William Collins during World War II: Nationalism Meets a Wartime Economy in Canadian Publishing

By Campbell, Grant | Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

William Collins during World War II: Nationalism Meets a Wartime Economy in Canadian Publishing


Campbell, Grant, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada


In the early 1940s, Canadian publishing underwent profound changes, resulting from economic and cultural pressures related to Canada's involvement in the Second World War. In particular, the rise of Canadian nationalism infiltrated the day-to-day business decisions of publishing to produce a curious blend of economy and extravagance in book production. We are accustomed to discussing nationalist themes within the content of literary works, and the ways that certain poems, songs, and novels embody the spirit of a particular nation at a particular time. The history of the Canadian branch of William Collins Sons and Company during the 1940s, however, suggests that nationalist themes spread beyond the words of texts and into the production of the physical texts themselves. Three sets of archival records shed light upon this prominent and influential publisher: those of Franklin Appleton, founder of Collins's Canadian branch; of Grace Campbell, whose first two novels were published by Collins in 1942 and 1944; and of the Hunter Rose Company, one of three main printing companies in Toronto. Evidence from these sources suggests that trade publishing in English Canada underwent an explosive period of growth during the Second World War, a growth which strained the resources of Canadian printers and publishers as they struggled with severe paper and labour shortages. Despite these wartime constrictions, however, Collins under Appleton's direction achieved remarkably high standards of book design, standards that were dictated not merely by aesthetic concerns but by a political and ideological response to Canada's role in world events.

This analysis draws on two familiar models of book production: Robert Darnton's "Communications Circuit"(2) and Adams and Barker's "Socio-Economic Conjuncture."(3) Both models show political, intellectual, economic, and social forces acting upon the cycle of publishing, from creation, through manufacture and distribution, to use and reception. Even more important, both models are founded on a two-way interaction between book and context. Books, Darnton argues, "do not merely recount history; they make it.(4) Adams and Barker posit an "interplay between external forces and the various processes through which the book goes."(5) When we look at the evidence of publishing at William Collins Sons and Company in Canada during the Second World War, we find that publishing influenced the social life of Canada, even as it was influenced by it.

From Book to Context: How Publishers Could Win the War

Let us begin with one pattern of influence. During World War II, Canada was passing through a period common to many nations, in which the everyday behaviour of its citizens and businesses had gathered intense significance in relation to international events. Early in 1942, the Junior Stationers' Guild in Toronto was treated to an impassioned speech by Norman E. Wainwright, Administrator of Converted Paper Products under the Wartime Prices and Trade Board. After defending the Board's unpopular imposition of price ceilings, he went on to define how Canadian businesses could affect the events occurring on the world stage:

   Each of us is now regarded as a potential fighter or a potential producer.
   Unless we can contribute to the war effort through our services in the
   forces, through our work, through our money, or through our spirit, we have
   no economic justification for existence today.(6)

Evidently, Wainwright failed to impress his baleful audience; Quill and Quire refused to publish the first half of the speech, denouncing it as mere "political diatribe."(7) Nonetheless, his statement indicates how deeply the war had infiltrated business activity and daily life in Canada. No decision, however minor, could be divorced from political and ideological concerns. Like the English during the 1790s, who became anxious that their slightest actions would manifest either their approval or their condemnation of the French Revolution, Canadians during the 1940s experienced a heightened self-consciousness about their lives and work, a sense that their small, individual actions could and would make a difference to the conflict overseas. …

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