals in our selected subject areas across the humanities and social sciences, combining cutting-edge scholarship with high editorial and production values to produce academic works of lasting importance. For more information visit our website: © Patrick Collier, 2016 Edinburgh University Press Ltd The Tun – Holyrood Road 12(2f) Jackson’s Entry Edinburgh EH8 8PJ Typeset in 10/12.5pt Sabon by by Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Stockport, Cheshire and printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978 1 4744 1347 3 (hardback) ISBN 978 1 4744 1348 0 (webready PDF) ISBN 978 1 4744 1349 7 (epub) The right of Patrick Collier to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003 (SI No. 2498). Published with the support of the Edinburgh University Scholarly Publishing Initiatives Fund.


Acknowledgements iv Series Editors’ Preface vii List of Abbreviations viii Introduction: Modern Print Artefacts 1 1 Mapping Literary Value: Imperial/Modernist Forms in the Illustrated London News 42 2 ‘Quite Ordinary Men and Women’: John O’London’s Weekly and the Meaning of Authorship 94 3 Reactionary Materialism: Book Collecting, Connoisseurship and the Reading Life in J. C. Squire’s London Mercury   141 4 Harold Monro, Poetry Anthologies and the Rhetoric of Textual Materiality 185 Postscript: Against ‘Modernist Studies’ 232 Bibliography 239 Index 254


Every effort has been made to locate rights for republished material. In the case of copyright owners that the author has not been able to trace, acknowledgement will be made in future editions if copyright holders contact the publisher. In writing this book I have had the support and inspiration of generous and intellectually challenging colleagues and students at Ball State University, as well as financial and practical assistance from the university and a host of other funding agencies, libraries and institutions. Research on this book began in 2006 at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, where I was a visiting research fellow through the generosity of the college, the hospitality of Principal Ralph Waller and the efforts of Warren Vanderhill, Lauren Onkey and others at Ball State. Further research was funded by a Mellon Fellowship for research at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, in 2012. My thanks go out as well to librarians and archivists at Harris Manchester, University of Reading Special Collections, the British Library, the Oxford University Press and the Harry Ransom Center for kind and tireless assistance during these fellowships. Closer to home, I am indebted to Jan Vance, John Straw and other staff at Ball State’s Bracken Library and to the staff at the Lilly Library, Indiana University. Work on this project was supported by two semester-long leaves sponsored by Ball State University, as well as supplemental travel funding from the Office of the Provost. The first written work on this project – about the Illustrated London News iv


– emerged from an undergraduate senior seminar on literature and periodicals which I taught for the first time in 2009; subsequent sections of this class have nurtured this book along throughout its completion, and I am grateful to have had many students in that class who challenged my thinking and led me to new materials and discoveries. These students are too many to name, but I should express particular gratitude to Jeremy Carnes, who will be a major voice in the next generation researching modern periodicals. The same is true of Jason Parks, who recently earned his PhD from Ball State. Madeline Witek, Nicole Williams and others have served as research assistants on this project. Lauren Williams provided invaluable assistance on editing and formatting in the final stage. Many scholars in the fields of modernist studies and periodical studies have been indispensable to this project, whether in the intellectual frisson of conversation or by generously reading drafts of the manuscript. A short list would include Laurel Brake, Barbara Green, Sean Latham, Mark Morrisson, Chelsea Jennings and Doug Mao. My Ball State colleagues Joyce Huff, Amit Baishya, Adam Beach and Melissa Adams-Campbell gave insightful feedback on draft chapters. Two colleagues contributed to this book in ways too profound to quantify. Although they also read drafts repeatedly and spent hours in conversation with me, their presence in the book goes well beyond that. Simply put, when I sit down to write about early twentieth-century literature and culture, I feel as though I am writing to and for them. They are Deborah Mix and Ann Ardis, and I could not be more grateful to them. Permission to quote from Twentieth Century Poetry: An Anthology by Harold Monro, to reproduce images from that volume, and to quote from materials in the Chatto & Windus archive relating to the book is granted by permission of Random House Group Ltd. Permission to quote from letters of Harold Monro and J. C. Squire, held in the Harry Ransom Center’s collections of Hugh Walpole, H. E. Palmer, Frank Sidgwick, Ford Maddox Ford, Harold Monro, and J. C. Squire, granted by the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Permission to reproduce images of London Mercury issues of January and March 1931 granted by the Lilly Library, Indiana University. Permission to reproduce other London Mercury images granted by Roger Squire. Permission to quote from Padraic Colum’s ‘Reminiscence’ is granted by the estate of Padraic Colum. Extracts from letters of R. W. Chapman, Henry Frowde, Humphrey Milford, Arthur Quiller-Couch, Kenneth Sisam and H. Watt held in the Oxford University Press archives, and from promotional materials pertaining to the Oxford Book of English Verse, are reprinted by permission of the Secretary to the Delegates of Oxford University Press. Images of the v

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Oxford Book of English Verse are likewise reproduced by permission of the Delegates. Permission to quote from Ernest Raymond’s ‘The Making of a Novelist’ and Through Literature to Life granted by Margaret Raymond. Permission to quote from a letter of H. Watt granted by United Agents LLP. Permission to quote from Frank Kendon’s ‘The New Books at a Glance’ granted by Alice Thomas. Extract from ‘The Art of Virginia Woolf’ by Gerald Bullett from John O’London’s Weekly reprinted by permission of Peters Fraser & Dunlop ( on behalf of the Estate of Gerald Bullett. Extracts from ‘Daphne’ and ‘The Gardener’ by Sacheverell Sitwell reprinted by permission of Peters Fraser & Dunlop ( on behalf of the Estate of Sacheverell Sitwell. Extract from ‘This New Poetry’ by L. A. G. Strong, essay in John O’London’s Weekly, reprinted by permission of Peters Fraser & Dunlop ( on behalf of the Estate of L. A. G. Strong. ‘Journey’s End’ and extract from ‘The Making of a Poet’ by Humbert Wolfe, essay in John O’London’s Weekly, reprinted by permission of Peters Fraser & Dunlop ( on behalf of the Estate of Humbert Wolfe. ‘Invocation’ by John Masefield reprinted by permission of the Society of Authors as literary representative of the Estate of John Masefield. Extract from ‘The Tower’ by Robert Nichols reprinted by permission of Anne Charlton. Extract from ‘Mutations of the Phoenix’ by Herbert Read reprinted by permission of David Higham Associates Ltd. Extracts from George Blake’s ‘The Press and the Public’ reprinted by permission of David Higham Associates Ltd. Permission to quote from the works of J. C. Squire granted by Roger Squire. Portions of Chapter 1 appeared, in different form, in the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies 2.1 (2011): 1–32 and Modernism/Modernity 19.3 (2013): 487–514, and are reprinted with permission of Penn State University Press and Johns Hopkins University Press, respectively. Portions of Chapter 2 appeared, in different form, in Patrick Collier, ‘John O’London’s Weekly and the Modern Author’ in Ann Ardis and Patrick Collier (eds.), Transatlantic Print Culture 1880–1940: Emerging Media, Emerging Modernisms (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan: 2008), pp. 98–113; reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.



This series of monographs on selected topics in modernism is designed to reflect and extend the range of new work in modernist studies. The studies in the series aim for a breadth of scope and for an expanded sense of the canon of modernism, rather than focusing on individual authors. Literary texts will be considered in terms of contexts including recent cultural histories (modernism and magic; sonic modernity; media studies) and topics of theoretical interest (the everyday; postmodernism; the Frankfurt School); but the series will also reconsider more familiar routes into modernism (modernism and gender; sexuality; politics). The works published will be attentive to the various cultural, intellectual and historical contexts of British, American and European modernisms, and to inter-disciplinary possibilities within modernism, including performance and the visual and plastic arts.




Illustrated London News John O’London’s Weekly London Mercury The Oxford Book of English Verse

References from the periodicals are listed together at the end of the bibliography.


To Gene Collier, and all those who have earned an honest living in print.

Edinburgh Critical Studies in Modernist Culture Series Editors: Tim Armstrong and Rebecca Beasley Available: Modernism and Magic: Experiments with Spiritualism, Theosophy and the Occult Leigh Wilson Sonic Modernity: Representing Sound in Literature, Culture and the Arts Sam Halliday Modernism and the Frankfurt School Tyrus Miller Lesbian Modernism: Censorship, Sexuality and Genre Fiction Elizabeth English Modern Print Artefacts: Textual Materiality and Literary Value in British Print Culture, 1890–1930s Patrick Collier Forthcoming: Modernism, Space and the City Andrew Thacker Slow Modernism Laura Salisbury Primordial Modernism: Animals, Ideas, transition (1927–1938) Cathryn Setz Modernism and the Idea of Everyday Life Leena Kore-Schroder Cheap Modernism: Expanding Markets, Publishers’ Series and the Avant-Garde Lise Jaillant Modernism Edited: Marianne Moore and The Dial Magazine Victoria Bazin Modernism and Mathematics: Modernist Interrelations in Fiction Nina Engelhardt


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Figure 2.2  The authorial aura in cheap print. JOLW, 24 October 1925


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for the novel’s continued relevance: Tess’s events, Hardy writes, are ‘as likely to have happened last week as fifty years back’.62 An editor’s note underscores the facsimile’s claim to authorial sanction and its attempt to evoke authorial presence: ‘It is our great privilege to present to our readers the message from Mr Thomas Hardy reproduced above. It is, we feel, a significant communication; for the searching story of Tess is likely to stir up as much controversy to-day as it did on its first appearance thirty years ago’ (p. 125). Both the facsimile and the editor’s note underscore Tess’s age and assert its continued relevance, perhaps belying some anxiety on that head. But the notes also demonstrate the degree to which Tess is positioned as safely modern for John O’London’s purposes: its continued relevance distinguishes it from pure nostalgia but also separates it from the ephemera surrounding it in the paper, where the sheer number of titles referenced in reviews, literary gossip columns and publishers’ advertisements testified to the oversupplied print market and the contingency of literary value. Hardy’s note further serves as a sort of fetish, its mechanically reproduced nature paradoxically elided, then foregrounded – it is both ‘presented’ and ‘reproduced’ – as it asserts authorial presence and fictively links the weekly, its readers and the author. This insistence on connection with the famous author – and its implication that Hardy was directly involved in the serialisation – was echoed two years later when the paper serialised the Hardy lyrics: ‘Our selection has received the author’s approval and he has thus in a degree served as his own anthologist’ (p. 933). The Tess packaging authenticates the paper’s connection with Hardy and posits the serialisation as, to quote the headline above the first instalment, ‘A Literary Event’. The facsimile autograph, as Richard Salmon has shown, had been part of the semiotics of literary celebrity since the 1880s; and it had a paradoxical effect, its mechanical reproducibility not deflating but increasing the symbolic value of the author’s signature.63 George Blake, John O’London’s ‘Colophon’, went so far as to suggest that copies of the paper including the serial would become valuable to collectors.64 If Wells’s typewriter testimonial marked an effort to use his name to validate the Corona through a rhetoric of identification with readers, Hardy’s ‘Message to our Readers’ worked similarly for the value of John O’London’s Weekly itself, seeking to polish its brand and take it upscale, through a claim of authentic association with a name that served as a relatively stable, secure marker of literary value. And yet, if Tess seemed uniquely suited to support John O’London’s claim for cultural respectability – if it was a ‘modern masterpiece’, but neither too modern nor too taxing to the audience’s reading ability – this 1891 novel of the severities of rural social life still looks out of place amid the welter of contemporary print culture that typified the newspaper’s pages. While the beginning of each week’s instalment always gets a full page to itself, beginning with a summary of the story so far, the continuation pages force Tess into jarring 118

‘quite ordinary men and women’ juxtapositions emphasising the tenuousness of the novel’s alleged contemporaneity. The rural folkways represented in Tess butt up against such signs of modernity as advertisements for typewriters and the Pelmanism programme for mental training. One continuation page of the second instalment contains an ad for the London School of Journalism, including a testimonial headline ‘Experiences of a Woman Journalist’ – as though to emphasise the degree to which non-elite women’s voices, through the enlarged and diversified print media Hardy decried, have gained access to publicity and no longer so desperately require the empathetic ventriloquism of a Hardy. Indeed, the story of Tess’s entrapment within restrictive social norms and an economic landscape devoid of options for an unmarriageable woman, when placed within a print setting that emphasises economic opportunities and upward mobility, functions subtly as an endorsement of the present, countering Hardy’s claim that the novel’s events remain contemporary. The first continuation page of the 21 November instalment contains an ad for the John O’London Home Library, ‘an intellectual investment’. The third jump page contains an ad for the Regent’s Institute, inviting the reader to ‘Learn to Write/and/Earn While You Learn’.65 While Hardy’s story evokes a stifling provincial culture teetering on the edge of modernity, the pages surrounding it embody the energy, variety and exaggerated optimism of a modern, commercial print culture in overdrive. Such advertisements are only one aspect of the polyvocality that complicates John O’London’s efforts to claim Hardy and Tess as markers of a valued literary modernity. In small and large ways, other letterpress content pulls Hardy’s image – and the newspaper’s representation of the literary landscape in which he fits – in multiple directions. One gossip item, from the ‘Book World’ column of 5 December 1925, critiques the Nobel Prize committee’s apparent snub of Hardy, whose candidacy to the prize seems to ‘have been definitely set aside’.66 While the column reiterates the newspaper’s valuation of Hardy, it also evokes a separate, authoritative circuit of value where his claims are more tenuous. But though Hardy’s status among English arbiters of value was secure, his status as ‘modern’, and the status of Tess as a distinctly modern classic, was out of step with other content in John O’London’s. Blake’s ‘Wheel of Life’ gossip column of 2 January 1926 indeed posits Hardy as a holdout against modernity, noting that he continues to light his home with paraffin lamps, shunning the gas main passing beneath the road in front of his house. This ‘tit-bit’ remains silent on whether Hardy’s resistance to modernity is heroic or quixotic. Even gestures that shore up Hardy’s status as a classic often undermine his status as a contemporary. About midway through the serial, Whitten’s ‘Letters from Gog and Magog’ reviewed a new volume of Hardy poems, praising him as ‘a great artist’ while suggesting that he ‘bears more likeness to Browning’ than any modern poet.67 In a more profound sense, the newspaper’s embrace of Hardy as its avatar of 119

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literary mastery is irreconcilable with a key aspect of the newspaper’s mission: contemporaneity. A key part of its mission lay in giving readers access to the world of books as it existed in Britain in the present. The emphasis placed by Whitten, Raymond and others on literary classics of the past competed with equally strong markers of contemporaneity, including its status as a newspaper, dependent for copy on reviews of the latest works and fresh literary ‘news’ and gossip. Contemporaneity was a significant part of what it was selling. It addressed a class of readers whose arrival as aspirants – as both readers and writers – was itself a contemporary phenomenon. And its contributors necessarily engaged with developments in fiction next to which Hardy’s novel seemed an artefact of the past. The newspaper may have tried, in framing the serial, to recover its status as an edgy, controversial work – one that still might shock sensibilities. But elsewhere in the Tess issues it was evident that the leading edge in literary experiment now lay elsewhere. The serial overlapped with a long, equivocal meditation on Proust which, though faulting his long sentences and his ‘obsession’ with the ‘inscrutable working of the subconscious self’, appeared under the headline ‘Genius in Red Flannel’.68 As I discuss below, Hugh Walpole’s survey of the year 1925 in fiction tries to finesse its way around controversies over modernism, offering faint praise to Mrs Dalloway and Parade’s End. Yet while he critiques these novels’ purported failure to depict ‘a world beyond and outside their authors’, he nonetheless finds in Woolf and Ford ‘admirable examples of what the new novel in England is trying to do’. He favours novelists who ‘follow the old tradition of the novel – they tell stories, they create characters external to the author, and they are easily understood’, but his typology nonetheless marks Woolf and Ford as practitioners of the ‘new novel’ and the rest as continuing ‘the old tradition’.69 If claiming Hardy as a contemporary was a reach, John O’London’s had ample support from more established cultural authorities in claiming him as a classic – a status that nonetheless did not win complete approval for the serialisation from readers. Hardy biographer Michael Millgate notes the worldwide publicity for Hardy’s eightieth birthday in 1920, calling Hardy ‘the universally acknowledged grand old man of English letters’.70 From this ambient praise John O’London’s could draw evidence of Hardy’s centrality to be shared with readers as it puffed the ongoing Tess serial. Blake’s ‘What I Hear’ column of 20 February 1926 notes, ‘Books about the novels of Thomas Hardy are innumerable. The latest is “Thomas Hardy’s Wessex” by Herman Lea (Macmillan).’71 But the newspaper also offers evidence that readers were pushing back on the elevation of Hardy as an icon for John O’London’s Weekly. The paper’s commentary upon the serial’s final instalment adopts the tone of self-­congratulation we saw in its initial framing, proclaiming: ‘The tragic story of Tess has been retold and that, as we have the best reasons for believing, to the vast satisfaction of our readers.’ But even here the commen120

‘quite ordinary men and women’ tary acknowledges that John O’London’s stands in a tutorial relationship to its readers when it comes to Hardy, as the paper describes its pride in having ‘done something towards demonstrating to a wide circle of readers the greatness of a living English writer’.72 The silent assumption is that the paper’s readers needed the demonstration. Blake, in the ‘Wheel of Life’ column simultaneous with the fourth week of the serialisation, began in this same vein of self-congratulation – ‘The serial publication of [Tess] has inevitably aroused considerable interest’ – before acknowledging the paper’s receipt of ‘three anonymous post-cards abusing us for our policy’. He continues: ‘. . . but the number of congratulatory letters arriving daily disposes me to believe that the objectors are in a miserable minority’.73 The evidence of ‘John O’London’s Letter Box’, however, paints a more equivocal picture. Particularly in the later stages of the serial, the section hosted a vigorous dialogue among letter-writers, some unconverted to Hardy’s naturalism and others keen to defend him – suggesting that reception was more varied than Blake let on. ‘An Old Dairy-Maid’ wrote on 27 March 1926 to protest the depiction of dairy maids, finding it ‘improbable, and quite unnatural’.74 A ‘Scots Country Woman’ wrote in on 8 May to support the ‘Old Dairy-Maid’, asserting that ‘no girl I have ever come across would have behaved in such a slack and feeble fashion’ as Tess.75 Several subsequent letters defended Hardy: an E. H. Bennett began, ‘I do not find Mr Hardy’s dairymaids in the least overdrawn’, while M. M. Robson argued that individual psychology is ‘one of the eternal mysteries’ and thus Hardy’s depiction of Tess need not square with other individuals’ experiences.76 Several weeks later, one H. Bowdedge set off a second flurry of responses, writing that he had been tempted to take a third try at reading Tess based on John O’London’s ‘enthusiastic advocacy’. In the event, he found the novel ‘pure melodramatic rubbish’, Tess herself an ‘unreal and farcical . . . stage-heroine’ and the tale overall ‘a wretched tangle of sex, morality, and religion’ bearing ‘no true relation to real life and real men and women’.77 A ‘Gleaner’ wrote subsequently to agree, while two dissenters in the same column defended Hardy, including an H. Hoare, who accused Bowdedge of ‘heresy’ and B. Waddington, who accused Bowdedge of having faulty ‘mental digestion’.78 This dialogue attests to John O’London’s status as a relatively open periodical – multi-voiced (and thus given to dialogue and disputation) among its own writers but also permeable to the opinions of its readers, in the form of letters to the editor and editorial discussions of reader feedback. This dialogic nature was an essential part of the tutorial stance the newspaper assumed towards readers: if John O’London’s was primarily a commercial enterprise, it was one that was marketing – in part – a sense of a reading community and a promise of cultural uplift not entirely distinguishable from that being sold by the correspondence colleges that filled its advertising columns. And just as 121

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the correspondence colleges promised ‘expert advice’ on the writing of ‘literary aspirants’, John O’London’s also offered a two-way communication circuit to its readers, providing a questions-and-answers feature, accepting their letters, publishing small selections of them, writing about reader response from various editorial positions, holding contests and sponsoring the discussion circles. Jonathan Wild has suggestively described John O’London’s as a sort of ‘interactive distance learning centre’.79 To its credit, John O’London’s pedagogical model was not the lecture but the tutorial, and it allowed in readerly voices that challenged its evaluative moves. But this also meant that its attempts to shore up its cultural value (as distinct from its commodity value) always rested on uncertain ground, which its own readers could help to destabilise. Joseph Conrad: ‘They had sought manfully . . . They had failed.’ Joseph Conrad’s status as an established marker of value, as well as a quasicelebrity whose name was in heavy circulation, made him function similarly to Hardy in the culture. But he was perhaps an even more fraught figure for John O’London’s, given that his most ambitious fictions were difficult to read. The unexpected commercial success of Conrad’s Chance in 1913 had added popularity to the critical sanction his works had been receiving since the turn of the century. And, unlike Hardy, Conrad had continued to produce highprofile novels through the first quarter of the century; he also had a greater claim to being near the leading edge of literary craft. Eliot’s ‘Hollow Men’, with its Conradian epitaph, appeared in 1925, as did Woolf’s ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’, which named Conrad as a register of the new fiction. In the overall discourses of literary value in the 1920s Conrad was a consensus figure on whom experimentalists and writers of serious but traditional fiction could agree. Conrad’s status as this apparent universal is visible in Walpole’s ‘Novels of 1925’ column.80 As we have seen, the column divides serious fiction into conventional novels (he admired particularly Wells’s Christina Alberta’s Father, which ‘continues definitely the old tradition’) and experimental novels (Mrs Dalloway was ‘the best written novel of the year’). While he spent more time on Woolf and Wells, Walpole reserved his unqualified (though unarticulated) praise for Conrad, whose Suspense he named ‘the only novel of absolute genius’ to come out in England in 1925. It is a safe bet that virtually no one would make that claim for Suspense, Conrad’s all-but-forgotten final novel, today.81 But Conrad’s cultural value was so strong in 1925 that even what appears to our eyes as, at best, a second-tier Conrad novel could then appear as the only common ground between serious traditionalism and experimentalism, and thus the only ‘novel of absolute genius’. But Conrad’s difficulty – his sometimes-tortuous, impressionistic prose, his penchant for proto-modernist ‘delayed decoding’ – made him a difficult fit for John O’London’s. In 1926, after Conrad’s February death became the 122

‘quite ordinary men and women’ year’s leading literary news story, John O’London’s staked a claim to his value by serialising the 1915 novel Victory. But the newspaper’s handling of the death and the serial makes it clear that this was a more ambivalent embrace than the one extended to Hardy the year before. Just weeks after Conrad’s death, an anonymous review of a new edition grappled awkwardly with his literary value, acknowledging stiff resistance to Conrad’s fiction among John O’London’s readers. Some of them, [m]istrusting the enthusiasm of obituary notices, wrote to this office to say that, while they had sought manfully to appreciate Conrad’s novels, they had failed nevertheless to see wherein he was great. Some said bluntly that they found him tedious, some . . . that they simply could not make heads or tails of him.82 The article goes on to qualify its praise for Conrad severely – admitting that Conrad is ‘sometimes tedious’, assenting to Wells’s criticism that Conrad’s prose is marked by ‘vague mental gestures’, and praising the ambition of the longer novels while finding in them signs of ‘a man baffled by the limitations of language’. The review rallies to his defence in its closing sentences, advising John O’London’s readers to begin with the short stories, where they will find Conrad’s characteristic virtue, a ‘fine, spacious idea . . . that man is a pigmy against the vast background of the sea and land wherein he moves and has his being, but that man’s endeavour, however unavailing, to contend in good causes with the mighty force of Nature is always and invincibly noble and moving’. If the Tess serial can be understood as an attempt to raise John O’London’s prestige by linking it to a relatively fixed marker of value – a marker whose vestigial instability came out when some of the newspaper’s readers demurred – this equivocation upon Conrad’s death is a more local, tactical attempt to position the newspaper in a proper relation to a more problematic, if equally powerful, marker of value. The discussion cedes some ground to the evoked John O’London’s readers who have struggled with Conrad, even allowing Conrad’s value to suffer the dinge of that ‘sometimes tedious’ phrase, before shifting back into the tutorial mode to urge readers to start with the short stories, implying that (even if the novels are ‘sometimes tedious’) Conrad’s oeuvre is a challenge worthy of ‘manful’ effort. Given the equivocation in this review, whose reference to letters sent ‘to this office’ suggests that it was written by Whitten or a subeditor, it is noteworthy that eight months later John O’London’s serialised Victory, but without the full-court-press of self-advertising that had characterised the Tess serial. Here was a seemingly identical event in terms of John O’London’s orientation towards literary value: a serial re-issue of a book from the past (Victory appeared in 1915, so it was comparatively recent but still predated the newspaper’s birth) from an author whose name was firmly associated with 123

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c­ontemporary literary value. Conrad’s recent death had brought accolades and a great deal of publicity, so that aligning John O’London’s with Conrad would seem an ideal opportunity to shore up its cultural bona fides. Yet compared with the promotional hard sell the newspaper put on for the Hardy serial, the Victory reprint is treated as routine. ‘“Victory.” By Joseph Conrad. Our New Serial Starts To-Day’, reads the weekly above-the-flag teaser on 30 October 1926, but that is the extent of the promotional paratext. Neither the 30 October issue nor the 6 November issue contain any of the puffing we saw in the launch of Tess. These two issues each mention Conrad’s name precisely two times – on the front page (the second issue lists Victory in the weekly ‘Special Contents’ box, on the front page’s lower left corner) – and in the byline on the first page of the serial. They pass up the many opportunities to name-check Conrad in such casual feature columns as ‘The Book World’, ‘What I Hear’, and ‘The Wheel of Life’ – though all of these features appear in these issues. I can only speculate on why John O’London’s did not give Conrad the full celebrity treatment. (As my last chapter showed, the deaths of famous authors had been, since the 1890s, occasion for over-the-top exercises in literary celebrity, such as the special Illustrated London News supplement on the death of Tennyson.) Perhaps readers’ resistance to Conrad, and the nature of that resistance – evident in the anonymous review’s reference to readers unable to ‘make heads or tails of him’ – made Conrad a mark that John O’London’s wished to mentor readers towards but not (like Hardy) a figure they sought close identification with. It is clear that John O’London’s had not given up on celebrity, or on Hardy as a celebrity, by 1927, as their serialisation of his poems – boasting of Hardy’s sanction of their selection – overlapped with the Victory serial. The contrasting significance of Hardy, Wells and Conrad as circulated names in John O’London’s speaks to the unstable nature of literary celebrity in the late 1910s and 1920s, as well as to the betwixt-and-between nature of the newspaper itself. Amidst its many-voiced effort at self-definition, ‘H.G. Wells’, ‘Joseph Conrad’ and ‘Thomas Hardy’ were not simple, interchangeable ciphers in the game of literary celebrity. Nor were they what Aaron Jaffee calls modernist ‘imprimaturs’, names such as ‘T. S. Eliot’ and ‘James Joyce’, which circulated as a unique form of elite currency precisely because they had been purged of association with journalism and celebrity and were thereby lifted into a separate circuit of literary value.83 The modernist regime Jaffe outlines would ultimately become the most powerful among competing and non-aligned circuits of literary value, but it was provisional and insurgent in these years. As I argued in the Introduction, such competing circuits have points of overlap and connection but do not comprise a totalising system: they’re related but distinct organisations of the ongoing processes by which value is articulated. The ‘imprimatur’ was defined by opposition to the kinds of value circulating in 124

‘quite ordinary men and women’ mass periodicals, built on a caricatured image of these papers’ use of such elements as photographs, gossip columns and ‘author at home’ interviews. Yet, as we have seen, Hardy, Wells and Conrad performed contrasting and conflicted functions for John O’London’s: literary celebrity functioned in more nuanced ways than the modernists acknowledged. Hardy’s name was most valuable as a signifier of durable literary greatness, marking John O’London’s desire for a cultural legitimacy that Wells and the associated, inclusive ethic of self-help could not offer. Conrad, perhaps, marked the limit of John O’London’s reach for cultural prestige – a marker the paper could invoke but not fully claim as its own – and foreshadowed the increasing authority of modernist accounts of value, which were able to integrate Conrad. Hardy, despite his rancorous denunciations of the cheap press, retained a sort of cultural capital based partly on the mechanisms of literary celebrity but somewhat untainted by it, and John O’London’s was able to trade on this capital in a way that made commercial sense, helped to craft a self-respecting image for the paper, and – in a reversal of the more common flow of literary value – raised the prestige of the paper more than that of the author. That the circuit of value flowed in this direction is clear from the paper’s willingness to pay a princely £1,000 for Hardy’s novel. Tellingly, the newspaper made no reference to these financial terms, although information about rates paid to writers was a staple of both the gossip columns and the correspondence school ads. The Tess serial was about accumulating a different kind of cultural capital, one predicated on occluding the link between art and commerce – between ‘A Literary Event’, and the exchange of cash behind it – a connection that was otherwise the stock-in-trade of John O’London’s Weekly. The Value of John O’London’s Weekly These tensions reflect the middling position of John O’London’s Weekly in the informal, unstable hierarchy of print – a position the paper’s editors were eager to stabilise, provided doing so did not alienate its readers. John O’London’s was neither a ha’penny rag nor the sort of little magazine or authoritative, twoshilling review that would have defined itself by rejecting literary celebrity and gossip. T. S. Eliot’s supremely snooty slam at literary celebrity – by reference to an imagined, satirical feature on ‘Miss Precocia Pondoeuf’ with a ‘photograph of the nursery in which she wrote’ appeared initially in Harold Monro’s Chapbook.84 But such evaluative statements, as Barbara Herrnstein-Smith has shown, are always interested, never pure statements of a stable, pre-existing scale of value; they are, she writes, value’s ‘springs’ rather than its ‘signs’.85 Hardy himself, having been sent a copy of John O’London’s as its editors were wooing him for the Tess serialisation, observed that it ‘seems of a very good class’ – an interested evaluation by a sometime mass-media curmudgeon with £1,000 of skin in the game. It contrasts tellingly with an observation from a 125

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differently interested Maurice Macmillan – Hardy’s publisher – who observed hopefully that Tess’s popularity would be increased by association with ‘this rather popular paper’.86 All agents involved in the construction of John O’London’s value – editors, advertisers, readers, contributors, critics – were likewise (if differently) interested. Depending on one’s position, association with John O’London’s could signify cultural ambition and uplift or a state of being mired in the middlebrow and the mass. Circuits of Distinction: Lord Riddell and George Blake The instability and relativity of the paper’s value is evident its relations with George Allardice (Lord) Riddell, majority owner of the Newnes publishing combine (and thereby of John O’London’s Weekly) and a frequent contributor of its leading articles. As a spokesman for uplift via print culture, he was a natural: the son of a bankrupt photographer in Brixton, he rose through law clerkship to the newspaper business, where he eventually earned a fortune running the News of the World, ultimately gaining influence among prominent MPs and a seat in the House of Lords. In his leaders Riddell often iterated the message of self-improvement through literacy, though he saw literature as functional to a degree that may have made Whitten queasy. ‘Books will help you take advantage of your opportunities,’ Riddell wrote in one column, ‘and has not someone said that the art of life consists in the seizing of opportunities? . . . You require a happy combination of experience and bookwork in the proportion of, say, three to one.’87 Sidney Dark, a primary subeditor at John O’London’s from 1919–23, suggests in his memoir that Riddell’s background made him sympathetic to ‘the particular public we were out for in John O’London’s Weekly, the public that has intelligence and curiosity, but lacks education and culture’.88 With his modest origins, Riddell seems to have sought prestige through his connection with John O’London’s. John McEwan, editor of Riddell’s diaries, suggests as much: Riddell’s public image needed polishing because of his better-known association with the News of the World – the highest-circulation newspaper on earth and a signifier for the excesses of modern journalism. Riddell placed himself on the boards of John O’London’s and Country Life, McEwan suggests, ‘as if in search of the respectability which the News of the World did not confer’; he recalls a recurring dream Riddell described in which ‘he knelt before the Recording Angel and pleaded that his connection with those two journals should lighten his punishment for the News of the World’.89 Here we see the circuit of value we observed in John O’London’s appropriation of Hardy reversed: instead of the newspaper accumulating value by its association with a valued figure, we see a figure attempting to add value to his image by association with the newspaper. In fact, this connection likely did little for Riddell and may have eroded the tenuous prestige of John O’London’s. 126

‘quite ordinary men and women’ Riddell’s association with John O’London’s fuelled at least one critique, one that emerged from a similarly fraught and interested, if different, cultural position. In 1929 Faber and Faber instituted a series of pamphlets known as the Criterion Miscellany Series, so-named to associate them with T. S. Eliot’s Criterion magazine and edited, in part, by Eliot. One of the first issues, from 1930, was a critique of the mass press called ‘The Press and the Public’, penned by none other than George Blake, subeditor at John O’London’s from 1924 to 1928 (replacing Dark) from whose ‘Wheel of Life’ and ‘Audax’ columns I have been quoting liberally. Blake was a prominent voice at John O’London’s, writing the ‘Book World’, ‘The Wheel of Life’, and ‘What I Hear’ under the pseudonyms ‘Colophon’ and ‘Audax’. The cover of ‘The Press and the Public’ adduces this experience as undergirding his authority on the subject, identifying him as ‘an experienced Fleet Street journalist’.90 The pamphlet rehearses the standard litany of complaints against the press, asserting the familiar thesis that the press is ‘vulgarising the mind of the public’.91 His argument briefly addresses Riddell and John O’London’s Weekly. Identifying Riddell as a former colleague, he praises him for ‘having no political axe to grind’, before concluding flatly, ‘The charge against him is simply that of vulgarisation’ (p. 8). Near the argument’s conclusion, he notes that journals like John O’London’s and the rebooted T.P. and Cassell’s Weekly will ‘give an outline of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall in one page of 1,500 words’, a practice that raises the question, ‘Does this form of summarization act as a proper incentive to the earnest seeker after knowledge? Or does it merely serve to satisfy the lazy and ill-educated, who, armed with last week’s John O’London’s Weekly, can face with confidence the local debating society?’ He concludes with a lukewarm defence of John O’London’s and its ilk: ‘I incline to think the influence of such periodicals is on the whole for good. At least there is no moral or political vice in their teachings, whatever their offence against strict intellectual integrity may be’ (p. 32). This virtual concession that John O’London’s commits an ‘offence against intellectual integrity’, combined with Blake’s depiction of its readers as passive consumers who have literature ‘served to them’ in ‘tabloid form’, suggests that anxiety about the weekly’s cultural value was present within the office itself, which Blake had occupied just two years before (p. 32). His departure from John O’London’s, and his ascension to the podium of the Criterion Miscellany Series (which also published a short story by him), seem to represent a significant apostasy: three years earlier, we can find him in John O’London’s defending the tastes of bestseller-readers. In ‘Colophon’s’ ‘Passing Remarks’ on 21 November 1925, Blake accepts that most reading is escapist, and that such reading is accurately described as a sort of ‘opiate’. But he defends the practice, asserting that ‘“dope” and “opiate” may be only picturesque terms for “restgiving” or “recreative”, and “recreative”, remember, means “re-creative”.’92 127

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But through the Criterion Miscellany, Blake wrote from an institutional position within a competing circuit of value – the Eliot/Faber and Faber/Criterion nexus and its network of modernist connections. While it probably did not reach many John O’London’s readers (the miscellany series had a comparatively tiny print run), the miscellany was building up its own cultural authority using the time-tested rhetoric of differentiation from the mass press. Blake’s willingness to adopt an apostate ethos for his pamphlet – his authority is based on his experience in the mass press, which he largely excoriates – illustrates the gathering cultural power of a circuit of value that would cumulatively erode the cultural value of John O’London’s. If Riddell’s eager embrace of John O’London’s was an interested gambit to give himself a patina of cultural credibility, Blake’s The Press and the Public was an effort to purge from himself the taint of ‘vulgarisation’ that tarred the mass press, and was beginning to cling to John O’London’s Weekly, as modernist accounts of cultural value and cultural decline gathered authority. Modernism and Literary Value in John O’London’s Weekly In this context, the responses of John O’London’s to emerging modernist literary values are, at first glance, surprising.93 The controversy over modernism would seem to promise interesting and copious copy to a paper whose main topoi were literature and print culture. Further, John O’London’s sought intimate connection with a readership substantially drawn from the ‘new reading public’, which was one of modernism’s intermittent rhetorical enemies; one might thus expect the paper to engage in controversy on their behalf. And yet we find it defending the novels of Dorothy Richardson, warmly praising the mature novels of Virginia Woolf, and – in the rare cases where it does take up modernism as a cultural phenomenon – taking a (sometimes maddeningly) reasonable and even-handed position. The paper rarely engages in direct controversy on such modernist fronts as vers libre or difficulty. Its engagements with modernism are equivocal and surprisingly uniform, marked by a sort of hedging that, I think, belies the anxiety about its cultural status that I have been tracing in this chapter. References to writers and texts that we have come to identify as modernist are somewhat scarce in the newspaper’s first two years, 1919–20. (Simultaneously, an updated version of the poetry wars was underway in J. C. Squire’s new, aesthetically reactionary London Mercury, at which Eliot took potshots from the pages of the American Dial.94) The few early references include several articles praising Richardson. S. P. B. Mais defended her, praising her representation of interior consciousness as a salutary shaking-up of reader expectations. ‘It is not nonsense: it is realism carried to excess, perhaps. . . . Miss Richardson draws us back to re-examine the validity of our beliefs and our first principles. . . . Is not such an author a subject for commendation rather than scorn?’95 An 128

‘quite ordinary men and women’ unsigned review two months later praises Interim as ‘absorbing . . . when one has set one’s teeth and battled through the first pages’, ‘arresting because a real, combative individuality is evident on every page’.96 These two articles are, interestingly, among the few I have found in which the writer is willing to take a forceful position on an identified controversy about modernist literary value. (As we shall see, Hugh Walpole’s 1931 ‘The New Spirit in Literature’, whose paratextual trappings work to posit it as a salvo in an ongoing controversy, is considerably tamer and more equivocal than these early reviews.) More common in the earliest years is a virtual silence on modernism and its attendant controversies. This may stem in part from the paper’s emphasis on fiction rather than poetry: reviews of new books of poetry were rare, as were references to poets in the gossip columns. In these first years, the paper passed up numerous opportunities to join the fray. Its first issue includes a blurb on Harold Monro’s Poetry Bookshop – the effective headquarters of the ‘new poetry’ since 1913 and the site (literally and figuratively) of intense debates between poetic factions.97 But the blurb from the weekly ‘Book World’ column evinces no awareness of controversy on modern verse, and settles for an atmospheric sketch: ‘You are conducted to a little old upper room, dimly lighted and austere, and there in a company numbering a score or two you listen to a poetry utterance.’98 A 1925 feature on ‘Five English Poets of Established Fame’ – a pure exercise in literary celebrity and space-filling, featuring photos and 150-word biographical sketches on Walter de la Mare, Robert Graves, John Drinkwater, W. H. Davies and Squire – obliquely references Squire’s status as an antimodernist crusader but downplays controversy: ‘He is the typical public school and varsity man, and his loyalty to friends has led him to be charged with literary partisanship.’99 It took until the mid-twenties for modernism to emerge as a regular topic in John O’London’s. Now such dealings were almost always equivocal, whether they appeared as unsigned reviews or – as was increasingly the case – in signed contributions by well-known critics. With a few notable exceptions – ­including, on the one hand, Robert Lynd’s polemical dismissal of T. S. Eliot in 1932 and, on the other, the paper’s consistent, enthusiastic embrace of Virginia Woolf – John O’London’s writers tended to hedge when modernism was at issue. Recurrent gestures included praising individual, experimental writers while looking askance at the wider, vaguely defined set of ‘moderns’ behind them, and raising complaints about modernism but balancing them with concessions.100 The first is visible in a 1922 review of Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party, which praises its experimentalism but posits Mansfield as an exception. Mansfield, the anonymous reviewer writes, ‘has contrived naturally what other moderns have ineffectually and ridiculously striven after – a new form in literature’.101 This remark is at odds with itself, praising Mansfield’s 129

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achievement in formal experimentation while seeming to doubt whether ‘a new form in literature’ is a valid goal. (Does ‘ridiculously’ as an adverb for ‘striven’ suggest that the goal itself is ridiculous?) The sense that Mansfield resists the excesses of her modernist fellows is clear enough, and this move recurs in John O’London’s, reiterating the sense of a sort of laughable, extreme experimentalism ‘out there’, against which the present writer can be distinguished. Gerald Bullett’s 1932 critical appraisal of Woolf similarly praises the narrative technique of The Waves: ‘Here, up to a point, is the “stream of consciousness” again, but not, thank heaven, the would-be-all-inclusive catalogue of thoughts that is sometimes over-dignified by that designation.’102 Frank Kendon’s 1931 review asserts that The Waves, ‘unlike so many modern literary experiments . . . is not so baffling in its originality as to be incomprehensible to those who are not in the artist’s confidence’.103 A related gesture, encoded somewhat muddily in the Mansfield review, is a defence of experimentalism as a valid goal, linked with a sense that many writers’ experiments fail or exceed reasonable bounds. Humbert Wolfe – a successful poet with a traditionalist bent who appeared in the Georgian anthologies – balances these values in his ‘The Making of a Poet’, a 1,000-word essay from 7 July 1928. Noting a contemporary ‘vigorous reaction against established forms’, Wolfe finds in much experimental verse ‘an impatient neuralgia’, a ‘reaction’ he sees as ‘often ridiculous and sometimes fraudulent’.104 But he adds that the move towards experimentation has ‘a genuine core of poetic sense’, since ‘after testing all established modes, [the poet] may come to the conclusion that none suits his need. In that case it is not merely appropriate but necessary that he should invent his own.’ Revisiting the poetry wars of 1913–15, he asserts that proponents of free verse were right to reject ‘rhyme and elaborate rhythm’, though, ‘alas, they made only little use of the freedom’. Thus experimentalism can be justified, but only on the merits of its results. In Wolfe’s essay, tropes common to dismissals of modernist writing – an association with illness (‘neuralgia’), a claim that it is ‘fraudulent’ – are balanced by concessions that avoid the peremptory tone common to the literary polemics of the little magazines or the London Mercury. A later review essay by L. A. G. Strong – another contributor to the Georgian anthologies – ends on a similarly conciliatory note: ‘No art can live without experiment, and the experiments of any sincere artist deserve our respect.’ Strong calls for ‘balanced judgment’ to determine ‘whether or no the experiment seems to be proceeding on sound lines’.105 These two motifs in John O’London’s treatment of modernism – ­equivocal defences of experimentalism, or praise of a specific writer against the backdrop of a larger, excessive movement with which he or she is identified – register the oblique view of modernism typical of John O’London’s Weekly, especially in the twenties. They register, that is, the fact that modernism, if going 130

‘quite ordinary men and women’ only occasionally by that name, was becoming central to the context through which contemporary writing made sense – indeed was emerging as a topic of controversy. John O’London’s came late to this controversy, and seems to have stepped into it (or sidestepped it) with considerable trepidation. By repeatedly invoking a vaguely defined, decadent set of ‘moderns’ against which single writers could be situated – usually positively – John O’London’s nonetheless subtly reiterated the sense of difficult, experimental literature as a movement, a phenomenon and a controversy, re-enforcing modernism as a concept while maintaining distance from it. As Diepeveen notes, by suggesting that this strange literature was ‘everywhere’, modernism’s opponents (and, I would add, ambivalent publications like John O’London’s, which were unsure where to position themselves in relation to it) ‘tacitly conceded that there was a movement’.106 The early thirties saw a new willingness to foreground modernism, in articles with titles like ‘This New Poetry’ and ‘The New Spirit in Literature’ – though the equivocation did not disappear. Bibliographical elements of these stories’ presentation – headlines, illustrations, layout, etc. – subtly suggest an engagement in controversy. Subheadings in Strong’s ‘This New Poetry’ advertised the article as an attack on obscurity: the drop-headline under the main title reads ‘The Ordinary Reader’s perplexity: Two Kinds of Difficulty’. (John O’London’s is nothing if not a friend to the ‘ordinary reader’.) Bold subheadings throughout the text promise discussions of ‘the difficulty of symbolism’ and ‘the flight from meaning’. But, as we have seen, the article in total offers a neutral explanation of difficulty, ending with the qualified defence of experimentalism quoted above. Walpole’s 1931 ‘The New Spirit in Literature’ is pitched more emphatically as controversy. Walpole introduces the article as a response to Harold Nicolson’s recent BBC talk championing Woolf, Eliot, Joyce and D. H. Lawrence, and the page’s visual layout echoes this framing, featuring headshots of Nicolson and Walpole facing each other at quarter-turns, both with serious expressions, as if they were squaring off (Figure 2.3). Again, though, Walpole’s argument broaches controversy tamely, despite the fact that Nicolson in his talk explicitly dismissed Walpole (along with Galsworthy, J. B. Priestly and James Barrie) as unworthy of discussion. While Walpole notes the relative unpopularity of modernist work, his only direct refutation of Nicolson comes in response to an assertion that ‘to be a writer of real and original merit to-day, one must . . . be unflinchingly honest’.107 Walpole seizes on Nicolson’s implication that ‘such writers as Mr Priestly and myself are not honest’, replying that his set ‘portrays life exactly as [we see it], and so does Mrs Woolf’. But on the question of modernism’s literary value (under a subheading that reads ‘The real question’), Walpole does not take positions, but rests at stating the questions. 131

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