Mixed media : feminist presses and publishing politics in twentieth-century Britain
The high cultural profile of contemporary feminist publishing in Britain has previously met with a curiously evasive response from those spheres of academic discourse in which it might be expected to figure: women's studies, while asserting the innate politicality of all communication, has tended to overlook the subject of publishing in favour of less materialist cultural modes; while publishing studies has conventionally overlooked the significance of gender as a differential in analysing print media. Siting itself at this largely unexplored academic juncture, the thesis analyses the complex interaction of feminist politics and fiction publishing in twentieth-century Britain. Chapter 1 -" 'Books With Bite': Virago Press and the Politics of Feminist Conversion" - focuses on Britain's oldest extant women's publishing venture, Virago Press, and analyses the organisational structures and innovative marketing strategies which engineered the success of its reprint and original fiction lists. Chapter 2 looks back to Elizabeth Corbet Yeats's early-twentieth-century Cuala Press, a prominent element in the Irish literary revival and debates around women's relationship to nationalist agendas. The experience of The Women's Press, Black Woman Talk and Sheba Feminist Publishers constitutes the crux of Chapter 3 - " 'Books of Integrity': Dilemmas of Race and Authenticity in Feminist Publishing" - which reads these presses as challenges to the early-second-wave women's movement insistence on the primacy of sisterhood for women's identity politics. Chapter 4 investigates feminist publishing's historical involvement in Edwardian suffrage politics and the vexed role of men within feminist publishing enterprises. Radical feminist and lesbian publishing is scrutinised in Chapter 5- "Collective Unconscious: The Demise of Radical Feminist Publishing" - which centres upon Onlywomen Press, Sheba and Silver Moon Books, and explores the problematic nature of the collective principle for women's media enterprises. The concluding chapter - "This Book Could Change Your Life': Feminist Bestsellers and the Power of Mainstream Publishing" - assesses the impact of feminism on mainstream post-war publishing. It critiques the ways in which mainstream houses' commissioning, design and marketing of canonical feminist texts have frequently militated against their oppositional content. Central to the analysis as a whole is the dynamic tension arising from the conjunction of radical politics and the commercial market-place, a relationship in which the contesting exigencies of political progressiveness and business solvency create an energising - though volatile - dialectic.