Reprinting in the Publishing Industry – ‘Re-‘ Seminar

On 4 February I am looking forward to presenting on ‘Reprinting in the Publishing Industry: Business Models, Value, and the (Re)Production of Knowledge’ at the ‘Re- Interdisciplinary Network’ seminar, University of Cambridge, alongside Peter Mandler.

My talk draws on research that will feature in a minigraph (or academic novella?) called Virago Modern Classics: The Timely Business of Feminist Publishing for CUP’s Publishing and Book Publishing ‘Elements’ series.

My ‘element’ will explore how the circulation of different ideas about history in late 70s and early 80s Britain conferred a sense of ‘timeliness’ on the texts Virago re-published.

These textures of historicity – History, Remembrance and Heritage – underpinned Virago’s efforts to reclaim ‘forgotten’ women writers, helping ‘out-of-time’ books become relevant to contemporary audiences.

For the ‘Re-‘ seminar I will be talking about ‘Remembrance’, with particular focus on Virago’s re-publications of works by Vera Brittain and Rebecca West.

Here’s the abstract for my talk:

‘Cultural value, market reach: Virago Modern Classics and the “reprint ecology” of the late 70s publishing industry’

The green spines of Virago’s Modern Classics (VMC) illuminate late twentieth century publishing history. The series converged with the cultural desire to reclaim women’s writing and history, stimulated by the feminist movements of the 1970s; in a business sense reprinting ‘forgotten titles’ by marginalized feminist writers helped transform a ‘considerably undercapitalized’[1] company into a profitable success. Virago’s cultural impact and spread was, however, disproportionate to its capture of the book-buying public. To clearly demonstrate this point, I will discuss Virago’s position within the ‘reprint ecology’ of the late 1970s and early 80s, drawing on the re-publications of Vera Brittain’s Testaments of Youth, Experience and Friendship, published simultaneously by Virago in its Classics series and in mass-market paperback by Fontana amid the ‘explosion of the Vera Brittain industry.’[2]

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[1] ‘Company statement’, Add MS 89178/1/8, The British Library.

[2] Carmen Callil to Paul Berry, 10 Feb 1981, Add MS 88904/1/194, The British Library.

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