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Virginia Woolf and the Common(wealth) Reader$

Helen Wussow and Mary Ann Gillies

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780989082679

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9780989082679.001.0001

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The Hogarth Press, Digital Humanities, and Collaboration

The Hogarth Press, Digital Humanities, and Collaboration

Introducing the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP)

(p.223) The Hogarth Press, Digital Humanities, and Collaboration
Virginia Woolf and the Common(wealth) Reader

Nicola Wilson

Elizabeth Willson Gordon

Alice Staveley

Helen Southworth

Claire Battershill

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP). MAPP aims to use digital technology to create a “super collection” of books and publishing histories that empirically models theories in book history and literary sociology about the cultural production of texts in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The Hogarth Press offers an ideal pilot study to inaugurate MAPP. The Hogarth Press published over five hundred books during the Woolfs' stewardship up to 1946, and then another five hundred under the aegis first of Chatto & Windus (up to 1987) and then Random House (1987 to present). Digitizing, annotating, and reconfiguring the network relations amongst these diverse texts within the wider public sphere of modernist publishing is where MAPP aims to make a key intervention. The chapter positions The Hogarth Press as both case study and catalyst to a broader understanding of how publishing houses as creative and business enterprises shaped the modernist movement and the discourses of twentieth-century culture. The goal is to digitally reanimate the network history of publishing.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, Modernist Archives Publishing Project, MAPP, modernist publishing history, The Hogarth Press


The impetus for this international, digital project on the history of modernist publishing arose from each collaborator’s confrontation with research barriers. In working on various aspects of Woolf’s publication history and/or the history of modernist publishing, we faced the problems of archival dispersal, the vast scope of material, and the lack of any comprehensive book historical account of modernist publishing to orient or contextualize our findings. The Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP) was born in collective response to these barriers with the aim of using digital technology to create a “super collection” of books and publishing histories that empirically models theories in book history and literary sociology about the cultural production of texts in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The Hogarth Press, with two famous in-house writers, varied list, strategic marketing, and international reach, offers an ideal pilot study to inaugurate MAPP.

No single scholar can assimilate or adjudicate in isolation the holdings or intricate narrative history of The Hogarth Press, which published over five hundred books during the Woolfs’ stewardship up to 1946, and then another five hundred under the aegis first of Chatto & Windus (up to 1987) and then Random House (1987 to present). Digitizing, annotating, and reconfiguring the network relations amongst these diverse texts within the wider public sphere of modernist publishing is where MAPP aims to make a key intervention. It positions The Hogarth Press as both case study and catalyst to a broader understanding of how publishing houses as creative and business enterprises shaped the modernist movement and the discourses of twentieth-century culture. Our goal is to digitally reanimate the network history of publishing.

For those interested in Woolf, MAPP will enable scholars to trace the evolution of Woolf’s writing practice alongside her work as editor, to ask new questions in the context of her editorial practice about contested theories within modernist studies—autonomy, professionalism, ethics, cosmopolitanism, gender, genre—and to rethink the construction of Woolf’s privileged space as canonical modernist within the cultural field. To current and future editors of her works, MAPP offers a way to easily organize material temporally, and to see, for instance, what books Woolf was reading and editing for Hogarth alongside her own creative work. MAPP also has the potential to be the go-to site for algorithmic data-crunching of Woolf’s texts as they come into the public domain.1 But what MAPP can bring to Woolf studies, so too can it bring to single-author studies on any of The Hogarth Press authors; scholars working far afield from Woolf will be led to our site should they be excavating anyone, however tangential, who had association with (p.224) the Woolfs’ publishing enterprise. Unlike a printed and bound bibliographic catalogue, the living quality of our site means that new information can be immediately integrated into the collection.

MAPP will create a dynamic collection beyond the holdings of any single library or institution. It draws on resources from Canada, the US, as well as the UK. One goal of the project is to trace networks across national boundaries. We plan to house the project at the University of Alberta (U of A) and draw heavily on the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, which is in the process of digitizing its extensive Hogarth Press collection, beginning with covers and dust jackets. The U of A’s near complete collection will be supplemented by the Virginia Woolf collection at Victoria College in the University of Toronto. Toronto’s E.J. Pratt Library has an extensive collection that includes variants, proofs, and ephemera. This collection also houses the Woolmer and Rosenbaum papers, which document the history of scholarship on the Press and the development of the first checklists and histories of the publisher. In the US we will be working with Washington State University at Pullman to include images of books from the Woolfs’ own library as well as Stanford’s Green Library. In the UK we will be working with the Random House archives and The University of Reading. Reading holds the vast Hogarth Press business archive, the publication and production files of individual authors, along with many other publishers’ papers.

Bringing together disparate archival holdings, MAPP will capture the synchronic and diachronic processes of textual production, dissemination, and reception from the author’s initial solicitation or submission to the publishing house, through editorial and production processes, to dust jackets and book design, readership and reviews, and catalogued sales figures. It will allow a user to search the publisher’s output according to genre, or author, or book designer. Thus, one could follow, for example, the evolution of modernist biography or the trajectory of an author’s literary ascent. Once the pilot project with The Hogarth Press is established, the wider functions of MAPP will enable a user to track a writer’s career across different publishers, to evaluate production methods and values, and to trace lines of influence from one publishing house to another. In sharing these resources with as wide a public as only the Internet can allow, we are confident that many more of the interconnections between writers, publishers, and readers will be discovered.


The technological component of the project is in the early stages of development, but since MAPP is an inherently interdisciplinary project, bridging the fields of Digital Humanities, Modernist Studies, Woolf Studies and Book History, we are attending closely to the clarity and effectiveness of the interface through which scholars will access the site in order to generate successful cross-disciplinary connections. The project’s current digital state is as follows: we have three databases in Microsoft Excel, one covering the period of 1917–1946, the second 1946 to the present, and one further database on the recently rediscovered Order Books. These databases contain quantitative and qualitative data for over 1,000 texts. The fields of information include: author, date, print run, list price, sales figures, reviews, secondary criticism, and library holdings for first editions, as well as notes on features of individual texts such as marginalia. These databases, in (p.225) conjunction with comprehensive bibliographic entries on individual authors, artists, and press agents, which we intend to generate through wide solicitation within the Woolfian and modernist communities, will form the basis of our resource. This method of solicitation and collaborative writing has already been successfully used in modernist studies as in Pericles Lewis’s “ModLab.” The question from a digital perspective, then, is how to share this material in a way that is easily navigable and sensitive to the needs of researchers and which ensures that it represents The Hogarth Press books not only as texts, but as material objects, particularly by implementing metadata standards that address the material as well as the textual characters of the works we include.

So what will MAPP look like?2 The digital outcomes of the project will consist of two major components. The first will be a sophisticated website powered by Drupal that serves as a hub for the various sub-elements of the project (including our searchable database, as well as highlights and image galleries). The second will be an iPad app featuring historical details about the Press and interactive components suited to the touch-screen platform including a navigable floor plan of the original Press’s layout, images of the equipment and details about the staff working in each room; exhibition-style cases with images of the books; and selected out-of-copyright Hogarth Press full-texts in visually appealing iBook versions. The app interface will be a simpler, streamlined version of the web resource and will be designed for general reading. We will go beyond the work modeled in TouchPress’s The Waste Land app in allowing for marginal annotation of the texts and supplementary materials using a stylus, the touchscreen, and/or typing on the iPad. We will also encourage links to reading clubs with monthly recommended readings from our database.

While our primary goal in this project is the scholarly integrity of the corpus, we are also committed to upholding the Press’s own ideals of strong design and functional but beautiful media. Current practices in digitization often leave something to be desired from a design perspective, and this is, in part, because the standard methods do not account for visual or material textual features. Optical Character Recognition (OCR)—the dominant mode of producing textual transcriptions of scanned pages—is useful only if one assumes that the work is a purely verbal medium and not a material one. James Mussell has recently argued that OCR effectively “subordinat[es] any non-linguistic elements, whether these are important textual components like images, presentational features such as type or aspects of the printed object’s materiality” (30). We aim to revivify the focus on materiality in MAPP by providing image-rich entries, bibliographic data, and careful design throughout, and by learning from the exciting work of projects like Mussell’s “Nineteenth Century Serial Editions” (ncse) project and modernist digital resources such as the “Year of Ulysses” and “woolfonline.”

We hope to be able to connect MAPP, too, with existing resources. The Modernist Journals Project (MJP) metadata, for example, is publicly available, which means that we are in an ideal position to ensure that MAPP connects through linked-data and crossplatform searching with this important existing resource. By using both resources in conjunction with one another, researchers would be able to trace an author’s career as it moves from periodical to book venues and back again, and to work in a new mode of scholarship that focuses on large-scale textual circulation.

(p.226) Hogarth Press Archives, Part I: Reading University and the Order Books

The University of Reading holds a large part of the financial and business archives of the Hogarth Press (they were deposited at the University by Chatto & Windus in 1982).3 The collection includes editorial correspondence, stock books, press cuttings, records of manuscripts received, and financial records. Permissions regarding the digitization of archival material are complex but we hope through the course of the MAPP project to include quantitative as well as some qualitative data from the archives themselves (the Hogarth Press archive is now legally owned by Random House UK and copyright resides with an author’s estate; permission is required from both parties to gain access and reproduce material).

The first stage of this process at Reading has involved transcription work on a series of sixteen Order Books, which have only recently been discovered, catalogued, and now itemized.4 (Late finds such as these are typical in large archives, which are often underresourced and overwhelmed by the amount of material they contain.) These Order Books detail who bought the books of the Hogarth Press, providing a precise and fairly unique picture of the contemporary book market, the early reading audience, and the Press’s major distributors. The level of detail contained and preserved in these records is highly unusual for that commonly found in a publisher’s archive. The earliest preserved entries (from 1919–20) are in Leonard’s neat hand. A series of columns set out the key information necessary for accurate stock-taking, accounting, and the smooth-running of a busy publishing house. We have details of the title, cost of the book and publication date, each individual customer, the number of copies purchased, dates of payment and distribution, total amount received, and the total number of copies of that title sent out to date.

From this rich empirical information, it is possible to construct an exceptionally detailed picture of the contemporary book market. We can also gain a nuanced understanding of how the texts of The Hogarth Press were bought and distributed throughout the Commonwealth. The information contained in the Order Books adds to recent scholarship on The Hogarth Press (see Southworth) that has offered a more complex understanding of the textual production of the Woolfs and the operations and reach of the press itself. For here we have listed not only the well-known names of early individual subscribers to the Press (the subscription scheme devised by Leonard ran between 1919 and 1923; the subscription lists are now held in the Leonard Woolf archive at the University of Sussex), but the major book customers and distributors of the period who were responsible for purchasing the vast majority of volumes produced of each publication.5 This includes major British subscription libraries of the early twentieth century like W.H. Smiths, Mudies, Boots, and The Times (that we know from the diaries where Virginia ordered books from herself), as well as national and international wholesalers including Simpkins Marshall and Low’s Export, and countless individual bookshops in Britain and France, Australia and New Zealand, India, and Canada.

For historians of the book this is all fascinating in and of itself, and adds to recent work in book history on the complex mapping of book trade networks and the international spread of texts and print (see for example Fraser and Hammond). Literary historians and critics of Woolf, meanwhile, may wish to conjoin this quantitative research material with other archival information such as editorial correspondence, or published (p.227) material including Woolf’s letters and diaries. Working at home in this environment of accurate record-keeping, Virginia could of course follow the orders coming in for her books day by day. The Order Book material appears to be alluded to when on Tuesday, 18 December 1928, for instance, she writes: “L has just been in to consult about a 3rd edition of Orlando. This has been ordered; we have sold over 6000 copies; & sales are still amazingly brisk—150 today for instance; most days between 50 & 60; always to my surprise” (D3 212).

It is also possible to trace the textual impact of some of these customers. Nicola Wilson’s recent research on the impact of the Book Society (the British equivalent of the American Book-of-the-Month Club) on The Hogarth Press used the evidence of sales contained in the Order Books alongside materials in the production files to argue that the nominations of the “middlebrow” Book Society had an important impact on the publication schedules of the Hogarth Press. Figure 1, for instance, demonstrates how the 9,000 copies purchased by the Book Society of Vita Sackville West’s The Edwardians (1930) helped to determine its bestseller status. Following the announcement of The Edwardians as the Book Society Choice for May 1930, we see in the Order Books the influence on the wider book trade, as a stream of repeat orders for copies of the book come in during the following days and weeks from libraries, bookshops, and wholesalers.

The Hogarth Press, Digital Humanities, and CollaborationIntroducing the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP)

Fig. 1

Leonard courted the Book Society’s favor by sending off many Hogarth Press authors’ manuscripts in proof form to the Selection Committee. The Book Society operated throughout the Commonwealth, sending books to members living in over thirty countries. Despite the castigation of the contemporary Q.D. Leavis (she wrote that he was one of the most offending “Middlemen” responsible for the “standardization” of second-rate taste (34)), the Book Society was both an important distributor of books and an influential guide to readers, libraries, and bookshops of the “best” of the new publications. Elsewhere in Woolf’s diary we see how the choices of the Book Society had the potential (p.228) to shape her own perceptions of her work and writing life. On 15 September 1931 when Hugh Walpole, the Book Society Selection Committee chairman, rejected her novel, The Waves, she laments (without irony): “I have come up here, trembling under the sense of complete failure—I mean The Waves—I mean Hugh Walpole doesn’t like it.” She added to this entry later: “This was true: Hugh wrote to say he thinks it ‘unreal.’ It beats him” (D4 43).

We hope through MAPP to make widely available some of this information from the Order Books about book-buyers and the contemporary reading market (permissions allowing), in the first place through a series of databases on individual authors and titles using Microsoft Excel. Two undergraduate students have recently embarked on the arduous work of transcription: Andrew Reay has transcribed the sales figures of William Plomer; Dale Hall has completed an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme award and transcribed the entries for the texts of Virginia Woolf (first editions), allowing scholars and common readers alike to ask—and at last to answer—“who bought the books of Virginia Woolf?”6 In terms of methodology, we aim to capture the information contained in the Order Books in its totality so that it will be fully searchable, navigable, and authentic in terms of the research process. With these databases the user would be able to manipulate information to ask questions, for instance, about who the key distributors for Woolf and other Hogarth Press authors were, what the largest individual sales figures for each title amounted to, when key sales were made by date (perhaps a response to influential reviews?), and to trace significant shifts in sales patterns over time.

The Hogarth Press Archives, Part II: Artists, Authors, and Agents

One of the most exciting things about the MAPP project is the opportunity it will provide to learn more about the lives of different authors, press workers, and artists who contributed to the press. In this regard we see the potential of the project in terms of opening out onto or intersecting with other digital projects on the web. MAPP will allow us to see not only the networks at the press itself, but also the way the press is networked into the broader printing and cultural scenes. We envision connections not only to “woolfonline,” the “Orlando project,” and the numerous modernist magazines sites, but also to the Tate Gallery or Victoria and Albert Museum, to give just a few examples.

Two recent projects by MAPP collaborators demonstrate the game-changing effect of the Internet on biographical and literary research, both in terms of what it is now possible to excavate about literary history and how online scholarly publications can unexpectedly catalyze the after-life to allegedly “finished” work. Helen Southworth is working on a book-length biography of the writer Francesca Allinson whom she calls a Hogarth Press author because that was the context in which she found her, in Woolmer’s Checklist of the Hogarth Press. But, of course, Allinson was much more than that. Southworth has uncovered a trove of geographical and biographical material that, as Figure 2 illustrates, can be organized into data-readable entries exemplary of the kind of page we intend to create for all Hogarth Press writers, illustrators, and workers.7


The Hogarth Press, Digital Humanities, and CollaborationIntroducing the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP)

Fig. 2

Allinson was born in London, her mother was German, her father, a famous early wholefoods advocate, was from Manchester. She studied at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, was a musician, musicologist and puppeteer, linked personally and professionally to Sir Michael Tippett, supported market gardens for conscientious objectors in East Grinstead (West Sussex) and Piltdown (East Sussex), and owned a wood in Essex. With this kind of information we can ask questions such as: Were Hogarth Press writers university educated? Were they metropolitan? What other literary or political networks were they attached to? Previously unsourced marketing material for Allinson includes information about readership, crowd-sourced from book dealers and collectors, advertisements from the TLS and Vegetarian News and multiple reviews. These resources will be brought together on the MAPP site with information gathered from Allinson’s folder in Reading’s Hogarth Press Archive to provide a fuller sense of business practices within the publishing field.

The business and marketing practices of The Hogarth Press’s publication of Three Guineas is at the heart of Alice Staveley’s 2009 Book History article on Woolf’s unheralded Press Manager, Norah Nicholls. Having come across Nicholls’s uncatalogued presence years earlier in the Three Guineas file at Reading, Staveley similarly pieced together the biography and professional impact of an obscure Press worker from a variety of dispersed sources. What held Staveley’s fascination at a time when the concepts of “marketing” and “modernism” were deemed antithetical, if not heretical, was twofold: the sheer vibrancy and energy of Nicholls’s voice combined with her apparent efforts to redress a so-called “closed list” of established reviewers for Woolf’s works by soliciting, rather than coldshouldering, reviewers in a wide range of (now largely forgotten) professional women’s periodicals. Ideally, MAPP will help us contextualize Nicholls’s work more broadly, allowing a synchronic and comparative study of precisely what marketing strategies the Woolfs and their numerous managers employed. But it will also build on an already surprising consequence of the Web. Three months after the article’s publication, Staveley found (p.230) an email addressed to her with the subject heading “My Grandmother Norah Nicholls” from Richard Ashworth, who in Googling his grandmother’s name had found the article (which even its author did not know was accessible to those without JSTOR). He reached out with generosity and openness to tell of even more startling connections, threads of a life connected to a famous press but also representative of many interwar women forging new, and complicated, professional lives.

We feel that these stories about the discovery of Allinson and Nicholls are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how MAPP will change empirical study of modernist publishing practice. They bear witness to the degree to which the Internet has changed not only the way we write lives but also the kinds of lives that we are able to write about. The expediency of email, access to past materials, specialty websites, and googlebooks (to name just a few things) have put resources at the researcher’s finger tips that must have seemed unimaginable until very recently. The capacity to collaborate in terms of production and consumption, an essential piece of what we’re proposing with MAPP, would have been almost impossible without the Internet.

The MAPP project will showcase these changes. As it does so it will come back to some of the questions Woolf herself raised about biography—it will allow us to enlarge biography’s scope “by hang[ing] up looking glasses at odd corners” and it will force us to rethink questions of “greatness” and “smallness” and to “revise our standards of merit and set up new heroes for our admiration” (“Art of Biography” 195). Woolf saw the memoirs of lesser-known writers as the places where things really happen. In her 1925 essay “Lives of the Obscure” she says these lives represent ‘“the dressing rooms, the workshops, the wings, the sculleries, the bubbling cauldrons, where life steams and seethes and is always on the boil” (381). We see MAPP providing access to this behind-the-scenes energy as essential to a fuller understanding of Modernism.


(p.231) Works Cited

Bibliography references:

“Woolf Online: An Electronic Edition and Commentary on Virginia Woolf’s ‘Time Passes.’” The Leverhume Trust. Web. 15 Aug. 2013.

Fraser, Robert and Mary Hammond, eds. Books Without Borders. 2 vols. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.

Leavis, Q.D. Fiction and the Reading Public. Harmondsworth: Peregrine Books, 1979. Print.

Lewis, Pericles. “The Modernism Lab.” Yale University. New Haven, 2010. Web. 15 Aug. 2013.

Mussell, James. The Nineteenth-Century Press in the Digital Age. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.

Ramsay, Stephen. Reading Machines: Toward an Algorithmic Criticism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011. Print.

Scholes, Robert and Sean Latham. “The Modernist Journals Project.” Brown University and the University of Tulsa. Web. 15 Aug. 2013.

Southworth, Helen, ed. Leonard & Virginia Woolf: The Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2010. Print.

Staveley, Alice. “Marketing Virginia Woolf: Women, War, and Public Relations in Three Guineas.” Book History. 12 (2009): 295–339. PDF File.

Wilson, Nicola, “Virginia Woolf, Hugh Walpole, the Hogarth Press and the Book Society.” English Literary History. 79.1 (2012): 237–260. PDF File.

Woolf, Virginia. “Art of Biography.” The Death of the Moth and Other Essays. New York: Harvest, 1974. 187–197. Print

———. The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Vol 3. 5 vols. Ed. Anne Olivier Bell. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.

———. The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Vol 4. 5 vols. Ed. Anne Olivier Bell. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1983. Print.

———. “The Lives of the Obscure.” The Common Reader: First Series. 5th ed. London: Hogarth Press, 1994. 164. Print.


(1.) For an influential example of what an algorithmic reading of Woolf looks like, see Stephen Ramsay’s critique of The Waves (12–15). Further experiments with this new methodology have been pursued at Stanford University and were presented on a panel “Woolf in the Digital Commons” at the 23rd Annual Virginia Woolf Conference by professor-student collaborators Matthew Jockers, Alice Staveley, Laura Bomes, Andrew Adams, and Roberto Goizueta.

(2.) We have funding for the first two years of the project (2013–15) from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada as part of their Insight Development program (PI: Elizabeth Willson Gordon).

(4.) Random House archivist Nancy Fulford has led this process. Andrew Reay has itemized the contents of all sixteen order books during an undergraduate Academic Placement. This information is currently being uploaded onto Reading University’s Special Collections online database http://www.reading.ac.uk/adlib/Details/archiveSpecial/110014331

(7.) http://pages.uoregon.edu/aembke/. Sample webpage created by undergraduate Alec Embke at the University of Oregon. Material pertaining to Allinson reproduced with permission from executor Sonya Allinson.