Virginia Woolf and the Hogarth Press

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Hogarth Press was a printing press founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf in 1917.

The Woolfs originally started the press, which they named after their home Hogarth House in the suburb of Richmond, as a hobby for Virginia.

Since Virginia was slowly recovering from a series of mental breakdowns at the time, Leonard felt the manual labor of running the press would give her something to occupy her mind when she wasn’t writing.

Virginia and Leonard also planned to use the press to self-publish their own work, since they found dealing with editors frustrating and they wanted to be free from censorship.

The Woolfs bought the small, used hand press from the Excelsior Printing Supply Company on March 23, 1917 for the price of £19. It was delivered to their house a month later on April 24, 1917 and Virginia and Leonard set it up in their drawing room only to find it had been damaged.

A replacement part was delivered several weeks later and Virginia and Leonard finally got to work printing their first publication notice, which announced the upcoming publication of a pamphlet titled Two Stories, written by Virginia and Leonard.

The couple had no prior knowledge of how to work the machine and learned everything they needed to know from a 16 page pamphlet.

Despite the long hours the press required, the Woolfs loved the work and found it exhilarating, as Virginia explained in a letter to her sister Vanessa:

“After 2 hours work at the press, Leonard heaved a terrific sigh and said ‘I wish to God we’d never bought the cursed thing!’ To my relief, though not surprise, he added, ‘Because I shall never do anything else.’ You can’t think how exciting, soothing, ennobling and satisfying it is. And so far we’ve only done the dullest and most difficult part – setting up notice.’”

Through practice, Virginia and Leonard learned how to run the press and published 134 copies of their first book, a 32-page pamphlet containing Virginia’s short story The Mark on the Wall and Leonard’s short story Three Jews, in July of 1917.

It didn’t take long before the press turned from a hobby into a full-time business. Hogarth Press published mostly works by the Bloomsbury group and their associates such as T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and A Collection of Poems by Vita Sackville-West but the Woolfs also became Freud’s first official publisher when they began publishing the papers of the International Psycho-Analytical Institute in 1924.

In addition, the press also published all of Virginia Woolf’s books, except for her first and second novels Voyage Out and Night and Day. Voyage Out had already been published and Night and Day was already committed to Virginia’s original publisher, her half-brother Gerald Duckworth, before they obtained the press.

Virginia and Leonard also considered publishing James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1918, after magazine editor Harriett Weaver brought them the manuscript, but they feared being sued for indecency and Virginia found the book vulgar and too long.

After rereading it a year later though, she changed her opinion about the book, noting in an essay for the Times Literary Supplement in 1919:

“…the undoubted occasional beauty of his phrases. It is an attempt to get thinking into literature–hence the jumble. Told in episodes. The repetition of words like rosewood and wetted ashes.”

In 1919, Virginia finally published her own individual work with the press, a short story titled Kew Gardens, and in 1922 she published her own novel, Jacob’s Room.

By 1920, the press had started to earn real profits and as a result, the Woolfs were able to hire an assistant, Ralph Partridge, to help them run it. They also began to advertise in the Nation and the Times Literary Supplement.

The press went on to publish many other notable works around this time such as The Devils by Dostoyevsky in 1922, T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland in 1923 and Living by Henry Green in 1929.

When the Woolfs moved from Hogarth House back to London in March of 1924, they moved the press with them.

The press continued to thrive and in 1925 the Woolfs were able to hire a manager, Mrs. Cartwright, to help them run it. That same year, Sylvia Beach began stocking Hogarth Press titles in her shop Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, France.

In 1927, the Woolfs hired a young woman named Alice Ritchie as their new traveling sales rep, making her one of the first female sales reps for a publisher, which some booksellers did not approve of.

Ritchie herself was an aspiring author and Hogarth Press even published her first novel, The Peacemakers, in 1928.

By 1933, Virginia had grown tired of the hard work it required to run the press and even demanded that Leonard hire someone to take over running it, though he never did.

In 1938, Virginia relinquished her half of Hogarth Press to John Lehmann, who ran the press with Leonard as a partnership.

When WWII broke out and the Battle of Britain began in 1940, the small hand press even managed to survive the bombing of Virginia and Leonard’s Mecklenburgh Square apartment during the London Blitz.

In 1946, Hogarth Press was acquired by the publishing company Chatto & Windus and Leonard remained on the board of the company until his death in 1969.

The Hogarth Press was revived by Random House in the summer of 2012 with a new fiction imprint titled “Hogarth” that Random House said will feature “contemporary, character rich” works of literature.

Sources:
Leonard and Virginia Woolf, The Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism. Edited by Helen Southworth, Edinburgh University Press, 2010.
Glendinning, Victoria. Leonard Woolf: A Biography. Free Press, 2006.
Welty, Eudora. A Writer’s Eye: Collected Book Reviews. University Press of Mississippi, 1994
Chatto & Windus LTD Archive.” Museum & Collections, University of Reading, collections.reading.ac.uk/special-collections/collections/chatto-windus-ltd-publisher/
Flyer Announcing the Hogarth Press.” British Library, bl.uk/collection-items/flyer-announcing-the-hogarth-press
Woolf’s Reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses, 1918-1920.” The Modernism Lab at Yale University, campuspress.yale.edu/modernismlab/woolfs-reading-of-james-joyces-ulysses-1918-1920/e%27s_Ulysses,_1918-1920
Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941 and Hogarth House.” Richmond.gov, richmond.gov.uk/virginia_woolf_and_hogarth_house richmond.gov.uk/home/leisure_and_culture/local_history_and_heritage/local_studies_collection/local_history_notes/virginia_woolf_and_hogarth_house.htm
Svendsen, Jessica. “Hogarth Press.” The Modernism Lab at Yale University, campuspress.yale.edu/modernismlab/hogarth-press/

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