That authors might experience ‘afterlives’ after their deaths, and that literary works might experience ‘afterlives’ after publication, is a familiar concept. Biographies, studies, and museums; sequels, revivals, and adaptations: authors and their texts might be revisited and ‘resurrected’ in many ways years after their physical and popular demise. Yet, the rather disconcerting thing about the ‘Ghostly Afterlives of Walter Scott’ with which Professor Toremans is concerned, is that that they occurred during Scott’s lifetime. These ‘afterlives’ took the form of pseudo-translations; works which claimed to be translations of novels by Scott, yet were entirely original compositions. In exuberantly claiming Scott’s authorship, such works subjected Scott to an act of authorial ventriloquism, rendering him responsible for writing events, characters and subjects in which his pen had no part.
This post is part of a series about useful books and online resources for students of book history and material culture, written by current MSc students at the University of Edinburgh.
A large concern of mine in the field of book history is the relatively small number of comprehensive studies done on print cultures in non-Western cultures. Outside of brief articles and specific examples, there has not been a lot of information (or so this amateur researcher has found) to be had about broader print cultures. The strength of Daniel E. White’s book From Little London to Little Bengal: Religion, Print, and Modernity in Early British India is its ability to provide a broad framework for continued research in the print cultures of non-Western cultures, through the specific example of India.
While Alistair McCleery’s talk was titled “Postcolonial Penguins,” his discussion extended far beyond the nuances of the book trade and into areas such as book historical theory and international politics. At the outset, he explained that his research stemmed from two sources of interest, one professional and one personal. His professional interest, he recounted, was based in a desire for book historians to work harder at finding patterns and models rather than sticking to the kind of case study tradition he has observed for many years. Professor McCleery gave a brief explanation of the British publishing structures post-World War II, and why things changed so dramatically in the world of books at that time. Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, in the aftermath of the war, opened satellite branches all over the world. These wholly-owned overseas branches grew and grew until some locations began to devolve based on further development of local communities and new international involvement in publishing.
Professor Nicholas Pickwoad started his presentation with his discovery of a two volume Histoire by Jean LeClerc, printed in Amsterdam in 1723, which contained neither boards nor covers. His first guess was that certain book blocks were withdrawn unfinished from a binder’s workshop; however, regarding this collection’s history, he became convinced that these two volumes were part of long-established practice which books were prepared for sale by being sold in a condition ready for ‘conventional binding’, sometimes with or without boards attached but always without covers.