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  • Modern Print Artefacts: Textual Materiality and Literary Value in British Print Culture, 1890–1930s by Patrick Collier
  • Andrew Thacker (bio)
Patrick Collier, Modern Print Artefacts: Textual Materiality and Literary Value in British Print Culture, 1890–1930s (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)

To begin to understand the important arguments made in this impressive book one good place to commence is with the “Postscript.” Here, in a short polemic subtitled “Against ‘Modernist Studies,’” Collier articulates why his book has focused upon “modern” rather than “modernist print artefacts,” even though the book appears in the consistently excellent Edinburgh University Press series on “Critical Studies in Modernist Culture’” (full disclosure: I too have a book in this series). For Collier, much work in contemporary modernist studies continues to neglect and ignore the world of “ordinary print culture”in the twentieth century, as exemplified in the places where “a vast majority of the reading and writing in the period got done” (235), that is, popular periodicals and newspapers, mainstream publishing houses, or libraries. His point here reiterates an argument he made in an editorial in the Journal of Modern Periodical Studiesin 2015 when, while discussing definitions of the scope of “modern periodical studies,”Collier concluded by claiming that the category of modernism, however expanded by the New Modernist Studies since the late 1990s, has somewhat hampered the development of modern periodical studies by deciding in advance which magazines are worth studying; that is, twentieth-century periodicals are generally valued or ignored by scholars because of someperceived relationship to a notion of modernism. In his editorial, Collier thus called for an approach that understands a modern magazine [End Page 144] as a “strange object whose codes exceed the ones we are equipped to see, as a potential source of new critical inquiries and conversations rather than as a window onto preexisting, valued critical categories.”1 We are clearly at a moment of terminological uncertainty, whereby there is so much unease around the term “modernism” (for its expanding geographical scope and periodization, or conversely its continued privileging of an restricted notion of what counts as interesting or significant) that a switch from “modernism” to varieties of being “modern,” particularly when we consider the case of magazines, as Collier seems to suggest, might be appealing. Perhaps. But do we really escape some of the problems of terminological inexactitude and expansion if we shift our focus to the term “modern”? Maybe. That, however, is a question for another day, and another book, for Modern Print Artefacts offers a compelling account of a range of strange periodical objects in the early twentieth century.

To attempt to read magazines as modern rather than necessarily modernist and to remedy this neglect of “ordinary print culture” is one of the principal aims of this stimulating and valuable book. In this venture the guiding spirit, as Collier notes, is the work of Raymond Williams who, in his pioneering work on culture and society in the 1950s and 60s, stressed that “culture is ordinary” and was part of the creative lives of everyone rather than just an activity carried out by an elite minority of artists and writers. Collier thus wants to explore what “ordinary” working-class and lower-middle class readers consumed in the vast array of print material published in the early twentieth century, a project building upon, for example, Jonathan Rose’s influential work of book history, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (2001). But Collier’s methodology in the book represents something more than Rose’s book history approach, which by and large eschews any interpretive comment upon the material that was read. Though modern periodical studies has learned much from the methods of book history, it is also informed by theories of reading and interpretation derived from literary criticism and visual culture studies. Thus, in addition to studying what “ordinary” readers read, Collier also wishes to analyze the particular forms embodied in the material textuality of such magazines and the values that such formal modes expressed. Influential work by George Bornstein and Jerome McGann has already drawn attention to how modernist print culture signifies not only in its semantic content but also by means of its...


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pp. 144-150
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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