Dr Nicola Wilson Research

Literature, Readers, and the Book Society Ltd., 1929-60 British Academy

My current book explores the literary and cultural impact of the Book Society Ltd (1926-60). This was the first mail-order book club to operate in Britain and its influential Selection Committee (which included writers Hugh Walpole, J. B. Priestley, Clemence Dane and Edmund Blunden) played an important role in shaping mid-C20 tastes and reading patterns. Many well-known texts including Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1938), Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (1945) and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) were Book Society Choices. Whereas the impact of the American Book-of-the-Month Club is well-known, the British Book Society is under-researched and rarely features in histories of reading or literary and cultural analysis of the C20. My research uses archival records to demonstrate how this powerful distributor transformed literary culture, the literary marketplace and multi-national reading communities.

See also: 'Virginia Woolf, Hugh Walpole, the Hogarth Press, and the Book Society', English Literary History, 79:1, Spring 2012, 237-60

The Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP): The Hogarth Press Archive Online

I am a co-investigator on an international digital humanities project with colleagues Claire Battershill (Simon Fraser University, Canada), Alice Staveley (Stanford, US), Michael Widner (Stanford, US), Helen Southworth (University of Oregon, US) and Elizabeth Willson Gordon (King's University, Canada).

Currently under construction, the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP) aims to be a hub for digital scholarship and research on twentieth-century publishing (see the Modernist Archives). Beginning with materials relating to Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press - now widely dispersed - the site brings together disparate archival holdings. Current project partners include the UoR's Special Collections; Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, University of Alberta; Washington State University Libraries; the E.J. Pratt Library at the University of Toronto; and Stanford University's Literary Lab and Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA).

The database aims to capture the processes of textual production, dissemination, and reception - from the author's initial solicitation or submission to the publishing house, through editorial and production processes, to dust jackets and book design, readership and reviews, and catalogued sales figures. Ultimately we hope to expand beyond the Hogarth Press to include other publishers' archives.

I have been awarded two Undergraduate Research Opportunities Project (UROP) Awards to enable student-researchers to work on MAPP. For their blogs on the project please see:

Dale Hall: http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/special-collections/2013/08/behind-the-scenes-hogarth-press-digitisation-project/

Sophie McKenna: https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/english-at-reading/2014/09/04/an-enjoyable-urop-experience-for-one-of-our-students/

See also: Wilson, N., Willson Gordon, E., Staveley, A., Southworth, H. and Battershill, C. (2014) The Hogarth Press, Digital Humanities, and Collaboration: Introducing the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP). In: Wussow, H. and Gillies, M. A. (eds.) Virginia Woolf and the Common(wealth) Reader. Clemson University Digital Press, Clemson, pp. 223-231. ISBN 9780989082679

In 2017 we are hosting the Annual International Virginia Woolf conference at Reading to mark the centenary of the founding of The Hogarth Press.

Picture of Ethel Carnie

The Ethel Carnie Holdsworth series, General Editor

This series is reissuing the work of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth (1886-1962): Lancashire mill-woman, journalist, poet, writer for children, author of serial fiction, novelist and political activist. I republished her classic industrial novel, This Slavery (1925) with Trent Editions in 2011. In 1913 Kennedy & Boyd reissued Carnie Holdsworth's first novel published in book form, Miss Nobody (1913), believed to be one of the first novels published by a British woman of working-class background. Our next title is Helen of Four Gates (1917), with a critical introduction by Pamela Fox. This was Carnie Holdsworth's bestseller, and made into a silent film in 1922 by Cecil Hepworth. The next reissue is General Belinda (1924), with an introduction by Roger Smalley. This is an episodic tale of domestic service, with powerful scenes of life as a Prisoner of War during WW1.


I have given talks on Ethel Carnie Holdsworth at The Working Class Movement Library in Salford, Blackburn and Great Harwood public libraries, and on BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire.

Please see: http://www.kennedyandboyd.co.uk/series/ethel_carnie_holdsworth.htm




Previous research projects

Home in British Working-Class Fiction (Ashgate, 2015)

The history of the working classes has often been written from the 'outside', with observers 'looking in' to the world of the inhabitants. My book engages with the long cultural history of this gaze and asks how 'home' is represented in the writing of authors who come from a working-class background. It explores the depiction of home as a key emotional and material site in working-class writing from the Edwardian period through to the early 1990s, with close readings of many works including The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1914), Love on the Dole (1933), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), Second-Class Citizen (1974) and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985).

I recently contributed to a centenary film on Robert Tressell, 'Still Ragged: 100 Years of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' produced by independent film-makers Shut Out the Light: http://shutoutthelight.co.uk/ (2014).

Trailer on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rS3F7rZeBdo

The Impact of Distribution and Reading Patterns on the History of the Novel in Britain, 1880-1940 (AHRC research project with Dr Andrew Nash and Professor Patrick Parrinder)

This project examined the relationship between book history and literary history by investigating whether and to what extent the novel as a literary and cultural form has been affected by changing patterns in the distribution and readership of texts.

The project drew heavily on the nationally designated Archive of British Publishers and Printers in UoR Special Collections. I looked at correspondence between publishers and authors and financial records in publishers' archives to examine the impact of important distributors and groups of readers (like private, circulating libraries such as W.H. Smiths and Boots Book-lovers' Library) on the writing and revision of literary texts.

My essay on 'Boots Book-Lovers' library, the Novel and James Hanley's The Furys (1935)' won the 2013 Justin Winsor essay award from the American Library History Round Table.


For more details of the project and a list of outputs related to it see:



Editorial roles

General editor of a new series of the works of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth with Kennedy & Boyd

Co-editor, with Patrick Parrinder and Andrew Nash, of New Directions in the History of the Novel (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)

Editor of The Book World: Selling and Distributing British Literature, 1900-40 (Brill, forthcoming)

Special issue of the Raymond Williams Society journal, Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism, 5 (2007-8), 'Working Spaces, Working Lives'


Recent invitations to present my work

Oxford Bibliographical Society, May 2015 - 'The Book Society Ltd and mid-twentieth century literary culture'.

Invited lecture at international conference on the 'Democratic Highbrow', University of Salerno, Italy, May 2014 - 'The Hogarth Press and the Book Society'.

2013 Invited speaker at 'States of Independence: Independent Press Day' at De Montfort University

Interview for BBC Radio 4, 'The Walpole Chronicle', May 2011, on the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Hugh Walpole, based on research in the Hogarth Press archives in Reading's Special Collections. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010t6gw (includes Listen Again)














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