A private press is a small business undertaking for the production and publication of special books – it is at the same time much more than that: printing and publishing is a statement, a worldview, an alternative lifestyle.
The Hogarth Press was established by Leonard Woolf in 1917 as a therapeutic pastime for his wife Virginia who was recovering from one of her frequent bouts of ill-health and shattered nerves. It was named after Hogarth House in Richmond where they were living at the time. Its first manifestation was a small hand press which they installed in a spare room of their home. Working from an instructional handbook, they taught themselves how to set the type and print a page. They did all the menial tasks of running a small home-based publishing business themselves. Virginia spent hours wrapping up volumes in brown paper parcels for dispatch to booksellers. There was no formal publishing policy. Their ambition was to ensure that the Bloomsbury circle could publish work that, in Leonard’s words, the ‘commercial publisher would not look at’. The fame of the Hogarth Press was in first instance associated with the literary reputation of its celebrated founders and the range of talented friends to which they gave an audience. Their first project, Two Stories, was a hand-printed booklet containing a story by each of them, Leonard’s ‘Two Jews’ and Virginia’s ‘The Mark on the Wall’. One hundred and fifty copies were printed and bound in Richmond, and sold by subscription. The Press emerged as a commercially viable publishing enterprise following the unexpected success of Virginia’s Kew Gardens in 1919. It allowed them to publish experimental works by an up and coming generation of authors such as Katherine Mansfield, T.S. Eliot, Clive Bell, C. Day Lewis, Robert Graves, E.M. Forster, Christopher Isherwood, and others. The Press also provided avenues of expression for photographers, illustrators and designers, including John Banting, Vanessa Bell, Dora Carrington, Roger Fry, and Duncan Grant. They were involved in the design of the book jackets and a distinctive typography which established a recognizable ‘Hogarth’ style of presentation.
In 1921 the Press acquired better printing equipment and moved to more central premises in Tavistock Square. It began publishing translations of work by writers such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Gorky. Constance Garnett had been one of the first translators of Russian nineteenth-century authors making their work accessible to an English audience. Many British authors learned about Russian literature through her enormous efforts (she produced seventy-one translations). Through Garnett’s intervention, Virginia Woolf became an admirer of Dostoevsky. The cultural rapprochement between Britain and Russia in the early twentieth century provided a favourable atmosphere for Woolf’s promotion of Russian literature. Between 1917 and 1946 The Hogarth Press published fifteen translations. The main source of information was Samuel Solomonovich Koteliansky who, as a student, had been involved in the revolutionary movement. To escape prosecution, he settled in England in 1911 and never returned to Russia. The first book Koteliansky and the Woolfs worked at together was Maxim Gorky’s Reminiscences of Leo Nicolayevitch Tolstoi, published by The Hogarth Press in 1920. Koteliansky was a crucial resource to the Press: he translated not only the work of widely known authors, but also that of a number of contemporary writers who had left Russia after the Revolution, such as Ivan Bunin and Alexander Kuprin.
In his 1964 autobiography Beginning Again Leonard Woolf wrote that Bloomsbury was not like any previous group of writers and artists who were not only friends, but were united by a common doctrine or purpose, be it artistic or political. The Lake poets, the French Impressionists, the English pre-Raphaelites were groups of that kind. Bloomsbury, he argued, was different. Politically, members held mainly left-liberal stances and opposed the cult of the military – but they would not be drawn into activism of any kind. They hated the idea of being associated with, in their own terms, proselytizers, missionaries, crusaders or propagandists. The basis of their grouping was love and friendship. Their minds had been coloured by the intellectual climate of Cambridge and the philosophy of G.E. Moore. What Bloomsbury drew from Moore was contained in his statement that ‘one’s prime objects in life were love, the creation and enjoyment of aesthetic experience and the pursuit of knowledge’. Bloomsbury writers and artists rejected dominant Victorian values by turning away from the public sphere towards an inward cultivation of personal relationships and individual pleasure, both in aesthetics and erotics.
The list of English authors published by the Hogarth Press is like a roll call of the modern movement. Publications include such seminal works as Eliot’s The Waste Land and Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room. It is also a catalogue of who slept with whom at the time. English modernism was a mattress made in suburban London. Of sex there was plenty (it is not surprising that during the 1960s there was a revival of interest in the group). For Bloomsbury, the turn away from Victorian realism towards inwardness meant a revaluation of intimacy, of friendship, love and marriage. Author and biographer Lytton Strachey, for example, entered the Bloomsbury Group through his friendships with Clive Bell and Thoby Stevens. He had a number of affairs with several of its male members, while maintaining a long live-in relationship with the artist Dora Carrington. The latter married Ralph Partridge, thus creating a ‘ménage à trois’. After his death, Strachey’s ashes were given to Dora. Two months later she committed suicide. Virginia Woolf’s erotic relationship with Vita Sackville-West is well-documented. The latter’s work, such as her poem The Land (1926) and the novel All Passion Spent (1931), was published by the Hogarth Press. In fact, she became a best-selling writer especially after being awarded the Hawthornden Prize for literature in 1926, which added to the prestige of the Press as well.
The Woolfs set an example to other young authors. Laura Riding and Robert Graves had both work published by the Hogarth Press. In 1927 they founded their own London letterpress publishing imprint called the Seizin Press, before moving to Spain. From 1930 to 1937, they operated a Crown Albion flatbed printing press in their house ‘Ca n’Alluny’ out of Deià, Mallorca. Besides their own work, the Press published work by authors such as Gertrude Stein, Len Lye, and James Reeves. The Seizin Press ceased to exist on the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. In 1939 Riding and Graves terminated their companionship having published a total of eighteen books. More interesting is the case of another former Hogarth Press author. Nancy Cunard, daughter of Sir Bache Cunard, heir to the Cunard Line shipping business, rejected the values of her upper class background and became involved in the fight against fascism. Her list of literary lovers was impressive, including Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Tristan Tzara, Ezra Pound, and Louis Aragon. Other admirers were James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and William Carlos Williams. Having moved to Paris in 1920, Cunard found herself at the heart of Continental modernist movements. Much of her published poetry dates from this period. She was also a passionate collector of African cultural artifacts – jewelry in particular. She was often photographed wearing African neckpieces of wooden cubes which paid homage to the artistic concept of Cubism. In 1927, Nancy moved into a farmhouse in La Chapelle-Réanville in Normandy. It was there in 1928 that she set up the Hours Press. It brought out the first separately published work of Samuel Beckett, a poem called Whoroscope (1930), and also Ezra Pound’s A Draft of XXX Cantos. Cunard published old friends like George Moore, Norman Douglas, Richard Aldington, Arthur Symons, and others. The last book of the press appeared in 1931 (during its four-year existence the Hours Press published twenty-four books) – it was an erotic farewell: The Revaluation of Obscenity by sexologist Havelock Ellis.
An intriguing aspect of the Bloomsbury Group (the ‘Bloomsberries’) was their interdisciplinary interest. The Hogarth Press was not limited to the publication of literature, poetry or literary criticism. The reason for that wider focus was the close association of Bloomsbury with the Cambridge Apostles. Founded in 1820 by George Tomlinson (later the first Bishop of Gibraltar) and eleven associates, the Cambridge Apostles is an (ongoing) intellectual society within the University. John Maynard Keynes, Leonard Woolf, Lytton and James Strachey, E.M. Forster and Rupert Brooke were all Apostles. Keynes was a civil servant, a patron of the arts, and the father of modern macro-economics. Keynesian economic theory was adopted by many Western nations after WWII and to this very day his ideas are widely discussed. In 1919 he represented the Treasury at the Versailles Peace Conference opposing the harsh reparations placed on Germany. He warned for the consequences on the wider world. In the same year he published The Economic Consequences of the Peace. His words were ignored. In July 1926, the Hogarth Press published his essay ‘The End of Laissez-Faire’ in the form of a pamphlet (the essay was based on the Sidney Ball Lecture given by Keynes at Oxford in November 1924). Keynes was romantically involved with at number of male members of the Bloomsbury Group, including Duncan Grant and Lytton Stachey. In 1925 he married Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova.
In 1934, the Hogarth Press published the debut novel In a Province by Laurens van der Post. Born in 1906 in the former Afrikaner Orange Free State, Van der Post (son of a Dutch father and German mother) was an author, farmer, diplomat, soldier, and prisoner of war. A close friend of Carl Jung, he became the principle chronicler of the Stone Age Kalahari Bushmen. At times an irritatingly pompous figure, he presented himself as a ‘defender’ of indigenous cultures in a modern world where, in his opinion, the values of economy and technology were destroying any deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all life on earth. This stance motivated his fierce criticism of Dutch colonial repression in Indonesia. In 1929, whilst working as a journalist for the Cape Times, he became increasingly critical of white rule in South Africa. In 1929 he predicted the prospect of a melting pot culture, a civilization that would neither be black nor white, but brown. Two years later he moved to London where he was introduced to the Woolfs and members of the Bloomsbury Group. They liked the treatment of racial tension in his novel. The unorthodox friendship between a white and a black man seemed to suggest a break-down of racial barriers – until conflicting forces of love, politics and peer group pressure come into play and the story explodes into tragedy and criminality.
Leonard Woolf remained the main director of the publishing house from its beginning in 1917 until his death in 1969. He had a sharp eye for detail, not just for the presentation of the printed text itself, but also for the commercial running of the Press. A one-time colonial administrator in Ceylon, Leonard directed the publishing house as if it was a part of the civil service. Every penny was accounted for. He hated waste in whatever form. John Lehmann was the most influential member of the firm. In 1938, when Virginia Woolf chose to give full attention to her creative work, he bought out her share and became part-owner and general manager. He had ambitions to transform the Hogarth Press from a cottage industry into a contemporary publishing house. He proposed that they should raise share capital and employ agents. But his ideas were antithetical to Leonard’s principles of self-reliance and independence. He overruled Lehmann, arguing that the strength of the Press was its very minimalism. Viginia died in 1941. Without her presence and casting vote, the differences between the two partners grew wider. Lehmann wanted to publish Saul Bellow and Jean Paul Sartre. Leonard refused. Priority was given to keeping Virginia Woolf’s works in print (preparations were made for the publication of her multi-volume Diaries and Letters), but other disagreements remained unresolved. The final split between them came in 1946. Leonard raised money to keep the company afloat by persuading fellow publisher Ian Parsons of Chatto & Windus to buy out Lehmann’s share. Again, personal relationships were of a complicated sexual nature. Ian Parsons was the husband of Trekkie Parsons, who had illustrated some Hogarth titles. She lived with Leonard during the week and with her husband at weekends. Both men became business partners as well as sharing a wife.
In the post-war period, the Press embarked upon a highly ambitious project: the publication of the twenty-four volume set of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. This undertaking had been preceded by their publication of the papers of the International Psycho-Analytical Institute. The link between Freud and Bloomsbury was psychoanalyst James Beaumont Strachey, the younger brother of Lytton. During his student days at Trinity he was known as ‘little Strachey’. At Cambridge, Strachey fell in love with Rupert Brooke, who did not return his affections. He was himself pursued by mountaineer George Mallory and other male students, including Keynes with whom he had an affair. His love for Brooke never diminished. Rupert’s death in 1915 left him emotionally shattered. In 1920 James married Alix Sargant Florence and soon afterwards they moved to Vienna where James became one of Freud’s many disciples. Freud himself requested the couple to translate some of his work in to English. It became a lifetime’s work and an almost impossible task. Strachey’s approach underlines the translator’s dilemma. In his preface to the Anglicized Freud, he states: ‘I am imagining Freud as an English gentleman of science, of wide education, born in the middle of the nineteenth century’. Strachey turned Freud into an English academic. The loss is inevitable. It is the price a translator pays for his efforts.
It has been a fascinating round trip. The Hogarth Press was founded by Leonard Woolf as a therapeutic means to raise the spirits of a frail and fidgety Virginia. Five years after her death Leonard launched the bravest of all the Press’s undertakings in publishing Freud’s collected works. In that sense, the Hogarth Press stands as a lasting tribute to Virginia’s delicate nervous system and complex personality.