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Chapter 1 from Art and Commerce in the British Short Story, 1880–1950

Chapter 1 from Art and Commerce in the British Short Story, 1880–1950

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The first chapter from the book, Art and Commerce in the British Short Story, 1880–1950, published by Pickering & Chatto
The first chapter from the book, Art and Commerce in the British Short Story, 1880–1950, published by Pickering & Chatto

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Published by: Pickering and Chatto on Jan 30, 2013
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05/14/2014

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– 1 –
1 ECONOMICS AND THE FLOWERING OF THEBRITISH SHORT STOR
Tis book will argue throughout that the rise and all o the British short story is intimately connected to the economics o its writing and publishing. Tis initsel is hardly a new or controversial statement, as literary historians and criticshave long asserted the connection between the development o the short story as a genre and the rise o the periodical press and its need or copy that wouldappeal to a variety o readers. Te relevance o economics to publishing has by now a considerable history and pedigree, although most o this work in boththeory and practice has ocused on the novel. An early exception to this obser- vation is William Charvat’s
 Literary Publishing in America 1790–1850 
(1959)and his
Te Proession o Authorship in America
,
1800–1870 
(1968), both o  which have useul comments about the rise o magazines and the productiono short stories. More clearly ocused on the short story is Frederick Lewis Pat-tee’s
Te Development o the American Short Story
(1923), and all o this work has been brought up to date in Andrew Levy’s
Te Culture and Commerce o  the American
 
Short Story
(1993), but o course these studies ocus on Americanrather than British literature.Numerous books deal in general with economics and publishing condi-tions in Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among these arePer Gedin,
 Literature in the Marketplace
(1977), John Vernon,
 Money and Fic-tion
(1984), N. N. Feltes,
 Modes o Production o Victorian Novels
(1986), JohnO. Jordan and Robert L. Patten (eds),
 Literature and the Marketplace
(1995),Richard Ohmann,
Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the urno the Century
(1996), Ian Wilson, et al.,
 Modernist Writers and the Marketplace
 (1996), J. B. Bullen (ed.),
Writing and Victorianism
(1997), Peter D. McDonald,
 British Literary Culture and Publishing Practice
, 1880–1914 (1997), Joyce Piell Wexler,
Who Paid or Modernism? 
(1997), Paul Delany,
Literature, Money and the Market From rollope to Amis
(2002) and Alissa G. Karl,
 Modernism and the Marketplace
(2009).Unortunately rare are detailed histories o the British short story that takeinto account economic actors. wo exceptions are Wendell Harris’s
 British
 
2
 Art and Commerce in the British Short Story, 1880–1950 
Short Fiction in the Nineteenth Century: A Literary and Bibliographic Guide
 (1979) and Harold Orel’s
Te Victorian Short Story
(1986). Between them, they  provide an important literary history o the British short story. Harris’s book surveys numerous British authors and their attempts at and contributions to theshort ction o the nineteenth century. Orel’s study ocuses on nine writers rom William Carleton to Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells, examining in greater detailthan Harris does the literary achievement o each and relating that achievement,at least generally, to the economics o magazine publication. More recently still,several specialized studies o individual authors have added to our understand-ing o the economics o short story writing in Britain. Philip Horne’s ‘Henry  James and the Economy o the Short Story’ (1996) careully analyses Jamessstruggles to accommodate himsel to the prevailing market (especially its limitson length) and provides data on the income he derived rom short story writing rom 1889
 
to 1910. Horne’s study itsel ollows up on Michael Anesko’s largerstudy,
‘Friction with the Market’: Henry James and the Proession o Authorship
(1986). Other such studies include John Worthen’s
 D. H. Lawrence: A Literary Lie
(1989) and his ollow-up to that in ‘D. H. Lawrence and the “ExpensiveEdition Business”’ (1996). Most recently, Winnie Chan has careully analysedthree prominent periodicals – the
Yellow Book
,
Black and White
and the
Strand 
 – to show ‘how print culture and the politics o burgeoning modernism shapeda literary orm that, in its oscillation between mass culture and high art, was inact emblematic o early modernism’.
1
  Winnie Chan’s study is in the tradition o ‘materialist’ theory, and to someextent my own study has ‘materialist’ elements, but rather than ocus on thematerial cause and efect regarding the British story o this period, I will empha-size the writer as an independent producer in a capitalist system, responding tobut not ‘overdetermined’ by the conditions o production and dissemination. Inother words, I see the author as a ree agent working within a system in whichhe or she has a product to sell and uses existing market mechanisms to earn a liv-ing. o some extent, o course, authors cannot help but be afected by economicorces and market conditions they consciously recognize and unconsciously respond to, orces and conditions that will to some extent inuence the subjectmatter, length, style, tone, atmosphere, etc., o their ction. Having said this,however, I treat authors as ree agents successully navigating the capitalist pub-lishing system o the time to write and prot rom short ction that expressedtheir thematic, stylistic and aesthetic ends.A theoretical ground work or this approach has been laid by Paul Delany, who argues,
the Foucauldian model o literary culture as a dominating and relatively impersonaldiscursive eld devalues not only the ontological objectivity o authors, but also theireconomic subjectivity as it engages with the systems o literary production. Gissing’s
 
 
 Economics and the Flowering o the British Short Story
3New Grub Street, or example, recognizes the blind orces o market and genre, butalso shows the impact o these orces on the aspirations o individual authors.
2
Another way to express my method is to align it with the sociological approachto economics and literature as exemplied, or example, by D. F. McKenzie.
3
 Such an approach ocuses on the details o transactions within literary com-merce. Tis is not to ignore the ideological actors that impinged on authorsand their stories, but it is to see these stories as individual products, not simply as consequences o the economic base. In many respects, I will be attempting toollow the suggestions o Ian Small:
My suggestion will be that a proper understanding o the nature o the relationshipbetween the literary and the economic will require both these areas o research to bebrought together. In particular we should expect to nd some congruence between theideological concerns which materialist critics have identied and the specicities o the transactions o the literary market-place which text-sociologists have unearthed.
4
My contention is that, in the period covered by this study, the market or shortction became su ciently broad, deep, varied and exible to accommodate all writers o talent and many o very limited abilities. Moreover, the short story market as it matured during the 1890s was such that writers could use it to beginand/or advance their careers, support themselves (and oen their amilies), anddevelop as writers until, typically, their novels could become su ciently well-known and sell enough copies to allow them to live in middle-class comort.Tis, at least, is a common career path o writers in this period – a path made possible by the existence o a short story market that could accommodate theirtalents and vision. Moreover, as will later be discussed, authors were to a largeextent reed rom having to second-guess the needs and preerences o audiencesby the combination o agents and editors, who together acted as intermediariesbetween authors and readers, enabling writers to produce their stories withoutocusing on whether potential audiences would respond avourably. In other words, as much o the correspondence between authors and their agents willlater reveal, authors wrote their stories and sent them to agents who in turnofered them to the editors o magazines they thought would most likely acceptthem. Editors, in return, requently explained why a given story was not suitableor ofered suggestions or revision that agents could convey to authors. Authorscould then act on the advice o agents and/or editors or not – as they thoughtbest. Agents in particular relieved authors o tedious work and also negotiatedbetween authors and editors, oen smoothing ru ed authorial eathers in the process. Te ramework within which this study will operate is outlined by Richard A. Pearson’s ‘Six Constraints o the Production o Literary Works’, in which the six ‘constraints’ are technology, law, industry structure, organizationalstructure, careers and markets.
5
o this we can add two additional ‘constraints’ –

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