“Murdering an Aunt or Two”: Textual Practice and Narrative Form in Virginia Woolf’s Metropolitan MarketEnglish Faculty Research
AbstractAs evidence for the multiple connections between the commercial and intellectual freedoms provided by the Hogarth Press for its co-owner and leading author, consider a diary entry from September 1925: How my hand writing goes down hill! Another sacrifice to the Hogarth Press. Yet what I owe the Hogarth Press is barely paid by the whole of my handwriting…I’m the only woman in England free to write what I like. The others must be thinking of series’ & editors. Yesterday I heard from Harcourt Brace that Mrs. D & C.R. are selling 148 & 73 weekly--Isn’t that a surprising rate for the 4th month? Doesn’t it portend a bathroom & a w.c. either here, or Southease? (D 3: 42-43) Virginia Woolf was free to write what she liked because of her books’ sales in the UK and the US, and, simultaneously, because no editor (with the very occasional exception of Leonard) interfered with her authorial choices. As this passage shows as well, Woolf’s royalties represented more mundane freedoms—a bathroom renovation portended by the American sales of Mrs. Dalloway and the first Common Reader, and two years later the Woolfs’ first car, financed by the sales of To the Lighthouse. More significantly, the Hogarth Press functioned as a professional sphere in which Woolf’s work as writer, editor, and publisher overlapped and intersected. While most scholars have emphasized the importance of the Press in Woolf’s authorial development, or more occasionally, as an emotional respite provided by the act of setting type by hand, few have actually considered Woolf herself as an editor and publisher. But thanks to the Press, Woolf could not only write what she liked, she and Leonard could also publish her books as they liked and shape the list within which they would appear in Britain. Finally, the publishing choices Leonard and Virginia made, especially once Hogarth shifted from its handpress origins to its more commercial horizons in the later 1920s and through the 1930s, generated further freedoms for Woolf the author. The extraordinary sales (by Hogarth standards) of Vita Sackville-West’s The Edwardians (1930), or of C. H. B. Kitchin’s murder mystery Death of My Aunt (1929), coincided with Woolf’s own commercial successes in Orlando and A Room of One’s Own, and directly preceded her most experimental (and least accessible) publication, The Waves. As Lee Erickson concludes, “literature is materially and economically embedded in the reality of the publishing marketplace” (8). While most authors work with and/or against their publishers in an effort to attain the “momentary equilibrium between the aspirations of writers and the desires of their audiences” (Erickson 8), Woolf as her own publisher was uniquely positioned to adapt her books’ forms and dissemination to a keen sense of her British and American audiences. Against this historical backdrop, I explore the relationship between textual practice and narrative form in Woolf’s career, asking how her experiences as an editor and publisher shaped the kinds of texts she produced as an author, and how her search for authorial freedom informed her practices as a publisher. That is, my approach to Virginia Woolf and the literary marketplace takes up that relationship both through Woolf the self-published author and through Woolf the editor and co-publisher of many other significant modernist texts. This approach asks questions about how Woolf responded as an author to the desires of the British reading public, and how she helped “set the field,” in George Bornstein’s terms, of modern fiction in Britain and beyond during the 1920s and 1930s, “both by deciding what works came to the public and by determining the form in which those works appeared” (“Editing Matters” 2).
Citation InformationYoung, John K. “‘Murdering an Aunt or Two’: Textual Practice and Narrative Form in Virginia Woolf’s Metropolitan Market.” Virginia Woolf and the Literary Marketplace, Ed. Jeanne Dubino. N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 181-95.