- Cheap Modernism: Expanding Markets, Publishers' Series, And The Avant-Garde by Lise Jaillant
Within the field of modernist-print-culture study, historical focus has been—understandably, given their influence—centered around little magazines and periodicals. As Lise Jaillant observes in her study Cheap Modernism, this focus has created something of a circular problem—to paraphrase Jaillant, the records found in archives and bibliographies are those that have been deemed worthy of study, and what academia has deemed worthy of study are the resources that have been hallowed in archives and bibliographies. Against the backdrop of influential digital ventures such as the Modernist Journals Project,1 Cheap Modernism is the first study of European uniform reprints series, the affordable format that made texts widely available from the mid-1920s.
Cheap Modernism recognizes the influence of publishers such as Jonathan Cape in bridging the void between the literary coterie and the mass market, and Jaillant's introduction titillates with the prospect of revealing the guerrilla distribution of high modernism. In five chapters, the book focuses on the way in which established authors were utilized as writers of introductions in order to promote lesser-known titles, the accessible reprints of James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence, the domestication of modernism through the Phoenix Library, the continental diffusion of Anglophone modernism, and the uniform edition of the works of Virginia Woolf by the Hogarth Press. Following on from Jaillant's previous work, Modernism, Middlebrow and the Literary Canon: The Modern Library Series, 1917-1955, Cheap Modernism sets out to present the practical ways in which highbrow modernist literature was made not only accessible but attractive to the ordinary reader.2 Throughout, Jaillant successfully argues for the importance of her [End Page 448] study in bettering our conception of the spread of modernist literature. In her introduction, she points towards two key queries, in what becomes a slightly repetitious use of the interrogative: for example, "[w]hy did European series associated with modernism fail to find a public in the years that followed the war? In what format did readers encounter modernist texts, at a time when modernism was institutionalized in the university system?" (19).
While the study of controversy regarding Joyce's publication history is well established,3 scholarship has historically been weighted towards the Ulysses obscenity trials. Jaillant offers an alternative approach, instead contextualizing the legal and social concepts of obscenity and censorship into which Joyce's secondary and tertiary publishers arrived. As a brief history of European censorship circa 1926, this is very useful, although questions go unanswered regarding whether this censorship actually served to heighten the demand for "banned books." Jaillant argues for the existence of a large market for "the most contentious modernist writers—Joyce and Lawrence" (49), but it is unclear whether this market was born of a cultural backlash to censorship or of the artful marketing techniques she articulates in the second chapter. Cheap Modernism here focuses on Jonathan Cape, the publisher of the Travellers' Library series in the United Kingdom, and it quickly becomes apparent that Cape's motivations for publishing Joyce were commercial rather than artistic, a motive which is neatly—albeit briefly—contrasted with that of Sylvia Beach. The chapter takes the form of a "history-of-the-book," in which the publication histories of Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are clearly laid out, and for these efforts Jaillant must be commended, since the statistics of these endeavors were, no doubt, laborious to collate. For scholars of publishing history, Cheap Modernism offers valuable evidence of successful marketing strategies, such as removable price tags, portable sizes, and aesthetically pleasing bindings, as well as the inclusion of color plates from previous editions.
Jaillant fruitfully sets up contrasts between the European and American markets through side-by-side comparisons of marketing campaigns for Dubliners in the British Travellers' Library and the American Modern Library, a juxtaposition that would bear extensive further scrutiny. Of particular interest is the observation that, as the book market moved towards...