Buying a small hand-press to publish freely was one of the three birthday resolutions Leonard and Virginia Woolf made on Virginia’s 33rd birthday; thus, “A Press of One’s Own” was meant to be, above all, a birthday celebration. We enjoyed a festive and stimulating five-hour focus on the Hogarth Press and its legacy.
Prior to the seminar, we visited the exhibition of selected titles from the early Hogarth Press at the Houghton Library, where we did not only view these aesthetic objects — ranging between amateur low-end (yet charming) early booked to more refined products — but also heard fascinating production details and fun facts about these books. While leafing through them, we found a Virginia Woolf signature here and strands of blue thread there, a Woolf typo hand-corrected by T. S. Eliot in one special copy, or Eliot’s dedication to his mother in another. This visual experience guided by expert knowledge set the tone for the seminar during which speakers made stimulating references to this first part.
Focusing on various aspects of the Hogarth Press, the seminar opened up new avenues of thought on the aesthetic and material realities of literary production in Modernism and beyond. Michelle Alexis Taylor’s talk examined the ways by which coterie practices mediate modernism with special focus on the relationship between the Hogarth Press and the Omega Workshop, and drew attention to the viable link between the visual and the verbal. Elizabeth Willson-Gordon focused on Hogarth Press as a publisher, their editorial and aesthetic decisions, who and what they chose to publish, their advertising strategies, and the digital afterlife of the press in the recently established MAPP digital Humanities project. John Lurz discussed how the experimental page layout of Woolf’s first Hogarth-printed novel Jacob’s Room contributes to the effect of the larger work, and illuminates the connections between literature and type. The engaging Q&A session left us with the outstanding fact that there is still a lot to say about Modernist book design and production.
The event created a room of our own where we — scholars, librarians, archivist, artists, book producers and book lovers — celebrated a birthday wish that came true. We do hope that this will inspire new writing projects, new articles, new books, and new publishers.