Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture

Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture

Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture

Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture


This book explores the literary culture of Britain's radical press from 1880 to 1910, a time that saw a flourishing of radical political activity as well as the emergence of a mass print industry. While Enlightenment radicals and their heirs had seen free print as an agent of revolutionary transformation, socialist, anarchist and other radicals of this later period suspected that a mass public could not exist outside the capitalist system. In response, they purposely reduced the scale of print by appealing to a small, counter-cultural audience. "Slow print," like "slow food" today, actively resisted industrial production and the commercialization of new domains of life.

Drawing on under-studied periodicals and archives, this book uncovers a largely forgotten literary-political context. It looks at the extensive debate within the radical press over how to situate radical values within an evolving media ecology, debates that engaged some of the most famous writers of the era (William Morris and George Bernard Shaw), a host of lesser-known figures (theosophical socialist and birth control reformer Annie Besant, gay rights pioneer Edward Carpenter, and proto-modernist editor Alfred Orage), and countless anonymous others.


H. G. Wells's 1906 utopian novel In the Days of the Comet takes place in a socialist future where newspapers have become “strange to us—like the ‘Empires,’ the ‘Nations,’ the Trusts, and all the other great monstrous shapes” of the past (75). the narrator, an old man who remembers the capitalist days before “the Great Change,” describes late Victorian commercial print culture to an audience of postprint socialists, and he emphasizes above all its speed.

[Imagine] a hastily erected and still more hastily designed building in a dirty,
paper-littered back street of old London, and a number of shabbily dressed men
coming and going in this with projectile swiftness, and within this factory com
panies of printers, tensely active with nimble fingers—they were always speeding
up the printers—ply their type-setting machines, and cast and arrange masses
of metal in a sort of kitchen inferno, above which, in a beehive of little brightly lit
rooms, dishevelled men sit and scribble. There is a throbbing of telephones and
a clicking of telegraph needles, a rushing of messengers, a running to and fro of
heated men, clutching proofs and copy. Then begins a clatter roar of machinery
catching the infection, going faster and faster, and whizzing and banging—engi
neers, who have never had time to wash since their birth, flying about with oil
cans, while paper runs off its rolls with a shudder of haste. the proprietor you must
suppose arriving explosively on a swift motor-car, leaping out before the thing is at
a standstill, with letters and documents clutched in his hand, rushing in, resolute
to “hustle.” … You imagine all the parts of this complex lunatic machine working
hysterically towards a crescendo of haste and excitement as the night wears on. (76)

The passage is a study in velocity. Words such as “haste,” “projectile,” “swift,” “speed,” “rush,” “fast,” and “run” fly as the narrator exhausts . . .

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