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Nicola Wilson


Areas of interest

My research focuses on literature in the modern period. I have broad interests in literary history, publishing, and print culture and my work is underscored by questions of feminism and class.

My first book, Home in British Working-Class Fiction (Ashgate, 2015), argued for the importance of home and domestic space in framing understandings of social class. It was reviewed in the TLS as an 'ambitious and welcome addition' to the study of working-class writing (March, 2016).

My second book, Highly Recommended: The club that changed how we read explores the lives and literary tastes of Britain's first set of book club judges: Hugh Walpole, J. B. Priestley, Sylvia Lynd, Cecil Day-Lewis and Edmund Blunden. This has been funded by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship. See here for more on the project.

I am currently working on three research projects. (i) Publishing Class uses the publishers' archives at UoR to explore the long history of publishing working-class writing and the structural challenges that writers from a working-class background have often faced. I wrote about this for The Bookseller.

(ii) The Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP) is a critical digital archive that aims to reanimate the networks of C20 publishing. I am working with colleagues in UoR Special Collections and international partners to make parts of the Hogarth Press archive more widely available. and developing new research on 'Women in Publishing' as part of this project.

(iii) The Edinburgh Companion to Women in Publishing, 1900-2000 (Edinburgh University Press), eds. Wilson, Claire Battershill, Sophie Heywood, Daniela la Penna, Helen Southworth, Alice Staveley, Elizabeth Willson Gordon, Marrisa Joseph. I am lead editor on this 40+Ch international companion, highlighting womens' diverse work within global book and magazine publishing.

Since 2011 I have worked to bring the writings of Lancashire mill woman Ethel Carnie Holdsworth back into circulation, as featured in The Big Issue in the North (June 2016)

Prior to working at Reading I studied at the Universities of Warwick, Oxford and Durham.

Postgraduate supervision

I am currently supervising PhD projects on the Hogarth Press, E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf, Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, publishing in 1922, Stanley Unwin, and book piracy/copyright in India. I would be delighted to hear from prospective PhD students in any of my areas of research.


I run Part 3 modules:

  • Class Matters
  • Publishing Cultures: Writers, Publics, Archives

and Part 2 module:

  • The Business of Books

I co-convene the core Masters module Materiality & Textuality and optional module Modern Literary Feminisms.

Research projects

I am co-director of the interdisciplinary Centre for Book Cultures and Publishing and have specialist interests in using The Archive of British Publishing and Printing in my teaching and research. I have written on publishers' and digital archives, circulating libraries, colonial editions, literary censorship, reading patterns, and Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press.

In 2017, I organised the 27th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf at the University of Reading to coincide with the centenary of the Hogarth Press. Hear me talking to Mariella Frostrup on BBC Radio 4 about the centenary.

I am theme lead for the Department of English Literature's 'Archives & Materialities' research strand.

Recent research projects

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

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 ). 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:

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 hosted the Annual International Virginia Woolf conference at the University of Reading to mark the centenary of the founding of The Hogarth Press.

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.

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 (2014).


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.

Read the press release.

Read more about the project, including a list of outputs.


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. (includes Listen Again)


I am the Lead editor on Cambridge Elements 'Publishing and Book Culture' series strand on 'Women, Publishing, and Book Culture', and on the editorial board of Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism, the Raymond Williams Society journal.

I have peer reviewed book proposals and manuscripts for Bloomsbury, Routledge, and Palgrave Macmillan, and for the journals ELH, Literature and History, Contemporary Womens Writing, Book History, PMLA, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, and Enterprise and Society.


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