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Reviewed by:
  • Marketing Modernism Between the Two World Wars
  • Aaron Zacks
Marketing Modernism Between the Two World Wars. By Catherine Turner. Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003. viii, 256 pp. $39.95. ISBN 1-55849-376-X.

Difficult books to read, it follows, are difficult books to market successfully. As Catherine Turner describes in Marketing Modernism Between the Two World Wars, modernist literature validates this statement wholeheartedly. Modernists catered to the intellectual elite and generally refused to make their work more easily accessible to the lay reader. The "snob value associated with modernism" made it a gamble for publishers in a marketplace influenced by lingering Victorian value systems (11). There was still a stark distinction in the public consciousness between highbrow and lowbrow culture and a corresponding belief in the incompatibility of artistic quality and commerciality. Publishers of modernism faced the paradox that to advertise a book was to denote it as popular and therefore undermine its intellectual value. Marketing Modernism, therefore, narrates the developing relationship between cultural and financial capitals during the interwar period.

Turner's discrete case studies of five major modernist publishers plot the shift from B. W. Huebsch's Victorian ideas of quality to modern notions of commercialization epitomized by James Joyce's Ulysses. Huebsch launched the American publishing careers of, among others, Sherwood Anderson, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and Thomas Mann, but each of these figures abandoned Huebsch's house before its merger with Viking Press in 1925. These authors found the publisher uninterested in helping them reach a wider audience. Huebsch firmly believed that quality literature should be read only by those with sufficient learning, and the little advertising he did was addressed singularly to highbrow intellectuals.

According to Turner, Alfred Knopf's symbol of the borzoi, the Russian wolfhound, simultaneously recalls aristocratic hunting practices, while its midstride pose suggests the publisher's embrace of progressive marketing practices. Turner explains that "Knopf sold the works he published as the functional equivalent of civilization rather than just good books" (89). Particularly in his Thomas Mann campaign, Knopf backed up his opinions about what constituted civilization by writing advertisements in the first person and signing his name as a stamp of approval.

Alfred Harcourt strategically averted the commercial challenges posed by two of the most notoriously difficult modernists, Gertrude Stein and John Dos Passos, by marketing their work as "'novels of ideas'" (11). Ideas, Harcourt professed in his advertisements, should interest anyone inclined to learn something new. Harcourt's campaign worked to blur the line between highbrow and lowbrow culture.

Ernest Hemingway confronted Scribner's with an entirely different challenge that publicist Maxwell Perkins met by shifting the "traditional sense of literary quality" (149). Not ostensibly difficult, Hemingway's style initially appeared too simplistic to garner substantial cultural capital from the intellectual community. Perkins constructed a macho, rebellious image for Hemingway through an aggressive campaign incorporating full-page photographs of the author. His advertisements addressed claims of Hemingway's immorality by exalting personal integrity as a new kind of morality.

The case of James Joyce's Ulysses provides an apt crescendo to Turner's study by exemplifying "the marriage of modernism and commerce" (221). First published in Paris by Sylvia Beach in 1922, Ulysses was banned in America until 1934 due to claims of licentiousness. When Random House finally acquired the rights to publish the novel, its publicists had only to play off its preceding reputation. Smuggling and bootleg operations during the intervening years had generated interest in Joyce's [End Page 106] novel, both as a work of modernism and as an icon of popular culture, that crossed socioeconomic classes. The memorable advertisement published in the Saturday Review of Literature, entitled "How to Enjoy James Joyce's Great Novel Ulysses," suggested that anyone could appreciate the novel.

The case study format of Marketing Modernism allows Turner to treat five publishers thoroughly and enables the scholar quick access to information about a single publisher or author. Unfortunately, the segmentation ultimately prevents the book from yielding a wholistic overview of the marketing industry throughout the interwar period—an overview the concluding chapter, "Readers, Consumption, and Highbrow Culture," falls short of manufacturing. Another disappointment may...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-3033
Print ISSN
2164-8034
Pages
pp. 106-107
Launched on MUSE
2005-03-30
Open Access
No
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