Marketing Modernism between the Two World Wars
How American publishers worked to build a wider audience for modernist literature
In February 1934, the Saturday Review of Literature featured a two-page advertisement entitled "How to Enjoy James Joyce's Great Novel Ulysses." This promotion-with its promise that consumers would encounter "one of the most exciting stories offered by modern fiction"-was part of a much broader campaign. For more than a decade, American publishers had sought to expand the market for modernist literature in the United States. Their goal was to convince consumers that these "difficult" books could be both a pleasure to read and an affordable way to experiment with new ideas and gain access to intellectual refinement.
Focusing on the advertising policies of five publishing houses in the 1920s and 1930s, Catherine Turner examines the process by which "highbrow" works of fiction were packaged, promoted, and sold to a mainstream American readership. The publishing houses range from the small firm of B. W. Huebsch to Alfred A. Knopf, Harcourt Brace and Company, Charles Scribner's Sons, and Random House. These companies introduced American readers to the work of such writers as Sherwood Anderson, D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Joyce. Many became bestsellers, despite initial fears that they were too demanding or too dull for ordinary readers.
Turner explores the various strategies employed by the publishers to convince a skeptical public to buy new works of serious literature. She also revisits the relationship between "highbrow" and "middlebrow" culture at a time when such labels were being undermined by the rise of a mass consumer marketplace.
Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century
"This book is important because it addresses questions of audience, publishers' views of their audience, and the issue of getting readers to 'read up'-all questions of historical and contemporary importance (e.g., Oprah's Book Club). It is clearly written and to the point, jargon free and easy to follow."—Beth Luey, director, Scholarly Publishing Program,
Arizona State University
"Marketing Modernism covers a middle ground between reputation history and the history of publishing in the United States, and is a well-researched book that shows the difficult marriage between quality and commercial success in five case histories. . . . Turner's study is a fascinating read for anybody interested in the way publishers of the period tried to sell unfamiliar books in demanding styles to audiences not normally attracted by the newness of the authors in question. . . . Marketing Modernism remains a substantial contribution to the history of the modernist book that will undoubtedly inspire further research in the field."—The Library