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Boots Book-lovers' Library and the novel: The impact of a circulating library market on twentieth-century fiction

Wilson, N. ORCID: (2014) Boots Book-lovers' Library and the novel: The impact of a circulating library market on twentieth-century fiction. Information and Culture: A Journal of History, 49 (4). pp. 427-449. ISSN 2164-8034

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To link to this item DOI: 10.7560/ic49402


In a Report for the Society of Bookmen in 1928, British publishers estimated that between a quarter to two thirds of all the books they published went to four circulating libraries: Boots, Smith’s, Mudie’s, and The Times bookclub. This essay examines the literary impact of one of the largest of these, Boots Book-lovers’ Library (1899-66), which by 1935 had around 400 libraries attached to their high-street pharmacies catering for the tastes of over one million subscribers a year. Compared to the wealth of studies examining the influence of the library market in the Victorian period, the significance of the subscription libraries as key distributors of fiction in the twentieth century is not well known. But private libraries expanded rapidly in the early twentieth century to cater for what Sidney Dark termed a ‘new reading public’, and records in publishers’ archives indicate that authors routinely adapted their unpublished manuscripts in order to meet the perceived demands of this library reader. This article examines the impact of the Boots Book-lovers’ Library market on authors’ practices of writing and revision, and on literary marketing and censorship. It focuses in particular on the author James Hanley (1897-1985), using unpublished correspondence in the Chatto & Windus archive at the University of Reading to demonstrate how the publisher’s sense of the tastes and expectations of the Boots library reader influenced the editorial process.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
ID Code:31358
Publisher:University of Texas


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