Whose book is this anyway? Transitions in Middlebrow Writing, 1880-1930

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cover says its mine, which is good, because I’ve been working on it since 2011. Christoph Ehland, Christoph Singer, Conny Wachter and I ran a conference in 2011 called The Popular Imagination and the Dawn of Modernism, Middlebrow Writing 1880-1930s at the Institute of English Studies in London. That conference spawned two books of essays; this one, and the book Christoph E and Conny are bringing out this year with Brill in Leiden, Middlebrow and Gender: 1880-1930.

Christoph S co-edited Transitions in Middlebrow Writing with me, and we co-wrote the introduction, so that makes the book at least half his. And he thoroughly deserves his royalties (yes, editors of academic books get royalties, sometimes enough to pay for a meal out at the end of the year). Christoph S did all the admin and emailing with authors, and a full share of reading and copy-editing the twelve chapters. He also found the cover image from the stock agency that the publisher sent us to (where they have an account), and I haggled with the designer over the colour and the typeface. We liked the cover image because it shows two rooms of libraries, signifying a physical transition as you move from one room to the next. This book’s essays are about the transitions that happened in early twentieth-century book and publishing history when modernism was taking flight. All the other, non-modernist kinds of writing were still happening, but hadn’t been paid so much attention, and so the essays in Transitions in Middlebrow Writing are about the ways in which modernist publications and ideas were reinvented and reused by and for the middlebrow and the mass-market, by reviewers, artists and editors.

This book also belongs to the twelve other contributors, who wrote 7,000-word essays, and, months later, excavated their notes for the references they’d forgotten to include, or invented the extra bit of idea that needed finishing off to sort out a dangling train of thought. That was my job: nagging the authors. Once we’d chosen whose essays we wanted to include in the book, I became the Recording Angel and the National Audit Office combined for the authors, patiently waiting like a benevolent vulture for their drafts, their final versions, their lost references, their illustrations, their Works Cited and their Author Bios, so I could edit the beast into shape and say to the publisher in our book proposal, yes, we have a book, and here it is, beautiful and complete.

Once we had the contract (o! happy day) I re-copy-edited the whole thing to give it the shape and direction that the publishers’ readers wanted, and removed the bloopers and argumentative cul-de-sacs that I’d missed in the intervening year since last I looked at the chapters. I constructed the bibliography. (Pause, please, to consider how long it takes to assemble and edit a single unified bibliography from the Works Cited in twelve separate chapters, each of which, for example, adopts a slightly different style of citing an essay by Virginia Woolf from several different editions, in Dutch and French as well as English. Not to mention weeding out all the bibliographic references for in-text citations that were edited out over a year ago.) The book went into production. The copy-edited files came back in a vile red tangle of Track Changes, and we answered pernickety queries from the out-sourced in-house copy-editor. I proof-read the whole book, then Christoph S did the same thing and sent the corrections (mine, his, and the authors’) back to the o-s i-h c-e. I negotiated with my trusted indexer in South Carolina. (Christoph and I agreed that we would prefer to pay good money than create another index ourselves. We’ve been to indexing hell before.) Christoph proof-read the index, and then we were done.

So it’s not just my book, it’s our book. It’s also my seventh book, and my fifth book as an editor. Being the editor of a book of academic essays doesn’t bring many points to UK academics for the five-year national research assessment, but it is a deeply satisfying experience, and produces a highly saleable and reusable work of scholarship. Libraries will index it under all the authors’ names dealt with inside (J M Barrie, Arnold Bennett, Joseph Conrad, F M Crawford, Henry-M Davray, Gustave Flaubert, John Galsworthy, A S M Hutchinson, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Marriott, Hermann Robbers, Edgar Wallace, H G Wells). Multiplying numbers of students will haul it off the shelf to read the essays, and divergent streams of future scholarly work will quote different chapters with the bibliographic source of Macdonald and Singer (eds) 2015. Authorship confers immortality of a sort, and so does editing.



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