Aspiring Writers and the Conditions of Authorship, 1870–1914
This study examines the aspiring writer in Britain between 1870 and 1914. It shows how, in a new era of mass literacy, universal schooling, a burgeoning publishing industry, and a fledging literary advice industry, there was a large stratum of ordinary people who aspired and attempted to write. Most of these individuals were not writing for a living, so would not have been listed in the census as authors. Many would never have been published, and many others may have had no desire to see their work in print, but composed fiction or non-fiction simply for their own enjoyment. Presenting a representative sample of real-life aspirants identified using publishers’ archives, autobiography, print media, and census records, this study looks at who these individuals were, what they were writing, and why they wanted to express themselves and, in some cases, speak to a public. It also considers their wider literary environment, including prevailing attitudes towards aspirants and authorship expressed in novels and other literature, and literary advice channels, such as those offered through print media. Placing aspiring writers at its centre, this study offers a new angle on authorship, publishing, and wider aspects of literary and social history in this period. Asking questions not fully probed by top-down accounts of the late nineteenth century, it makes use of limited evidence to demonstrate the importance of the aspirant community in the literary picture of this period; the immediacy of the impact of mass literacy and other changes on working- and lower-middle-class individuals; the place of literary imagination in the culture of this period; and the extent to which writing was already being democratised by the late nineteenth century.