Virago Reprints and Modern Classics – 2021

Virago Reprints and Modern Classics: The Timely Business of Feminist Publishing will be published late Spring in Cambridge University Press’s Elements in Publishing and Book Culture series.

It is based on research conducted while I was Research Fellow on the Leverhulme Trust-funded project The Business of Women’s Words: Purpose and Profit in Feminist Publishing (2018-21).

Abstract

Reprinting, republishing and re-covering old books in new clothes is an established commercial publishing practice. How are books that have fallen out of taste and favour resituated by publishers, and recognised by readers, as relevant and timely? This Element outlines three historical textures within British culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s – History, Remembrance and Heritage – that enabled Virago’s reprint publishing to become a commercial and cultural success. With detailed archival case studies of the Virago Reprint Library, Testament of Youth and the Virago Modern Classics, it elaborates how reprints were profitable for the publisher and moved Virago’s books – and the Virago brand name – from the periphery of culture to the centre. Throughout Virago’s reprint publishing – and especially with the Modern Classics – the epistemic revelation that women writers were forgotten and could, therefore, be rediscovered, was repeated, again and again, and made culturally productive through the marketplace.