Long before the phrase “indie publishing” was coined, Virginia and Leonard Woolf set out to create a press for written works that larger publishers wouldn’t produce. In 1917, the couple purchased a small hand press, with no previous experience on how to use it.
But under the Woolfs’ ownership, the Hogarth Press introduced readers to literary works that explored emerging thinking of the time, as well as fiction and poetry by new authors, including the Woolfs themselves.
Many of these first editions made their way to WSU’s Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections when the university acquired the Woolfs’ personal library and a second collection of Hogarth Press books in the 1970s. This semester MASC celebrated a century of the press in an exhibit running through Friday, Feb. 23.
“I think that we would be celebrating the Hogarth Press on this 100th anniversary if they had only published Virginia Woolf and nothing else,” said Trevor Bond, head of MASC and associate dean of digital initiatives and special collections at WSU Libraries. “Having the Hogarth Press allowed Virginia Woolf to experiment and develop her unique voice.
“The press, however, did so much more. It published a vast range of innovative titles in poetry, psychology, fiction, politics and criticism,” Bond added.
One scholar’s experience of the press’s publications
Diane Gillespie is a WSU professor emerita of English, specializing in late 19th– and early 20th-century British literature. Her special interest includes Hogarth Press publications, and she is author of The Sisters’ Arts: The Writing and Painting of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, among other titles. She has used the Woolf Library and Bloomsbury Collection in MASC since she started at WSU in 1975.
In The Sisters’ Arts, 31 of the 82 illustrations are of Vanessa Bell’s dust jackets and illustrations for her sister’s stories and novels, all published by the Hogarth Press, Gillespie said.
“I had to travel to do much of the research for this book, but it was wonderful to have these visual materials at my fingertips here in Pullman,” she said. “More recently I’ve become interested in less-known and unexpected publications by the Hogarth Press.”
One of those publications was The Refugees (1938) by Libby Benedict, an American Jewish woman writer who spent much of her time abroad and published mostly short stories and news articles. Gillespie, who wrote a journal article about the pre-World War II novel, considers this among her favorite Hogarth Press-related projects.
“My research on [Benedict] was an attempt to sketch enough of a biography to place her novel in context, to understand the refugee problem of the time and to establish what I could about her connection with the Woolfs and the Hogarth Press,” Gillespie said. “Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas also appeared in 1938, and there are some fascinating parallels between Benedict’s treatment of women’s extra level of displacement and Woolf’s discussion of the different worlds of women and men in Three Guineas.”
The magic of holding a hand-printed book
Books like those in the Hogarth Press collection are a rare pleasure in this age of e-readers and Audible. Gillespie explains why.
“To have a chance to see and carefully touch the early hand-printed Hogarth Press books is magical,” she said. “I can imagine Virginia Woolf setting type and thus paying attention to the importance of every word, every mark of punctuation, every sentence. Her typesetting explains much about her careful drafting, editing and rewriting of her own manuscripts.”
Hogarth Press also paved the way for other independent publishers to continue the Woolfs’ dedication to a lost art, publishers like Making Waves Press, started by Woolf scholar Leslie Kathleen Hankins.
“She has followed in Virginia Woolf’s footsteps and learned to set type, along with all the other techniques, traditional and current, of the publication of all kinds of printed visual and verbal material, from single sheets to books,” Gillespie said. “I applaud this hands-on involvement with the written word and the visual creativity that often accompanies it.”
—Story by Nella Letizia