The Virago Modern Classics series – and offshoots such as the Virago Victorian Classics – reprinted ‘forgotten’ works by women writers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; it remains one of the most iconic publishing interventions of recent times. Yet how did Virago find books for the series given that the women writers it celebrated were, in the late 70s, apparently ‘hidden from history’? This presentation draws on material from the Virago and Carmen Callil archives based at the British Library to reveal how Virago used a variety of libraries to source out-of-print works and establish bibliographic details for the Modern and Victorian Classics series. Virago’s readers were also central to the process of discovery: they provided the company with detailed information about where to find titles, but also enabled Callil and her colleagues to understand the challenges readers faced when they tried to acquire ‘hard-to-reach’ books. Such knowledge, in turn, informed decisions about marketing and selection as Virago gained awareness of the scarcity of texts alongside idiosyncratic appraisals of their literary and cultural value. As such, these archives offer fascinating insight into how a cutting-edge publishing series was constructed while enabling wider understanding of reading practices and library infrastructures in the late 70s and early 80s. Overall, I want to suggest, these materials affirm the vital – and under-emphasised – role of libraries in the commercial ecology of the publishing industry.
Thursday 9th May, 1-2pm
G10, Edith Morley, Whiteknights campus, University of Reading
All welcome! Feel free to bring your lunch.