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  • Empires of Print: Adventure Fiction in the Magazines, 1899–1919 by Patrick Scott Belk
  • David Finkelstein (bio)
Empires of Print: Adventure Fiction in the Magazines, 1899–1919. By Patrick Scott Belk. London: Routledge. 2017. xv + 247 pp. £105. isbn 978 1 4724 4114 0 (hard-back); 978 1 315 56576 7 (e-book).

For British and American publishers and periodical producers, the period 1880 to 1914 was one of great change and innovation. Shifts in technology enabled more sophisticated intertwining of print and visual media, with popular mass-media journals such as the Illustrated London News and the Strand (in the UK) and Argosy, The Popular Magazine, and Munsey's Magazine (in the US) becoming apt spaces for embedding appealing illustrations into serialized popular adventure tales and other mass-appeal genre works. The development of the telegraph as a transnational communication tool, the reuse of popular print works in stage productions and in the newly emerging silent movie industry of the early twentieth century, and the rise of the literary agent in negotiating rights and licensing agreements for authorial work, attested to the transformation of the media landscape of the period. By the turn of the twentieth century, authors were no longer involved in negotiating simple transfers of works from serialized publication in genteel literary monthlies to book publication and then cheap-format republication, but were enveloped within a larger transnational media ecosystem. Patrick Scott Belk explores what this meant for some key, successful navigators of this transformed landscape. He offers well-honed case studies on four major exponents operating during a period Roger Lancelyn Green dubbed the 'Age of the Storyteller', from the 1890s, when Joseph Conrad began publishing unsettling tales set in overseas spaces, up to the end of the First World War and John Buchan's publication of a clutch of adventure tales featuring the rugged British spy and adventurer Hannay, hero of The 39 Steps (1915), Greenmantle (1916), and Mr Standfast (1919).

The work is divided into five chapters, with the first offering an overview of late nineteenth-century periodical expansion in the UK and the US. As Belk points out, the rise of the adventure tale as an anchor in mass-audience periodicals in the Anglophone world coincided with a huge expansion in reading audiences and the technological means to publish and distribute press outputs faster, more efficiently, and in larger quantities. The number of periodical titles published in the UK, for example, rose from 2252 in 1875 to 7725 in 1922, while in the US numbers over corresponding years rose from 2402 to 10,986. This was accompanied by a global expansion of UK and American publishing activity into overseas English-speaking markets, with a corresponding demand for tales set in foreign lands. Belk is strong in his analysis of the factors that facilitate the rise of the popular magazine during this period, and offers a welter of statistics in useful appendices covering publication titles, serial rights payments, commercial statistics, copyright legislation, and pulp magazine circulation figures.

Similar details inform the four case studies that follow, focusing on the serialization of Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim (1899), H. G. Wells's Tono-Bungay (1909), Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912), and John Buchan's The 39 Steps (1915) and Mr Standfast (1919). Belk employs a blend of historical and book history inflected tools alongside standard literary critical analysis of content to survey how the material conditions of publication sat alongside textual themes covered by each author. In Conrad's case, Belk argues that the proto-modernist yet critical approach of Conrad sat well within the textual space of Blackwood's Magazine, the [End Page 93] conservative, anti-modernist monthly journal in which it was serialized. This is not a new argument, but it is set here to contrast with the manner in which Conrad's contemporaries would prove more sophisticated in their use of serialization both in the UK and the US to achieve commercial success, gain more exposure for their work, and grapple with themes incorporating the changing media landscape within which they worked. In Tono Bungay (1909), Wells incorporated into the plot...


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