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Reviewed by:
  • Miranda B. Hickman
Catherine Turner. Marketing Modernism Between the Two World Wars. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2003. xiii + 256 pp.

The premise of Catherine Turner's useful new book is that of Kevin J. H.Dettmar's and Stephen Watt's collection of essays, Marketing Modernisms (1996), whose title itsown closely resembles: despite the widespread critical view that Anglo-American literary modernism was animated by a resistance to consumer culture (asarticulated, for instance, by Andreas Huyssen), the work of modernist writers [End Page 788] was nonetheless deeply involved in various forms of commercial activity, and modernist writers, while typically ambivalent about self-promotion, often actively sought to market their work. Marketing Modernisms considered both how modernist work was marketedby writers and publishers, as well as how the academy has disseminated diverse images of modernism. Turner's book concentrates on just one of these ways of linking "marketing" to "modernism," addressing how, during the 1920s and 1930s, American publishers marketed modernist literature by writers such as Hemingway, Stein, Mann, Dos Passos, and Joyce.

Aligning her study with work on modernism and promotion by Lawrence Rainey and Jennifer Wicke (3), Turner demonstrates how modernism was constructed for both highbrow and middlebrow American audiences through the diversemarketing techniques of five major American commercial publishers: Huebsch, Knopf, Scribner's, Harcourt Brace, and Random House. Following Rainey's lead, Turner suggests that we cannot sufficiently understand modernism until we understand the cultural institutions, such as publishing firms, that delivered it to a readership—and crucially shaped its reputation.

Turner's book, however, could have explained more fully its own theoretical significance. Rainey's comparable work advances the influential claim that modernism of the 1910s and 1920s sought a space in the field of cultural production positionedbetween the sphere of the highbrow literary coterie and the realm of the mainstream public: writers secured this intermediate zone by publishing through such outlets as little magazines and limited editions brought out through independent publishers. Such venues helped to construct, in Mark Morrisson's phrase, the "public face" of modernism. Turner, meanwhile, uncovers some of the mechanisms at work during what Rainey theorizes as modernism's third moment of the 1920s and 1930s during which it sought a wider public. Turner explains how modernist literature became more embroiled in commercial campaigns of a mainstream kind than scholarship on modernism has traditionally allowed. But Turner's account could have announced even more clearly how it might speak toandmodify established concepts of modernism. Turner does emphasize that her case studies illuminate one of the importantprocesses through which modernism, initially marked as highbrow, evolved so as later to be "fully accepted into the cultural mainstream" (7), and that they serve to challenge the misconception that modernist literature "found only a small audience and that the larger public derided . . . modernism" (3). Such claims, however, don't adequately accommodate the range of her study's implications for our understanding of modernism. [End Page 789]

Turner's study might have been framed, for instance, so as to contribute to current efforts to critique the Romantic vision of authorship as the solitary activity of a single writer. In the spirit of theorists such as Jerome McGann, who define textual production as an inherently social act, Turner might have elevated mainstream publishers as having influenced readers' understanding of modernism so as to have "co-authored," along with writers and others, the modernist literature we know. She might also have acknowledged more directly that, taking a cue fromLawrence Rainey's statement that "[t]he best reading of a work may . . . be one that does not read it at all," which Turner quotes, her book notably "does not read" modernist literature. Like Poe writing about the purloined letter, Turner hardlymentions what the books whose advertising campaigns it inventories are about; nor does she assess how accurately these campaigns represented the books. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this approach per se, Turner might have demonstrated more self-awareness of it by signaling it more overtly.

In general, Turner's book compiles excellent information about publishers' efforts to convince not only highbrow, but also middlebrow audiences of the worth and readability of modernist literature—and about...


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pp. 788-790
Launched on MUSE
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