The History of Hogarth Press

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Hogarth Press was a printing press founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf in 1917.

The Woolfs originally started the press, which they named after their home Hogarth House in the suburb of Richmond, as a hobby for Virginia.

Since Virginia was slowly recovering from a series of mental breakdowns at the time, Leonard felt the manual labor of running the press would give her something to occupy her mind when she wasn’t writing.

Virginia and Leonard also hoped to use the press to self-publish their own work, since they found dealing with editors frustrating and they wanted to be free from censorship.

Title page of "Two stories" printed by Hogarth Press in 1917

Title page of “Two stories” printed by Hogarth Press in 1917

The Woolfs bought the small, used hand press from the Excelsior Printing Supply Company on March 23 in 1917 for the price of £41. They had no prior knowledge of how to work the machine and learned everything they needed to know from a 16 page pamphlet.

Despite the long hours the press required, the Woolfs loved the work and found it exhilarating, as Virginia explained in a letter to her sister Vanessa:

“After 2 hours work at the press, Leonard heaved a terrific sigh and said ‘I wish to God we’d never bought the cursed thing!’ To my relief, though not surprise, he added, ‘Because I shall never do anything else.’ You can’t think how exciting, soothing, ennobling and satisfying it is. And so far we’ve only done the dullest and most difficult part – setting up notice.’”

Through practice, Virginia and Leonard learned how to run the press and published their first book, a 32-page pamphlet containing Virginia’s short story “The Mark on the Wall” and Leonard’s short story “Three Jews,” in July of 1917.

It didn’t take long before the press turned from a hobby into a full-time business. Hogarth Press published mostly Bloomsbury group works such as T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and “A Collection of Poems” by Vita Sackville-West but the Woolfs also became Freud’s first official publisher when they began publishing the papers of the International Psycho-Analytical Institute in 1924. In addition, the press also published all of Virginia Woolf’s books (except for the Voyage Out which was published before they obtained the press.)

Virginia and Leonard also considered publishing James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in 1918, after magazine editor Harriett Weaver brought them the manuscript, but they feared being sued for indecency and Virginia found the book vulgar and too long.

After rereading it a year later though, she changed her opinion about the book, noting in an essay for the Times Literary Supplement in 1919:

“…the undoubted occasional beauty of his phrases. It is an attempt to get thinking into literature–hence the jumble. Told in episodes. The repetition of words like rosewood and wetted ashes.”

When the Woolfs moved from Hogarth House back to London, they moved the press with them. The small hand press even managed to survive the bombing of their Mecklenburgh square apartment during the London Blitz in 1940.

In 1938, Virginia Woolf relinquished her half of Hogarth Press to John Lehmann who ran it as a partnership with Leonard Woolf until 1946, when it became an associate company of Chatto & Windus.

The Hogarth Press was revived by Random House in the summer of 2012 with a new fiction imprint titled “Hogarth” that Random House said will feature “contemporary, character rich” works of literature.

Sources:
“A Writer’s Eye: Collected Book Reviews”; Eudora Welty, Pearl Amelia McHaney; 2009
The Modernism Lab at Yale University: Woolf’s Reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses, 1918-1920: http://modernism.research.yale.edu/wiki/index.php/Woolf%27s_Reading_of_Joyce%27s_Ulysses,_1918-1920
Richmond.gov: Virginia Woolf and Hogarth House: http://www.richmond.gov.uk/home/leisure_and_culture/local_history_and_heritage/local_studies_collection/local_history_notes/virginia_woolf_and_hogarth_house.htm
The Modernism Lab at Yale University: Hogarth Press: http://modernism.research.yale.edu/wiki/index.php/Hogarth_Press

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About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Rebecca graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in Journalism in 2001.

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