‘The making of world literature in the 1920s and 1930s’ – don’t miss the last in the current Archives & Texts series!

Professor Daniel Göske, Christian Weiß (Universität Kassel), ‘Inside Narratives: What Archives Tell Us about the Making of World Literature in the 1920s and 1930s’

Marketing international modernism in the 1920s and 1930s was a complex business, not least because of different structures in the publishing world in the U.S., Britain and Europe. Daniel Göske and Christian Weiß will approach this intriguing problem of texts in transit (across borders, literary markets and languages) by looking at some of the often forgotten “middlemen” (and “-women”) of literature: publishers (and their wives), literary agents and, mainly, translators who sometimes acted on their own in making contacts with “their” authors. The focus of the talk will be on the early German reception of, among others, Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley, and it will draw on unpublished material held by Reading’s very special Special Collections.

Wednesday 19th March, 6pm, HumSS 127

All welcome!

You can learn more about the series co-organised by the Departments of English and Modern Languages on their blog.

“We met at a party” Professional Children’s Publishing and the lady editor’

This was the title of a recent seminar given as part of the English Departments’s latest Archives & Text series which I attended with volunteers Kaye Gough and Ann Livingstone. Kaye is involved in a multitude of volunteering activities with MERL and the Special Collections. In this post she gives us her thoughts on a fascinating and lively seminar discussing the role of women in children’s publishing.

This seminar was presented by Dr Lucy Pearson, Lecturer in Children’s Literature at the University of Newcastle, whose recent book ‘The Making of Modern Children’s Literature in Britain’ covers publishing and criticism in the 1960’s & 1970’s.  Lucy’s focus here was on the growing impact of the lady editor on published literature for children during the 1940’s to 1970’s and in particular that of Kaye Webb.

Kaye Webb image

In the early days many were viewed as ‘dessicated spinsters’; educated women working for pin money or in secretarial and administration roles helping to oil the wheels of the business, their actual contribution unrecognised. Then some professional women editors and authors, with prior media experience arrived on the scene such as Grace Hogarth and Eleanor Graham who began to introduce better quality children’s literature and to make a positive difference.  Despite the knowledge they brought to their positions and the impact they had, it is perhaps only in retrospect that their contribution to children’s publishing has been identified.  However, it was Kaye Webb, who implied that it was through social networking, ‘we met at a party’, that she obtained her job at Puffin.  In fact she was a talented woman who cleverly utilised her femininity and personality to achieve her aims.  Disguised underneath that facade there lurked a shrewd businesswoman with marketing flair who successfully launched the Puffin Club, introduced new authors and welcomed a whole generation of children to reading.

During this seminar, I reflected on how women’s job opportunities have improved since that time. When in the late 1960’s I joined the hotel  and travel industry there were no female sales managers, chefs or hotel managers and a secretarial or administrative role was generally the only way into the business. We were only expected to be support staff to the management i.e. Men! Educated to be either teachers and nurses or simply secretaries or dare I say – housewives!

We have been left a positive legacy in children’s publishing from the lady editors Lucy covered in her seminar. Some may have started out in positions beneath their competence or were not seen as serious contenders for a key role in publishing, despite their obvious qualifications and capabilities. However, once through the door, these women were to have a major impact in generating a new and more significant department within publishing as well as enriching children’s literature.

Kaye Gough (Volunteer)

Photograph of Kaye Webb reproduced with the permission of Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books. You can find out more about the Kaye Webb collection at Seven Stories here. BBC Radio 4 is running a second series of ‘Publishing lives‘ this week, aired at 13:45 each day. Kaye Webb was the subject of Monday’s programme and today we see Norah Smallwood in the spotlight. Smallwood rose from publisher’s secretary to board member at The Hogarth Press and Chatto & Windus. The archives of these publishing firms are held here in the Special Collections on deposit from Random House. Norah Smallwood’s letters can be found in among the files of editorial and business correspondence.


New display at the University of Reading Library

Items from the Leo Cooper archive of military history publishing feature in a new display at the University of Reading Library. Leo Cooper, who died at the age of 79 in November 2013, gave his archive to the University and the collection of business, editorial and artwork files for his firm can now be consulted in the Reading Room at Special Collections.

In 1968, after thirteen years working for publishing houses Longmans, Andre Deutsch, and Hamish Hamilton, Leo Cooper established his own publishing business, Leo Cooper Ltd. Cooper had already established the Famous Regiments Series with Hamilton and he took this with him to start the new firm. Over the years the Leo Cooper imprint published hundreds of military themed books with titles that include Gunners, game and gardens, Hunters from the sky and Red spy at night. The imprint specialised in publishing regimental histories and memoirs of soliders, many recounting their experiences of the Second World War. Spy stories are amongst these and include The escaping habit; the story of Joseph Orna’s escape from a prisoner of war camp in Northern Italy followed by his 2000 mile journey to safety, dressed as a Benedictine monk.


Escaping Habit

Leo Cooper’s proudest publishing achievement, he said, was the publication of A history of the British cavalry 1816-1919. This was an eight volume series, published over 25 years and written by George Charles Henry Victor Paget, 7th Marquess of Anglesey, who, in correspondence with Cooper described the series as ‘my life’s work’. Twenty files of editorial correspondence, much between publisher and author, survive in the archive; these tell the story of the how the books came to be and how a friendship grew between Leo Cooper and the Marquess of Anglesey. Below is is one of the many postcards, a photograph of himself taken in Wales in 1950, sent by the Marquess to Cooper declining an invitation. “Wasn’t I pretty in ’50?!” he writes.

Marquess of Anglesey postcard

The display will be at the University library during February and March.





A snapshot of 19th Century publishing

Last summer volunteer Jenny Knight began work on the mammoth task of transcribing the indexes to the letter books of outgoing correspondence in the Chatto & Windus publisher’s archive. The early letter books are an invaluable source of information as loose files of correspondence were sent for salvage during the First World War and most pre-1915 letters written to the firm are gone forever. The index work that Jenny and other staff and volunteers are doing is enhancing our catalogue records, benefiting staff and researchers using our database.

Read Jenny’s blog post to find out some of the things she’s discovered from these one-sided conversations, while deciphering 19th Century handwriting…

P1000650 (3)-1

I was advised that the transcribing of the letter copies in the Chatto & Windus archive might be rather a dry and tedious business to volunteer to undertake. Slow, rather than tedious, might be true, but I have found it fascinating. The task is simply to record the name of the recipient and then the page numbers of the corresponding letters which the publisher had sent to them. The letter copies are handwritten, of course, on fragile tissue which requires care when turning the pages. The writing is beautiful copperplate, which unfortunately is sometimes quite difficult to read, so I frequently have to locate the individual letters to clarify and confirm the name. More often than not, I need to read some of the text too. I am discovering a snapshot of business life in the 1860s which is tantalizing; there are no records of replies to any of the letters, so there is room for conjecture as to the outcomes of the incidents mentioned, and on the background histories of the people who were communicating.


The first volume of letter records that I have been working on dates from the 1860s. The company was not called Chatto & Windus at that time; they were Saunders, Otley & Co. A couple of unexpected features (at least to me) are emerging. Firstly there is the international nature of the business, even as early as 1862. Letters were being sent to correspondents in America, particularly New York, to Australia and across Europe. In Europe there are a series of letters to Vienna and Paris – most intriguing are the letters to Versailles, where it seems a person at the very highest level of the French aristocracy was writing on dog breeding!

P1000651-1 An example of a letter from Letter book 1, ref. CW A/1


Secondly, it has become a cliché that women who made a living by writing were considered shocking and unacceptable in Victorian England; everyone remembers that the Brontes initially wrote under male pseudonyms. Yet here are numerous letters to and from potential and accepted women authors, all under their own names and with no suggestion that they should publish incognito. They are most certainly not in the majority, yet here they are, confounding expectations, and addressed with flowery Victorian politeness. A Miss Emily Thompson was advised that her novel “The Staff Surgeon” was not selling well. By February 1867 it had “not quite cleared expenses”. Poor Emily. I noted one instance, however, when the wife of a “Reverend”, i.e. a minister of the church, had items published. From the wording of a later letter in the sequence, it appears that a remuneration cheque was sent “care of” her husband, the minister, rather than directly to the lady herself. The details of the transaction cannot be known – but what a fascinating glimpse into the economic situation of women at the time.


Business practice in publishing seems to have changed little in the past hundred and fifty years. On a daily basis, potential authors are requested to amend and edit their texts, are advised that their manuscripts have not been considered suitable for publication, or that their book sales have been uneconomic and copies are being ”remaindered”. The luckier, more successful authors are sent payment. Debts are pursued with brisk and determined persistence. Lunches are arranged with colleagues in the trade. Here, too, is a mention of another company in publishing which was to become a household name – Saunders, Otley & Co were corresponding with W H Smith on a variety of topics; the relationship does not appear to have been without problems! Most amusingly, advertising accounts are paid in postage stamps, sent to local newspapers all over the country. What would modern publishers give for advertising accounts of 6 shillings (30p) to the Sheffield Times, 8 shillings (40p) to the Stockport Advertiser, or the highest sum of 10 shillings (50p) to The Scotsman? – I’m sure even the modern adjustment of these costs would still be very small to those in charge of 21st century advertising budgets!