Academic journal article Woolf Studies Annual

Leonard & Virginia Woolf, the Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism

Academic journal article Woolf Studies Annual

Leonard & Virginia Woolf, the Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism

Article excerpt

Leonard & Virginia Woolf, The Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism Ed. Helen Southworth (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2010) ix + 276 pp. 13 b&w ill.

Although children are admonished never to judge a book by its cover, if they are lucky enough to be bitten (or smitten) by the book historian's bug at an early age, they have scholarly sanction to ignore such well-meaning but misguided parental advice. The cover of Helen Southworth's engaging, readable, and timely essay collection, Leonard & Virginia Woolf: The Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism, telegraphs a similarly transgressive message, even as its contents declare Woolf's welcome arrival within those hotly contested areas of the new modernist studies being transformed by book historians, sociologists, material modernists and, more recently, digital humanists.

Woolfians will recognize the cover image. With its striking Japanoiserie, art-deco pattern, its geometry of white nodal circles and red triangles generating a web of horizontal and diagonal white lines, it replicates the cover of Two Stories, the inaugural Hogarth Press booklet handprinted in 1917 that coupled Virginia's story "The Mark on the Wall" with Leonard's "Three Jews." Its mesmerizing interconnections of line and circle, triangle and edge in seemingly infinite repetition conjure a visual starburst evoking energy, innovation, and connectivity. Kudos to Edinburgh University Press's production team for designing such a clever dust jacket. You can almost feel the auratic soft-weave texture of the original (pace Walter Benjamin). Perhaps only the too-perfectly positioned title label and glassine cover paper hint otherwise (touche retorts Benjamin). But this tension between "old" book and new critical context is precisely the point. It positions Southworth's edition as both interventionist and differently iconoclastic. Instead of the expected picture of Woolf's face fronting a new book about Woolf's career, we confront a material signifier of the Press itself: a multiform icon that not only foregrounds the Press's institutional significance in Woolf's writing life, but one that also declares it high time critics re-cover new associations between the Hogarth Press, modernism, print culture, and textual criticism.

D. F. McKenzie, the influential bibliographer and pioneering theorist of the "sociology of texts" reminds us that the word 'text' derives from the Latin, texere, "to weave" (13). The strikingly tactile cover of Two Stories even in reproduction encodes multiple material signs about an interweave of narrative, marriage, and business whose ethos of experimentation, alterity, and diversity would become, as Southworth's book freshly reminds us, the non-accidental hallmark of the Hogarth Press as a modernist publishing enterprise. Southworth's wide-ranging introduction skillfully contextualizes the Woolfs' adventures in the book trade within broader pressures affecting the contemporary publishing industry--mapping the tensions and creative possibilities of the intermarriage of art and commerce, private and public ownership, coterie and mass readership, literature and politics--while the nine essays duly support her thesis that "experiment, idiosyncrasy, hybridity and 'heterogeneity' ... were keywords for the Press ..." and that "[collaboration and reciprocity were also indispensable to [its] unique personality" (15).

Southworth's book itself might be said to stake a claim to a "two stories" critical imprimatur: it is only the second monograph publication on the Press, a companion piece of sorts to J. H. Willis's Leonard and Virginia Woolf as Publishers: The Hogarth Press 1917-1941 (1992), which similarly foregrounds the colophon of double-ownership. But Southworth's is no secondary text. Rather, as she points out, the diachronic survey in Willis's book "mostly leaves out the complex and fascinating histories of the diverse network of authors, artists and workers involved with the Woolfs and the work they produced" (15). …

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