Authored By: Nicola Wilson
Edited By: Claire Battershill
The Hogarth Press was founded by Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf in March 1917 in their own home: Hogarth House in Richmond, Surrey. Its origins were multifarious – part hobby, part creative and artistic enterprise – and reflected the Woolfs’ needs during the pressures of wartime to find some engaging relief from the strains of literary, journalistic and political activities. In his autobiography, Leonard draws attention to his concerns about Virginia’s mental health, “It struck me that it would be a good thing if Virginia had a manual occupation of this kind which, in say the afternoons, would take her mind completely off her work” (Beginning, 233). Both were excited about the creative potentialities and artistic licence of self-publishing. “We are thinking of starting a printing press, for all our friends stories. Don’t you think it’s a good idea?” wrote Virginia to Lady Robert Cecil in October 1916 (Letters 2:120).
The Woolfs spent a hard-wrought £20 on some Caslon Old Face type and their first small printing press, an Excelsior Company platen-jobber table-top press, which was housed initially on the dining room table. It was moved to the basement when a larger Minerva platen printing press was purchased in 1921. Teaching themselves the rudiments of printing, they hand-set and printed many of their early works including Two Stories (1917) by Leonard and Virginia Woolf (their first book publication), Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude (1918), T. S. Eliot’s Poems (1919) and Hope Mirrlees’s Paris: a Poem (1919). Sales and distribution were initially through advertisement and word of mouth; between 1919-23 sales were organised by subscription (“A” subscribers deposited £1 and received all publications; “B” subscribers ordered and paid for only specific works). By March 1924, when the Woolfs moved from Richmond back into Bloomsbury – taking up residence in 52 Tavistock Square, with the press again in the basement – they had hand set and printed eighteen books and published eighteen others using commercial printers.
In addition to its close association with Bloomsbury, the Hogarth Press also published a diverse list of international writers, including twenty-nine translations from Russian, German, and Italian between the two world wars. It was at the heart of a broad and deliberative push to reshape the publishing landscape of interwar Britain, and produced seminal texts including works by Nancy Cunard, Henry Green, Christopher Isherwood, the colonial novels of William Plomer and Laurens van der Post, and the English translations of Sigmund Freud. It also championed a wide selection of otherwise popular, middlebrow writers, educational and political tracts, children’s literature, and medical and self-help manuals. In the 1930s it worked closely with Hugh Walpole’s Book Society. Three Hogarth titles were Book Society “Choices”: Vita Sackville-West’s The Edwardians (1930), William Plomer’s The Case is Altered (1932) and Virginia Woolf’s own Flush (1933).
Employees, press assistants and office managers during the time of the Woolfs’ stewardship include Ralph Partridge (assistant, August 1920-March 1922), Marjorie Thomson Joad (assistant, 1923-5), Dadie Rylands (July- December 1924), Angus Davidson (assistant, 1924-7), Bernadette Murphy (manager, Feb – July 1925), Mrs Cartwright (manager, 1925-30), Winifred Holtby (1927-8), Alice Ritchie (part-time traveller, 1928-37), Peggy Belsher (assistant, 1928-35), Richard Kennedy (assistant, 1928-30), John Lehmann (1931-2, partner April 1938-1946), Scott Johnson (manager, Jan-Feb 1933), Margaret West (March 1933-Jan 1937), Barbara Hepworth (first full-time salaried traveller 1937), Dorothy Lange (manager, Feb 1937-May 1938), Norah Nicholls (manager, May 1938-1940), Aline Burch.
Disagreements between Leonard Woolf and John Lehmann eventually led to Woolf buying Lehmann out by selling Lehmann's half share to Chatto & Windus. The Hogarth Press then became a subsidiary of Chatto & Windus and was eventually bought by Random House UK. In 2012 Random House reactivated the Hogarth Press as a fiction publisher for new and contemporary talent. http://crownpublishing.com/imprint/hogarth/
Archives and papers
University of Reading Special Collections, Archives of the Hogarth Press
E. J. Pratt Library at Victoria College in the University of Toronto, Bloomsbury Group and Hogarth Press http://library.vicu.utoronto.ca/collections/special_collections/bloomsbury_group/
University of Sussex, Leonard Woolf Papers
Washington State University, The Library of Leonard and Virginia Woolf
The University of Alberta, Bruce Peel Special Collections, Hogarth Press Publications