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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 July 2014
The terrain of British intellectual life in the twentieth century was dominated by two major features: freelance writers and university scholars. At the elite level, as Noel Annan showed, the two types—independent thinkers and academics—can be treated as one class, linked by personal connections and by common attitudes arising largely from the old school tie. However, when intellectuals beyond the elite stratum are surveyed, it becomes clear that the fortunes of these two features of the intellectual landscape differed sharply. The university teachers grew rapidly in number and made themselves into what Harold Perkin calls “the key profession.” But as John Gross has contended, freelance writers, despite a rich heritage from the nineteenth century, seemed, especially in their own eyes, to form an old and decaying mountain range. From 1880 to 1980 freelance writers experienced a pervasive and intensifying sense of crisis in their trade and in their cultural role. John Wain, a successful novelist and critic, stated the matter plainly in 1973: contemplation of the difficulties of “being an author,” he said, always threw him into “a black depression in which I could slash my wrists.”
How can one explain the pessimism of freelance writers, their sense of being increasingly marginalized? Were their complaints simply habitual expressions of a writerly pose common since the romantic period? After all, many of the broad social and cultural trends in Britain between 1880 and 1980 should have been advantageous to independent writers.
1 Annan, Noel, Our Age: English Intellectuals Between the Wars—A Group Portrait (New York, 1990)Google Scholar.
2 Perkin, Harold, The Key Profession: the History of the Association of University Teachers (New York, 1969)Google Scholar.
3 I have chosen these approximate dates because they seem to mark out an epoch in British intellectual life. The period begins with the emergence of estheticism, modernism, modern academic disciplines, and the vocabulary of intellectuals in the late-Victorian years; and it ends with the flowering of Thatcherite anti-intellectualism and a revolution in information technology in the 1980s.
4 Wain, John, “Not a Profession but a Condition,” in Findlater, Richard, ed., Author! Author! (London, 1984), p. 301Google Scholar. Since they worked in the print medium, throughout this paper I define freelance or independent intellectuals as the men and women of letters who wrote for a relatively broad general audience to whom they were connected by a market for published works.
6 Ibid, Chapter 11, “Epilogue.”
7 For these difficulties, see Findlater, Richard, The Book Writers: Who Are They? (London, 1966), pp. 6–7Google Scholar. As for the Census, there is no sure way to tell what proportion of the larger group given in the censuses were authors, and besides, the line between “authors” and “journalists” has never been absolutely clear. However, the most knowledgeable person, Richard Findlater, of the Society of Authors, estimated in 1962 that the number of authors stood at between 6,500 and 7,000. The 1961 census total for the group of authors, editors, and journalists was about 28,000; hence the proportion of authors was about 25% of the total. Applying that admittedly rough rule of thumb to the census figures for the century yields the figures in Table 1. See Findlater, , What Are Writers Worth? (London, 1963)Google Scholar; and Victor Bonham-Carter, Authors by Profession, 2 vols (London, 1978), 2:93.
9 For the figures for the years 1835–1935, see Altick, Richard, “The Sociology of Authorship: the Social Origins, Education, and Occupations of 1,100 British Writers, 1800–1935,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library (06 1962): 392Google Scholar; and Firchow, Peter, ed., The Writer's Place: Interviews on the Literary Situation in Contemporary Britain (Minneapolis, 1974), p. 9Google Scholar. The figures for 1935–85 have been obtained from the selection of writers in Drabble, Margaret, ed., The Oxford Companion to English Literature (Oxford, 1995)Google Scholar. Figures for the twentieth century exclude academics who published solely scholarly work, Biographical information also comes from the DNB, Who Was Who, and Rogal, Samuel J., The Education of the British Literati (Lampeter, 1992)Google Scholar.
10 Jim McGuigan found a similar trend among the writers who received grants from the Arts Council from 1964 to 1977, during which period 68% of the recipients had attended a university. McGuigan, , Writers and the Arts Council (London, 1981), pp. 52–53Google Scholar.
11 Vincent, David, Literacy and Popular Culture: England, 1750–1914 (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 1–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Vincent shows that some older men and women, who did not have the advantages of the Education Acts of 1870 and 1880, sustained an element of illiteracy in England until the inter-war years (pp. 28–29).
12 Mitchell, B. R., British Historical Statistics (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 805–09Google Scholar. The figures for intervening years were: in 1930, more than 545,000; in 1955, more than 2.1 million. All of these figures exclude Ireland and Northern Ireland.
13 Ibid., pp. 811–13; and Central Statistical Office (UK), Regional Trends (London, 1983), p. 76Google Scholar. Figures exclude Northern Ireland.
15 McAleer, Joseph, Popular Reading and Publishing in Britain, 1914–1950 (Oxford, 1982), pp. 23–25Google Scholar.
16 See The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook for each year.
17 These figures are derived from a careful examination of the lists of magazines and journals in The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook for 1922 and 1980.
18 Sources for numbers of books published: Whitaker's Almanac; Michael Lane, Books and Publishers: Commerce against Culture in Postwar Britain (Lexington, Mass., 1980), p. 2Google Scholar; and Mumby, F. A. and Norrie, Ian, Publishing and Bookselling (5th ed.; London, 1974), Appendix A, pp. 569–71Google Scholar. The population figures include Ireland down to 1921, and Northern Ireland thereafter.
19 For newspapers, see Seymour-Ure, Colin, The British Press and Broadcasting since 1945 (Oxford, 1991), pp. 27–33Google Scholar.
20 The figures are for new books published; those for 1937 and 1955 taken from Appendix A of Mumby, and Norrie, , Publishing and Bookselling, pp. 569–71Google Scholar; those for 1980 are from Whitaker's Almanac for 1982.
22 Ibid., p. 156.
23 Kelly, Thomas, A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain, 1845–1965 (London, 1973), pp. 380–82Google Scholar. Of course, many readers read both “serious” and “light” fiction; the audiences for the two were never entirely separate.
26 Morpurgo, J. E., Allen Lane, King Penguin: A Biography (London, 1979), pp. 81–82, 89, 90–100Google Scholar.
28 Quoted in Carey, John, The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880–1939 (London, 1992), p. 7Google Scholar.
29 Masterman, C. F. G., The Condition of England, ed. with an Introduction by Boulton, J. T. (London, 1960), p. 75Google Scholar.
30 Quoted in Coates, John, Chesterton and the Edwardian Cultural Crisis (Hull, 1984), p. 55Google Scholar. See also Chesterton, , “A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls,” in The Defendant (new ed.; London, n.d.)Google Scholar; and “The Case for the Ephemeral,” in All Things Considered (10th ed.; London, 1916)Google Scholar.
32 The best recent survey of scholarship on literacy and reading in the early modern period is Barry, Jonathan, “Literacy and Literature in Popular Culture: Reading and Writing in Historical Perspective,” in Harris, Tim, ed., Popular Culture in England, c.1500–1850 (New York, 1995), pp. 69–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
33 The best studies of reading in the nineteenth century show that reading “good” books was largely a matter for the middle and upper classes, with some participation by craftsmen—the aristocracy of labor. See: Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution, Pt 2, ch. 2; Altick, Richard, The English Common Reader (Chicago, 1957)Google Scholar; Webb, R. K., The British Working Class Reader, 1790–1848 (London, 1955)Google Scholar; David Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture: England, 1750–1914. See also Rose, Jonathan, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven, 2001)Google Scholar.
35 Shayer, Teaching of English, ch. 4–5; Williams, The Long Revolution, pt. 2, ch. 1.
39 The best analysis of the content of the popular press is still Hoggart's, RichardThe Uses of Literacy (New York, 1970), especially ch. 6 and 7Google Scholar; though it has been criticized as elitist by LeMahieu, Daniel, A Culture for Democracy: Mass Communication and the Cultivated Mind in Britain between the Wars (Oxford, 1988), especially ch. 1 and 2Google Scholar.
42 For an insider's view of the job of literary editor, see Curtis, Anthony, Lit Ed: on Reviewing and Reviewers (Manchester, 1998)Google Scholar.
43 Ibid., ch. 3.
45 Reed, The Popular Magazine, ch. 5.
46 Gross, , Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters, pp. 243–47Google Scholar. For the TLS, see Curtis, Lit Ed, ch. 9; the interview with Hamilton, Ian in Firchow, , ed., The Writer's Place, pp. 154–62Google Scholar; and May, Derwent, Critical Times: The History of the Times Literary Supplement (London 2000), chs. 1-2Google Scholar.
48 Sinfield, , ed., Society and Literature, 1945–1970, p. 133Google Scholar; and interview with Lasky, Melvin in Firchow, , ed., The Writer's Place, pp. 224–38Google Scholar. See also: Coleman, Peter, The Liberal Conspiracy: the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe (New York, 1989)Google Scholar; and Saunders, Frances Stonor, Who Paid the Piper: the CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London, 1999)Google Scholar.
49 The figure for the 1920s and 1930s is from McAleer, , Popular Reading and Publishing, p. 47Google Scholar; earlier numbers can be seen in the lists in the monthly Bookseller and the annual Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.
50 The nomenclature is from Feltes, N. N., Literary Capital and the Late-Victorian Novel (Madison, Wisc., 1993), pp. 18–20Google Scholar.
51 Ibid., ch. 2.
52 The story is told by Warburg, Frederic in his Occupation for a Gentleman (London, 1959), pp. 89–90Google Scholar.
53 Griest, Guinevere, Mudie's Circulating Library and the Victorian Novel (Bloomington, 1970)Google Scholar.
55 Ibid, pp. 242–45.
56 See Bonham-Carter, Authors by Profession, 1:ch. 10.
59 The label is from Frederic Warburg's autobiography, An Occupation for Gentlemen. Michael Lane calls them “traditional” publishers in his excellent Books and Publishers: Commerce against Culture in Postwar Britain.
60 Woolf, Leonard, Downhill All the Way: An Autobiography of the Years 1919–1939 (London, 1967), p. 159Google Scholar; Joseph, Richard, Michael Joseph: Master of Words (Southampton, 1986), p. 127Google Scholar. See also Hayes, Michael, “Popular Fiction, 1930–1955,” in Day, Gary, ed., Literature and Culture (London, 1997), p.71Google Scholar.
62 T. S. Eliot was published by Faber & Gwyer, Faber and Faber, and Hogarth; D. H. Lawrence by Martin Seeker and Duckworth; Wyndham Lewis by Chatto & Windus; James Joyce by Egoist Press, Faber and Faber, and John Lane; and Virginia Woolf by Hogarth.
63 For discussions of the list publishers and their goals between the Wars, see: Joseph, , Michael Joseph, pp. 127, 202–03Google Scholar; Lane, Books and Publishers, ch. 2, 4; and Stuart Laing, “The Production of Literature,” in Sinfield, ed., Society and Literature, ch. 5.
68 Estimates varied, but roughly speaking, before 1939 a publisher needed to sell only about 500 books of a printing of 1,000 to make a profit; but after World War II it would require selling 1,800 of 2,000, and by the 1960s over 2,000 sales were required. McAleer, , Popular Reading and Publishing, pp. 51–54Google Scholar; see also the remarks by Johnson, Pamela Hansford in Firchow, , ed., The Writer's Place, p. 209Google Scholar.
69 There are a number of excellent analyses of troubles in the book publishing industry between 1960 and 1980; see: Mann, From Author to Reader, Lane, Books and Publishers; and Sutherland, Fiction and the Fiction Industry.
73 Ibid, p. 23; Firchow, , ed., The Writer's Place, p. 254Google Scholar; Hoffman, Eva, “The Super Bowl of Fiction,” New York Times Book Review, 11. 26, 1995, p. 35Google Scholar. Todd, Richard, Consuming Fictions: The Booker Prize and Fiction in Britain Today (London, 1996), pp. 55–56Google Scholar. The sales impact of the Booker prize escalated in the 1980s, and it has often been said that winning the Booker Prize increased sales by between 40,000 and 80,000. See Todd, , Consuming Fictions, p. 19 and ch. 3Google Scholar.
74 For the U.S.A., see Epstein, Jason, “The Rattle of Pebbles,” New York Review of Books, 04 27, 2000, pp. 55–59Google Scholar.
77 Ibid., ch. 8.
78 See, for example, Golding, William, “On the Crest of the Wave,” in Spender, Stephen, ed., The Writer's Dilemma (London, 1961), p. 42Google Scholar.
80 Todd, Consuming Fictions, ch. 2, 3.
83 See, for example, Gissing, George, New Grub Street, ed. by Howe, Irving (Boston, 1962), p. 43Google Scholar.
85 Wain, John, “Not a Profession but a Condition,” in Findlater, , ed., Author! Author!, pp. 302–04Google Scholar.
86 One sign of the times was the large number of manuals and guides for aspiring authors that were published. See, for example, Bennett, Arnold, How to Become an Author: A Practical Guide (London, 1903)Google Scholar; Bennett, Arnold, Journalism for Women: A Practical Guide (London, 1898)Google Scholar; anonymous, How to Write a Novel (London, 1900)Google Scholar; anonymous, How to Publish; Or, the Author's Handbook (London, 1908)Google Scholar; Joseph, Michael, Journalism for Profit (London, 1924)Google Scholar.
91 The wage rates for workers in this and subsequent paragraphs are from Butler, David and Butler, Gareth, British Political Facts, 1900–1985 (New York, 1986), pp. 357–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar. There is much additional information on wages and salaries in Perkin, Harold, The Rise of Professional Society: England since 1880 (London, 1989), pp. 106–07, 247, 270–71, 425–27, 457–58, 461CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
95 See Shelden, Michael, Friends of Promise: Cyril Connolly and the World of Horizon (London, 1989), pp. 152–54Google Scholar; Allen, Walter, “Critical Times for Authors,” Supplement to The Author 63, 3 (Spring 1953): 1Google Scholar; Richard Findlater, What Are Authors Worth?; and idem, The Book Writers: Who Are They?.
96 Findlater, , What Are Authors Worth, p. 3Google Scholar; and The Book Writers: Who Are They, pp. 7–9.
97 Ibid., 2:145. For comparison, The New Statesman, notorious among writers for its low pay, gave only ten guineas per thousand words in 1952 and eighteen in 1967; the TLS paid only seven guineas in 1952 and ten in 1967.
99 Valentine Cunningham, “Unto Him (or Her) Hath,” TLS (September 11, 1998), pp. 12–13; and Pritchett, V. S., interview in Firchow, , ed., The Writer's Place, p. 277Google Scholar.
105 Woolf, Leonard, Downhill All the Way: An Autobiography of the Years, 1919–1939 (London, 1967), pp. 61–62, 132Google Scholar.
110 Briggs, Asa, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: Vol. II: The Golden Age of Wireless (Oxford, 1965), pp. 56–63, 126–28, 143–50Google Scholar.
112 Quoted in ibid., p. 74.
115 Ibid., p. 1.
117 For the reaction of American literary intellectuals against universities, see Biel, Steven, Independent Intellectuals in the United States, 1910–1945 (New York, 1992)Google Scholar.
120 See his interview in Firchow, , ed., The Writer's Place, pp. 21–22Google Scholar; for Pritchett's view, see p. 280.
121 Mainly teaching English literature rather than creative writing, which most regarded as unteachable.
124 Ibid., p. 194.
126 Shils, Edward, “The Intellectuals. I. Great Britain,” Encounter (04 1955), pp 5–16Google Scholar; Annan, Our Age.
131 See, for example, the interviews with Drabble, Margaret and Hughes, Richard in Firchow, , ed., The Writer's Place, pp. 102–20; and 184–208Google Scholar; and Murry, J. Middleton, Between Two Worlds: the Autobiography of John Middleton Murry (New York, 1936)Google Scholar; Burgess, Anthony, in Findlater, , Author! Author!, p. 279Google Scholar; Pritchett, V. S., A Cab at the Door, p. 107Google Scholar; and Drabble, Margaret, Arnold Bennett (New York, 1974) ch. 3Google Scholar.
132 See Bonham-Carter, Authors by Profession, esp. ch. 3–5.
134 The “sacralization” phrase comes from Levine, Lawrence W., Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), pt. 2Google Scholar. See also Carey, Intellectuals and the Masses; Heyck, Transformation of Intellectual Life in Victorian England, ch. 7; and Eliot, T. S., “Arnold and Pater,” Selected Essays, 1917–1932 (London, 1932), pp. 346–57Google Scholar.
135 Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy.
136 Graves, Robert and Hodge, Alan, The Long Week End: A Social History of Great Britain, 1918–1939 (New York, 1941), p. 40Google Scholar; see also: Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow; the Oxford English Dictionary; and McAleer, , Popular Reading and Publishing in Britain, pp. 7–8, 248Google Scholar. For examples of usages of the terms, see: Connolly, Cyril, Enemies of Promise, p. 214Google Scholar; and Briggs, Asa, Golden Age of Wireless, p. 296Google Scholar. See also: Williams, , The Long Revolution, pp. 242–43Google Scholar; Hayes, Michael, “Popular Fiction, 1930–1955,” in Day, , ed., Literature and Culture in Modern Britain, p. 80Google Scholar; and Collini, “Lament for a Lost Culture,” pp. 4–5.
139 Leavis, Q. D., Fiction and the Reading Public, pp. 5, 14, 20, 35–37, 45, 64–67, 78–79Google Scholar. The high-brow attitude was best expressed by Virginia Woolf's famous essay, “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown,” in The Essays of Virginia Woolf 1919–1924, ed. by McNeillie, Andrew (London, 1988), pp. 384–89Google Scholar. For examples of the use of “serious,” see: Briggs, , History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Volume III: The War of Words (Oxford, 1970), pp. 318–19Google Scholar; Firchow, , ed., The Writer's Place, pp. 9, 27–28Google Scholar (by Kingsley Amis), 116 (by Margaret Drabble), 282 (by V. S. Pritchett), 309–10 (by William Trevor); Findlater, Richard, ed., Author! Author!, p. 191Google Scholar (by John Bowen); Hoggart, Richard, “The Anatomy of Mass Communication in Britain,” in Ford, Boris, ed., The New Pelican Guide to English Literature, Volume 7 (Harmondsworth, 1983), p. 509Google Scholar.
140 See Hough, Graham, The Last Romantics (London, 1949)Google Scholar; John Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses; Levenson, Michael H., A Genealogy of Modernism (Cambridge, 1984)Google Scholar; and Heyck, Thomas William, “The Genealogy of Irish Modernism: the Case of W. B. Yeats,” in Brown, Stuart and Miller, Dennis, eds. Studies in Irish Culture (South Bend, Ind., 1999)Google Scholar.
144 Woolf, Virginia, “Middlebrow,” in The Death of the Moth (London, 1942), pp. 113, 115Google Scholar.
145 See, for example, Coates, John, Chesterton and the Edwardian Cultural Crisis, pp. 43–44Google Scholar.
147 From The Publishers' Circular, quoted in McAleer, , Popular Reading and Publishing, p. 248Google Scholar.
149 Bennett, Arnold, Sketches for Autobiography, Hepburn, James, ed. (London, 1979), p. xiiGoogle Scholar.
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