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The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain is an authoritative series which surveys the history of publishing, bookselling, authorship and reading in Britain. This seventh and final volume surveys the twentieth and twenty-first centuries from a range of perspectives in order to create a comprehensive guide, from growing professionalisation at the beginning of the twentieth century, to the impact of digital technologies at the end. Its multi-authored focus on the material book and its manufacture broadens to a study of the book's authorship and readership, and its production and dissemination via publishing and bookselling. It examines in detail key market sectors over the course of the period, and concludes with a series of essays concentrating on aspects of book history: the book in wartime; class, democracy and value; books and other media; intellectual property and copyright; and imperialism and post-imperialism.
At the beginning of Arthur Conan Doyle's story of ‘The Five Orange Pips’, Dr Watson is found seated at the fire ‘deep in one of Clark Russell's fine sea-stories’. A storm is outside, and as he reads, the Doctor feels ‘the howl of the gale … blend with the text’ and ‘the splash of the rain … lengthen out into the long swash of the literary sea waves’. William Clark Russell (1844–1911) was the greatest late Victorian nautical novelist. Author of over forty full-length sea stories published between 1875 and 1905, his stirring ship adventures and poetic sea descriptions were widely admired by his contemporaries. To Edwin Arnold he was ‘the prose Homer of the great ocean’ and to Swinburne ‘the greatest master of the sea, living or dead’. King George V was another passionate devotee and many other contemporaries, including Robert Louis Stevenson and George Meredith, read and admired his works. His reputation spread internationally. In America, where he enjoyed an even greater popularity than in his home country, he was seen as a rival to James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville. His stories were also translated into several European languages, including Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, German, Spanish and French (oddly, in view of his attitude towards Britain's persistent naval enemy). When Joseph Conrad began his literary career in the 1890s it was Russell who was instantly identified as his progenitor as a writer of sea stories.
As I have argued in previous chapters, when Russell began writing sea stories he was confronted with a set of market obstacles. Since the 1840s, when the vogue for nautical novels ended, the genre had been relegated to popular cultural and physical forms. The fiction of W. H. G. Kingston, for example, was published mainly for the juvenile market. During the 1870s, when Russell's early sea stories were written, Kingston published many titles, including Ben Burton (1872), The Three Midshipmen (1873), and The Three Admirals (1877), all of which appeared in single-volume illustrated editions priced at 3s.6d. or 6s. One of Russell's great achievements was his restoration of the sea story to the main structures of the literary marketplace. Having begun his career convinced that the market could support only domestic fiction aimed at female readers, he discovered that sea stories, far from being restricted to juvenile or popular readerships, could be circulated in the same markets and the same bibliographical formats as the work of other leading novelists of the day. In fact, the publishing history of his books, like his serials, is highly representative of general trends in the fiction market. His publisher and agent successfully marketed his works by exploiting the tremendous range of markets and physical formats in which books could appear in the final quarter of the nineteenth century.