The web page of the ABPress based in Oxford and Sibiu, soon open for business: muses and misspells on its books. Randomly decrepit, stiff joints, possibly neo-bankrupt: so out of touch it needs help, but so analogue it cannot be helped. Nonetheless temperamentally enthusiastic, moderately irascible.
With that unique sense of the amateur and gentleman, British writing at the beginning of the twentieth century reflected very much its society; in a representative way the terms ‘highbrow’, ‘middlebrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ may even have mirrored its class system. By 1900, a middle class had formed who were able to use leisure as a virtuous tool. Thorstein Veblen’s book The Theory of the Leisured Class, published in 1899, introduced the concept of ‘conspicuous consumption’, which he applied to the nouveau riche of the late nineteenth century. Veblen was harshly critical of William Morris, whose Kelmscott Press grandstanded obsoletism and scarcity. Morris, wrote Veblen, had used arcane spelling and “limp vellum fitted with thongs,” and limited edition printings to shake the purse strings of the wealthy and artistically recreational; Morris’s books lent “pecuniary distinction to its consumer.” The rampant aestheticism of Paget and Wilde and the artisan virtue signalling of Ruskin and Morris were threatened by a more commercial wave of cultural industry and a less hedonistic sense of aestheticism, incubated in the bursary; it monetized refinement. The combined the profit and loss of the abacus and aesthetic judgement, it rejoiced in feeding the five thousand rather than just the disciples. Trickle down can be applied to the distribution of culture as well as wealth. If it borrowed William Morris’ aesthetic, it stood against his rather elitist view of the book as an artefact. The publishing that emerged was strongly utilitarian and is the high tide moment of Britain’s book trade.
Publishing in Britain before and particularly after the First World War had many marketing segments to meet. The selling of books has always been a world divided, perhaps like a dog lost between several owners parting ways, the dog bewildered by which master to follow. Alongside a more overt commercial side, writers, publishers and booksellers have been racked also with a spurious conscience: a pious book trade emerges at this time which wishes to support and promote reading generally, or at least keen to be seen as such. Booksellers, for instance, used cod liver oil as part of its pharmacy. It had been administered already centuries before, when copyright law was codified in 1709. The statute that related specifically to booksellers charged them with pricing books fairly; any customer who thought the price of any book to be too high was liable to report it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, five pound per book sold the fine exacted. Such unquantifiable notions of fairness have clung like a hangover to the book trade ever since. This has meant that the new book trade’s response to market values has been as problematic as it has been diverse. On one side of their dilemma was the penny dreadful and the commercialization of literature; on the other was a celebration of the book as an artefact, an object with add-on virtue. The book as a vehicle of pleasure falls somewhere in-between these two stools.
The British Retro Series gives example of all aspects of fiction being published in the early twentieth century.
The following titles are to be published in September 2019 :-
|BR01||Stella Benson||Living Alone|
|BR02||E. M. Delafield||The War-workers|
|BR03||Elizabeth von Arnim||The Enchanted April|
|BR04||E. F. Benson||Mapp and Lucia|
|BR05||Katherine Mansfield||The Garden Party|
|BR06||E. W. Hornung||The Amateur Cracksman|
|BR07||G. K. Chesterton||The Innocence of Father Brown|
|BR08||Arthur Machen||The Great God Pan|
|BR09||Mary Webb||Gone to Earth|
|BR10||E. F. Benson||Lucia’s Progress|
|BR11||May Sinclair||Life and Death of Harriett Frean|
|BR12||Charlotte Mew||The Farmer’s Bride|
The following titles are forthcoming in January 2020 :-
|BR13||Romer Wilson||The Death of Society|
|BR14||Charles Williams||Descent into Hell|
|BR15||David Lindsay||A Voyage to Arcturus|
|BR16||Ada Leverson||Love’s Shadow|
|BR18||Ada Leverson||Love at Second Sight|